Identity Beacon

Illuminating Possibilities

Identity Beacon - Illuminating Possibilities

What’s on your business card?

How do you present yourself to the world? Do you — can you — present your true self or do you present the traditional, expected “data?” — What you do, who you work for?

Here’s another approach for fashioning a personal business card that asserts your more powerful, more meaningful parts. Stay with me …

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to make a presentation to the Association of Career Professionals(ACP) here in Connecticut — a diverse group of career coaches and consultants, outplacement executives, and individuals in various states of transition. The session was entitled: My Brand, My Career: Building the Relationship of a Lifetime

While shaping one’s personal brand was the ostensible focus of the meeting, my intention was to take the crowd to a deeper place — a place that, once reached, would become the foundation of their personal brand, but also provide them a fresh perspective on how to build a life and legacy they’d be proud of. In short, their brand would become their authentic, distinctive, and sustainable center of gravity.

To get to this “deeper place,” we tackled a variety of questions ranging from who am I? and what makes me special? to where am I going?, who can I trust?, and what is my message? All of these questions, and others, were aimed at cracking the code on one’s essential identity as the starting point for shaping a truly meaningful brand.

Once you crack your code, you’re ready to get real. Put your personal brand statement on a business card — if you don’t have one, or only have a company card, have some made — you’re inviting people to get to know you faster and better. You’re inviting notable discussions, which could lead to a new job, or even a new career. (And, it’s a great conversation starter at cocktail parties!) You’re promoting what you’re really “good at” and what makes you unique. That’s what your brand needs to do.

What are you waiting for?

“I wish I had loved you more.”

With all that is going on in the world, it can be hard to stay sane, remain hopeful, and indeed, remember our shared sense of humanity. My advice? Let’s all take a break from the craziness and focus on what really matters: the people in our lives who mean the most to us. For a moment, forget the politicians, the pipe bombers and the shooters, at least for now.

The other day, I came across an article in The New York Times that stopped me in my tracks. The title is Writing a Last Letter When You Are Healthy. The author is VJ Periyakoil a geriatrics and palliative care doctor. Dr. Periyakoil describes his experience with end-of-life patients who express regret about not telling the people who mattered most to them how they really felt; among them: parents, sons, daughters, friends, and teachers.

My father died unexpectedly when I was 25. I had no time to tell him anything, let alone write a letter expressing my feelings. Neither did he. That experience has made me appreciate Dr. Periyakoil’s work on a deeply personal level. When I think about that moment, the difficulties that color our world today recede in my mind. I am left feeling clear-eyed about what matters most.

As if the first article weren’t enough to bring you back to what truly counts, here’s another one that grabbed my attention recently. It is entitled Stubborn Grudges Yield Little. Time to Change Your Investing. No, not necessarily your financial investing; your emotional investing.

Written by Carl Richards, a certified financial planner and regular contributor to The New York Times, the piece talks about how holding a grudge can slowly eat away at your soul, draining you of your humanity in small incremental amounts.

In the end, writing “last letters” is about more than affirming love, making amends, or offering, or asking for forgiveness. It is about freedom. The freedom to let go of what haunts you, to release yourself from unspoken burdens of the heart, from regret. It is about finding the personal integrity we all need to feel, well…fully human.

Politicians, bombers, and shooters will be with us no matter what you do, or don’t do. The people who matter most may or may not be.

Write that letter.

The problem with “identity” (Fixing it is up to you)

Do you know what the word of the year was in 2015? It was ”identity” according to Dictionary.com.

Why has identity become a hot topic today? Why was “identity” the word of the year in 2015? Chalk it up to the new individualism — a world where we’ve become keenly aware of, and more vocal about what defines us, thanks to the opportunity social media has unleashed to publicly assert yourself. (Ironically, despite its many blessings, social media has contributed to the problem by enabling people to create “identities” which may have nothing to do with who they really are.)

Why does personal identity matter? Because it fuels not simply a sense of who you believe you are, but as a result, the choices you make such as where to work, whom to call a friend (or enemy), and indeed which political candidate gets your vote.

Taken together, our identity-centric lives are coalescing into potent, new communities demarcated by beliefs, both spoken and unspoken, that increasingly influence how well society functions — or doesn’t — economically, socially and politically.

So, what’s the problem?

For all the attention this “identity trend” is receiving, it reinforces an impression that actually diminishes rather than expands upon what it means to be fully human. Indeed, the notion of “identity politics” undermines the deeper meaning of human identity.

The actual ‘problem with identity’ may be a matter of meaning. As the word of the year in 2015,identity’ suggests the timeless fact that we all long to belong. We yearn to tie ourselves to a group, a tribe, a community we can call our own. But that isn’t the deepest meaning of the word.

What I’ve learned over three decades is that your essential identity – your distinctive, value-creating characteristics – springs naturally from the core of your being – a place that is blind to classifications, transcending gender, ethnicity, religion, and every other label we adopt as a way to locate ourselves in the world. You are simply you: unique and powerful in your own right.

With this in mind, identity’s 2015 “word win” may reflect the sobering fact that it was the most used, least understood term out there.

When your definition of identity is based upon a descriptive label rather than the special contribution you’re capable of making as an individual, you short-change yourself, those you care most about, and society as a whole. Why? Because, to paraphrase a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, you leave your music inside.

How you can help fix the identity problem

It’s pretty simple. To borrow another quote from Holmes, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Don’t let the pull of labels or social media distract you from tapping into and applying your innate identity to your life. Everyone will benefit including your co-workers, your friends, your children, your spouse or partner and, most of all, you.

At bottom, having a clear sense of identity is the key to shaping a life marked by authenticity and integrity –- knowing what to do, what not to do, and why.

Here’s one more quote to take away. It’s from British artist, illustrator and teacher, Evelyn Mary Dunbar: “We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own special light.”

I hope you agree.

 

 

 

Can kids learn the joy of giving?

We live, as the Chinese saying goes, in “interesting times.” Wild politics. A fragile global economy. A fundamental shift in the distribution of wealth. It’s hard to navigate these treacherous waters no matter who you are. Taking rather than giving seems to be the underlying mandate. The unspoken theme? “How do I hold onto what I have … or get more of it if that’s even possible?”

That’s mostly “adult talk.” So, what about the children? How do we prepare them to navigate these waters? I vote for kindness; more specifically, I vote for teaching our kids about the joy of giving rather than taking.

The other day, I came across a wonderful article on how we can help our kids understand — and practice — the joy of giving.

The article names five practices for parents; in brief:

  • Be intentional — Make a point of talking to your children about giving and charity
  • Think beyond your family — Let children know that they’re part of a larger community; even that they are “global citizens”
  • Involve kids in decisions — Include your children in discussions about to whom something should be given and why
  • Gift outside the box — Consider the value of giving experiences not just things
  • Include the art of receiving — Learning how to receive gifts gracefully and with gratitude is as important as giving

This deceptively simple piece, and the wisdom it offers, might just renew your faith in what it means to be human. It did for me.

If after reading this intriguing article, you’re moved by its insights, share it with others. Our future depends on it. Let me know what you think.

 

Hillary is not just “Clinton!”

This political season is a wholesale rejection of convention…of dynasties, of DC-as-usual. If I were Hillary, I’d dump my last name and talk to people simply as Hillary Rodham.

Who is she absent the “Clinton?” Now, that would be interesting, refreshing, and would fit far better into this current political climate. I wonder if she has the wisdom and courage to “go there.”

Want to lead? Make work personal

I’m not a fan of politics or politicians. It and they are slaves to party lines and desperate measures designed to ensure election or re-election. Yet here we are, getting into the thick of the presidential race, so it’s tough to avoid the climate of politics that surrounds us, today.

The good news is that the race has led me to wonder about the future of leadership, generally. What it will look like, what it will take to be a truly successful leader. Want to lead? Stay with me, here.

I let my curiosity take over and dove into a variety of resources that have been studying the future of leadership: Hay Group, The Center for Creative Leadership, Google and numerous others.

In short, what I found were a bevy of attributes, which when distilled down, sorted into five major categories: Collaboration, Individuality, Authenticity, Integrity and Communication. Consider these leadership imperatives for the future.

Taken together, they got me to see that the future of leadership is all about the personalization of work as the foundation for change. In short, it’s about humanizing relationships, honoring the individual inside the employee, tapping into the whole person (beginning with you), motivating from the inside, out.

From what I learned, I believe that the personalization of work can become the ‘new efficiency,’ driving productivity and, potentially, greater employee engagement. I like that. It flips the traditional model of assembly line efficiency on its head, by celebrating the “making” of the individual rather than the making of the product.

It’s about time.

What’s your Dawn Wall?

This past January,Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the summit of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall — a quest that included years of planning and that many considered the most challenging rock climb in the world.

One of the climbers, Kevin Jorgeson said of the achievement: “I hope it inspires people to find their own Dawn Wall. We’ve been working on this thing a long time, slowly and surely. I think everyone has their own secret Dawn Wall to complete one day, and maybe they can put this project in their own context.”

I think we do, too. I know I do, although, I’m not always sure what that is. No matter. What matters is waking up to the possibility that there’s a larger purpose to our lives than just getting through the day — something that takes the courage, patience, determination, grit, vision, and passion these two guys put into their climb.

Or, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, it doesn’t matter at all; maybe, getting through the day about 30,000 times (that’s 80+ years, if you’re interested), is enough. No Dawn Walls, but lots of dawns.

What a waste of a life, but that’s just my opinion.

Rouhani’s identity imperative

“We must also pay attention to the issue of identity as a key driver of tension in, and beyond, the Middle East. At their core, the vicious battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are over the nature of those countries’ identities and their consequent roles in our region and the world.

 “The centrality of identity extends to the case of our peaceful nuclear energy program.” To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world. Without comprehending the role of identity, many issues we all face will remain unresolved.”

I read these remarks by President Rouhani of Iran and was blown away. Finally, a world figure who seemingly “gets” the power and influence of identity; who understands the need to address the question of identity head-on, and not just refer to it as some existential notion lacking in practical implications.

Will we tackle the identity question, directly? I don’t know. I’m not sure we know how to go about it. But there are ways to do it. I know that. If you know my work, so do you.

 

Descartes’ trap – Don’t fall into it!

The U.S. is doing it. Microsoft is doing it. Lots of people – not just nations and companies – are doing it: Falling into Descartes’ trap, and it’s taking a hell of a toll on everyone. If you don’t remember, Rene Descartes famously said, I think, therefore, I am. Five little words that set into motion one of the most prevalent and insidious identity traps ever.

Exactly what is Descartes’ trap? It’s when you unwittingly confuse the timeless nature of who you are with the changing nature of what you are.

The Obama Administration wanted to bomb Syria. Was this a rationale military strategy or a misguided, knee-jerk reaction to the idea that our country is the world’s policeman and must act accordingly? In short, if we’re not the world’s policeman, are we still America? Unwittingly, we confuse who we are with what we are – or believe we are – producing undo risk for all involved.

Microsoft is held prisoner by the unspoken belief that it’s value-creating potential is the result of is size and influence. In short: We are big, we are powerful; therefore, we are. Au contraire! Microsoft’s size and influence (what it is) are the result of how it creates value (who it is).

Individuals are also susceptible to Descartes’ trap. People confuse what they do with who they are, all the time. I am a star athlete; that’s who I am. I’m a young investment banker; that’s who I am. I’m a doctor; that’s who I am. Maybe not.

At some point, the star athlete retires, then “who” is she? Or the banker gets fired — for the second time in three years — and is at a loss for how to understand who he is in the face of recurring rejection. The label is gone, but the person remains. Now what?

Before you make life-shaping decisions about your job, career, love-life, whatever, make sure you distinguish between the temporal nature of what you are and the enduring nature of who you are. And keep in mind that who will always trump what.

Your happiness lies in the balance.

 

 

Leaders wanted – Chameleons need not apply

Sometimes, it’s easier to not be who you are in this world. Your boss wants you to be whatever you need to be to get the job done on time and on budget. Your friends want you to be what they need you to be to fit in. Your kids want you to be the best mom or dad on earth, available when and as they need you. (They also want you to be unavailable, when they want nothing to do with you.)

So where is the “you” in your life? The authentic, self-aware person you are, or at least would like to be?

The good news: More and more companies are inviting the ‘true you’ to show up at work, in hopes of motivating you to give your all and, in turn, perhaps developing into a leader others will want to follow. Here’s an article on a new leadership model the shows I’m not making this up.

The bad news: After spending so much energy making other people happy, it can be challenging to muster the self-awareness needed to find, be, and show yourself. Getting there isn’t a function of taking an inventory of your experience, skills, or talents. It starts by answering three questions:

What do I love? What brings me joy? What brings me alive?

Embedded in your responses are clues to your potential for creating distinctive value in the world, which has everything to do with you as a leader, whether you aspire to lead a company, a family, a church, or simply yourself.

The idea of just being you in a world that tugs at you to be what it wants, can feel uncomfortable…what if people don’t like who I am? But the truth is, people are most drawn to, and most admire and respect, those who have the courage to be themselves.

So, get on with it: Answer the questions above and let me – and the world – know who you really are.

What exactly is the ethnic vote?

I just heard a commentator – it is now 7:30 pm EST, Tuesday, election day – say that it’s important to assess the “Asian-American” vote as a harbinger of the election. What the heck is that and how do you calculate it? If Suzie Chow, who is Chinese, marries John Jones, who is “just” an American, and changes her name to Jones, how do count her vote? Is she Asian or American? How would you know? How on earth do you assign her vote, correctly?

If Jose Gomez changes his name – via marriage or simply desire – to Josh George, how do you know he is, or should be counted as, part of the Hispanic voting bloc? Or, if I were to change my name from Ackerman (Is that really Jewish?) to Atkins, how would one know I’m part of the Jewish-American vote?

You don’t. So, why are the commentators – with such serious suits and eyes – telling us to follow the voting trends of these seeming tribes? Seems misleading to me, if not analysis devoid of reliable content.

May the best human win. Amen.

Obama’s handicap

Like you, I watched the debate last night. And, perhaps, like you, I think Romney beat Obama. Hands down. “No debate!”

I’m not necessarily a Romney fan. But here’s what I think is going on: Romney has the great, good fortune of not having to defend his presidential track record. Despite his Governorship, he’s a ‘Federal virgin’ – he hasn’t been the president and, so, can get up there and say whatever he wants to say, with little risk.

Obama on the other hand, is wearing his track record on his sleeve, for all to see (taste, touch, smell, feel) and judge. He’s got nowhere to hide. That’s his handicap and it showed last night.

So, what’s the President to do? He’ll never win playing defense, which is how he came across in the debate. Who said, when the going gets tough, the tough get going? Sounds like sound advice, to me.

Mr. President – Get tough. Stop worrying about what you have/haven’t done (and what’s been done to you). Find the fire you had 4 years ago and light it. If you don’t, you run the risk of flaming out.