You’ve Never Really “Made It”

I was watching this video with Don Cheadle and Kerry Washington talking about being in Hollywood. The thing that I found interesting was how no matter how successful they both are, they seemed well aware that a failure to work or to recede from the limelight at a particular point would result in becoming irrelevant. Ad-libbing, one of the say “you’ve never really made it, you’re just working. You do work.”

Starting a new job is always a good opportunity to reflect on the milestones in our lives as they occur. For me, it’s remembering how strange it can often feel to be doing a thing that I grew up doing and never had any real designs on making a career. Maybe because when I started, you didn’t grow up to become a “web person” but rather, it was a thing you did in your room and your parents told you to stop doing to do something else. My how times have changed.

I’m not sure how consistent I’ll be about blog posts, advice or anything else unrelated to work, side projects or people things. But I do know I need to make a consistent effort to blog more about the sorts of things I wished someone had told me when I was getting started. I’m not sure I’d have understood everything they were trying to impart, but a good reason for why I will often try to spread the wisdom I’ve picked up is because I recall being in a situation where I could’ve used good advice and just didn’t have the right contacts to tap who understood my circumstances enough to dispense it.

Thanks to the ubiquity of the web, it’s a lot easier now. But even then, you don’t want to ask every stranger you meet for advice, since you can’t be sure what you’ll get in return.

My big thought of the night was, you’ve never really ever made. Whether you’re a Hollywood actor or a web guy working in some random state. You’re always trying to improve your craft, growing and trying to do more. You don’t get to a point climbing up the career ladder where you spend much time peering out at the scene thinking “aah, so this is what success feels like,” because it’s a fleeting thing. You never feel like you have enough and even the best situations come with caveats.

I remember a conversation I had with a friend recently. She’s got a Ph.D., is a professor at an elite college and did so after going back to school in her 30s to get where she is now. We both recalled this moment where you remember your life at your worst moments and think, “surely things will get better from here, right?” Only to discover that it took multiple years in some cases to just get to a point where you felt semi-comfortable enough to breathe. She said, “but if you hadn’t gone through all of that to get where you are, would you even appreciate it?”

I’m not sure the answer. I just know that looking back on the immediate and distant past, I didn’t see any of this coming. I’m living out my dreams and checking a number of marks off a to-do list for things I always wanted to do in the process of all of this. Except in the process of doing so, I didn’t always understand the implications of that pursuit and where it’d leave me.

We watch our mentors, our champions and our friends weave through a world with the ease of a dance champion and believe that by modeling ourselves after them we can follow in their footsteps in a sense. Except it doesn’t always work that way when you’re starting from zero or worse. You have to carve your own trail through the maze, learning with each step we take.

The thing I always go back to is, no matter far you’ve come, you’ve never really “made it” you’re just progressively taking the next step on your path.

Know your worth

There is a lot of talk about how Americans need to be more “competitive” in a global marketplace. I don’t want to write about that today, though. Instead, I’m more interested in talking about your competitiveness and how you can make sure that you don’t lose sight of your talents and what you are worth.

The longer you do something, the easier it can get to lose perspective. If you stay in the job for a long time, chances are, you’ll start to get better at it or you’ll get fired. The longer you’re working for a company, the more you start to create shortcuts to your own prosperity.

Whether these shortcuts allow you ample time to focus on things that matter to you, opportunities for advancement or access to key people who can influence your career positively; it’s natural to get into a role and start seeking out affirmation for the good you do on a daily basis.

Whether you get affirmed regularly or not, it’s very important to know how much value you provide your company. Objective measures of this can come from performance evaluations, comments from colleagues and subordinates or from management within the organization.

First off, you need to know what you’re good at. In a declining economy, no job is really safe. Everyone seems to be cutting back and so, it’s critical to understand what your raw talents are. What are your assets? What do you bring to the table and do better than anyone else in the world?

It can be really easy to attribute your success in a particular situation to “how good you are” and to leave it at that. While that might be true — you could be “that good” — you have to recognize how much your success is reliant on the conditions of your particular job. Where you might thrive in one place, going somewhere else with different conditions and the same you, could result in a very different set of outcomes.

If you don’t know what you do best, you might never reach your full potential. For some, that’s okay, because life is a series of tradeoffs and what you do in your career isn’t the defining thing for most people’s life satisfaction. But it’s important to recognize inherently what you do best, because an ability to nurture and grow those talents, can allow you to thrive and remain confident about your career options even in the most trying economic climate.

Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog by Ron Bronson about starting a business, higher education, web strategy and life in the millennial workplace. Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email.

Entry-level boredom

Whenever I have to give my more competent student workers assignments that are best described as “busy work,” I often feel the need to provide caveats to them that it’s a temporary thing and communicate how much I value their dedication and ideas. Their energy and their tireless desire to work feverishly in pursuit of the goal — even if sometimes they’re moving so fast they forget to do something — is an admirable goal.

But in the end, they’re just students and the sum of their value isn’t something you can always overstate. After all, they’re gone if they can make more money working at the gym (where they can do their homework) or find a better situation that meets their goals more suitably.

I find the balancing act of sustaining the curiosity and professional development of junior employees — especially in the millennial age — to be one of great importance. Fact is, you can invigorate your organization from the ideas of your students and younger staffers by harnessing their ideas to positively impact your bottom line.

But you have to straddle that line between embracing new and big ideas with understanding the constraints of leadership to really be able to free people to do their best work. Leaders are often constrained by the inflexibility of their circumstances (at work) to do much to free their people to do ‘good works’ while keeping them fired up. On the same token, most millennials don’t understand the power structure (due to lack of experience) well enough to understand why they’re not able to have more influence on what happens, why things work the way they do and their role in the hierarchy.

Even if they do understand, they still want more say and to be able to impact the way things work. They want more say, they want to influence and to be able to control the way things work more directly. In the way that past generations were motivated through grassroots movements that affected change at the government level, this generation is far more insidious. They want to affect everything because they feel like their talents, their energy and their insights are more acute than their predecessors.

What generation doesn’t think they are the best and brightest, relative to the past? The real issue here is, how to deal with scores of young employees who don’t understand why they can’t have more say or fail to understand why you can’t do more to change their frustration with the status quo.

Three things to keep in mind are:
1) Communication: If you can’t talk to your people, take a class and learn how. We all communicate differently, but the real point is sharing


information to the people who need it. Delegating the communications process might make your life easier sometimes, but you’ll pay for it with the lost loyalty of your people. No matter what the news is, people want to hear it from their leaders.

2) Development: When you hire people, develop them. If you feel their valuable enough to put on the payroll, they you need to value them enough to invest in their future professionally. Not everyone is cut out to be a future leader, but that doesn’t mean you can create their leadership qualities. If you think of them as a video game, you want your characters to ‘max’ out on their attributes, to better equip them to embark on the quest they’re preparing for.

I realize that loyalty is fleeting (relatively) these days amongst workers young and old, who don’t have the gold watch and the retirement check as their motivators. But those folks will eventually weed themselves out anymore. It’s well worth it to find the ones who seek the success that the skills you give them will eventually lead to.

3) Focus Them: It’s not always about the prize. Not always about the destination. While it’s about success, it’s also about the execution you employ to get there.

I’m always amazed by the simple focus and tenacity of workers in retail. These folks are the backbone of an industry that generates billions. Folks who don’t make six figures, run stores that make millions and don’t bat an eyelash about it. Many of them are just young people, getting their first job experiences and are finding themselves in the world. Everyone knows they are likely to be transient, that these jobs are just a stepping stone to where they’ll end up next.

Yet, no one questions their loyalty and wonders whether they truly care. They serve us, we applaud their dedication in the form of tips or other pats on the back…and yet, we castigate them as soon as they put on some slacks and show up in the so-called professional workplace.

We all have a role to play in developing our entry-level team members.

Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog by Ron Bronson about starting a business, higher education, web strategy and life in the millennial workplace. Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email.

What will you do with your year?

For days, I’ve been trying to write the opening salvo to initiate (to myself) this year is different than the others. But then I realized they’re always different.

(No, this isn’t another one of those “I’m turning 30 in a few months” posts where I start reflecting on everything that’s happened and what’s to come. Though on second thought…)

For me, each year has been about an overarching theme that’s defined the journey I’ve taken. Not just embarking on the path from teenager to adult; of leaving home and striking it out on my own, but the themes of what you find yourself reflecting on and tackling year in and year out. The more I began to think about it, it became apparent to me that I’ve been searching for the same thing since I first left home as a precocious teenager without a lot of idea of “what I wanted to do” but cognizant of what tools I had at my disposal to realize those dreams.

Over the years, I’ve been working hard to add to my ‘toolbox’ if you will, to make myself more than just marketable in the eyes of those judging such things; but to feel more complete and well-rounded as an individual. This is an important distinction, because I think sometimes it’s easy for us to get ourselves so wrapped up in trying to improve ourselves for everyone but ourselves.

We’ll work hard to make ourselves employable in the marketplace, desirable in the dating space and respect in the eyes of friends and colleagues. But when it comes to meeting our own goals, desires and wants out of our life, we put that all aside to fulfill other missions that we deem important at the time, only to get dragged on a journey within the journey that might not end for years after we realize “Hey, maybe that’s not actually what I wanted to do.”

Sometimes, I have to remind myself how much has happened in the past few years, to regain perspective. When you’re constantly trying to measure yourself up against people whose experiences don’t resemble your own, it can be really easy to feel bad about where you are relative to the “competition” or to diminish your own accomplishments in an attempt to push yourself to do even more to keep up with whoever represents “success” in your mind.

That’s just those of us who are doggedly pursuing this mythical notion of success. Some folks just don’t care about any of that; pursue aims that are steeped heavily in the happiness of others and creating their success. Good for them.

Some of us try to straddle the line to do both, but are self-aware enough to understand what motivates us is our own ambition and the need to reach the places that we dreamed we’d be, but couldn’t believe until it actually started to happen.

What I’ve taken away from the past few years, is that it’s simply not enough to live and hope that things will get better someday. That you’ll just stumble into what’s right for you or to ogle over what you want from the distance and believe that it’s not meant for you or that opportunities that have passed you by, won’t return again in a different form – better suited for the “you that you’ve become” – when the time is right.

The millennial workplace hasn’t really arrived yet. We talked about theoretically and there are a generation of people showing up to their cubicles, in front of classrooms or climbing the corporate ladder who simply don’t have the patience for what they’re supposed to want to wait for. The dynamism and energy that many of us seek simply doesn’t exist. It’s trapped within silos, hobbled by institutional protocols and stunted by the status quo.

It’s not the fault of the workplace if innovators fail to innovate. Whether it’s pushing the envelope towards change in their own work environments or finding organizations or institutions that support their goals, you don’t really have any excuses to get what you want. It might take longer than you want. It might not start how you expected it to, or go how you anticipated it would. The Dip might be longer for some goals than for others. It’ll just make them sweeter once you reach your destination, but only if it’s a goal worth pursuing.

It occurred to me that in the pursuit of the entrepreneurial life of one’s dreams that you can let so much of life go by that it almost become unrecognizable when you start to look at it from the eyes of an ordinary person.

We you first start out as an entrepreneur can get so wrapped up into the big dreams of believing that hard work, a good team and right idea will launch you to where you need to be. This is probably truer of Gen X/Y/millennial types who are pursuing the big bang of a startup than say, someone invested in more traditional (brick and mortar) entrepreneurial endeavors. But that glint in the eye, the starry eye look of the ambitious dreamer cum entrepreneur is seemingly universal. It’s like the secret handshake, everyone has their own story and reason why they’re on the path.

You spend time thinking and hoping that someone will mentor you or will recognize you and your ideas and lead you to the finish line. At this point, you’re not longer controlling your own destiny, simply witnessing it. It’s not longer about ideas at that point it’s like the dog show. (Just smile and look good for the judges. And brush your teeth.)

It’s about the actions from which the ideas are based. It’s what you do AFTER you stop dreaming, which defines whether you’re successful or not. You don’t get control over whether you succeed or not, but that doesn’t negate the need for you to scratch, claw and fight your way to the next step. It’s not always easy. People won’t understand what motivates you and you’ll find yourself conflicted about the way you ought to go. Some folks might think of you as a flighty malcontent who can’t settle one thing or feel like you’re just not committed.

But you have to cling to what’s gotten you this far in the first place. The sign posts throughout life, which served as fuel to keep going. These are the experiences that motivate you to keep going. Not mired in the same funk, with the same people or same situations that don’t resemble the sort of change you seek in your life. I’m talking about dynamic experiences, ones that reflect your constant growth and evolution as an individual. What about chasing false dreams? How do you distinguish your goals and ambitions from those that others might want for you?

Write down your goals.
Save them.
Revisit them often.
Reflect on your progress.
Adjust them as needed.
Know when to quit.
Set the bar where you can have success.
Keep raising it.
Succeed more.

Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog by Ron Bronson about starting a business, higher education, web strategy and life in the millennial workplace. Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email.

When I realized that turning 30 wasn’t the end of the world…

30 represented some magical threshold from which I would never again return from. A time after which I would transformed into something resembling that which I had never seen before and would never see again.

Ok, so it’s not that bad. But I’ve been thinking of stuff and dredging up things that I thought I’d long forgotten about or relegated to the back bench of my mind. Couple that with a newfound desire to weed out “friends” from Facebook after I kept looking at people’s updates and thinking to myself, “Why am I talking to this person. We didn’t talk in HS/College/Air Force, so why do I care about their new pet/wife/child/job?”

More than anything, I’ve been trying hard to tie up loose ends on projects and clean up things I felt like were lingering for years. (I still have 5 months…)

I don’t really know when it “hit me” that it’d be okay to turn 30 and that it wasn’t truly the end of the world. But the prospect is one that I can’t say I’ve fully wrapped my mind around. It’s not just one thing that spurred the anxiety, either. I think it’s largely about symbolism and perhaps feeling I hadn’t “done enough” or reached the point I wanted to be.

Expectations are funny, because I don’t recall having expectations about being anywhere at 30 and so, it’s strange that caused me so much grief. But that’s precisely what happened.

I’m not over it yet. But I’m coping with it better, because the more I started reading articles about people who went through this thing or that thing in their 20s to discover themselves later on or think about the context of someone saying “17 years ago” when they are in their 40s, it starts to mean something. Then you realize that while seizing the day is important and trying to “have it all now” is probably something that afflicts many of us young ones, that patience is a real virtue and not only that, but you’ll eventually get where you want to be. Or maybe you discover that you’ll change your mind.

What occurred to me is the fact that I recognized how much I’ve continued to change. The more people I meet, the more I grow and evolve, the easier it becomes to realize that things are just getting started. I realize how much my own expectations get in the way of allowing me to thrive, as we can sometimes spend so much time being annoyed, frustrated or downright impatient about what wanting what we want, only to realize things come in due time.

It’s not about being petulant, though. When you’ve had the will your entire life to do things to make the lives of those important to you better and desire to impact the world positively through your work and activities, you can’t help but seek to constantly up the ante even as you continue to succeed.

Wired says blogging is a blog

In his piece in Wired, Paul Boutin says:

Writing a weblog today isn’t the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

And he’s right about the professionalization of amateur media, but that was an inevitable trend of where this was going to go anyway. So who are we kidding?

As for feeling more comfortable on platforms like Twitter or Flickr or Facebook, I’m not buying. People who are seeking to learn more about you might want to waste countless hours trolling the interwebs to see who your other friends are, to look at your pictures and otherwise Googlestalk you to get a better snapshot of who you are. But blogging? There’s the definitive way to really get into someone’s head. It takes discipline and to develop a following, you need to do more than just exist, but actually draw people in.

That takes work. I’ve been blogging for longer than it’s been called that, but the thing that’s changed were the reasons I felt compelled to do it. When I was younger, it was solely about expressing myself and capturing an audience of people who I knew well and who knew me both online and in real life.

In the past, it was almost entirely about expression. Now? It’s about communicating, networking and branching out in more organized ways. I think the democratization of media has open doors to giving voices to people who previously were never heard and all mainstreaming of online media does is provide more people with the idea that they could do it too.

To me, that’s not a bad thing. The tools to do it are easier than they were years ago, most are free and with broadband access more prevalent, it seems like the perfect time to get out there, not to shut down the doors.

Just start living

They say you’re supposed to do start on a project if you actually want to get it done. Or else, you’ll think about it too much and nothing will ever happen. I’ve tried to employ this strategy in recent years, as I work on projects. But sometimes, you run into a situation where you don’t have the skills to get it as good as you want it, you don’t have the money to pay someone else to do it and as a result, the inertia you need to get it off the ground doesn’t materialize.

So what do you do? Try to figure out something you can do and hope that’ll be the foundation for doing what it is you purport to want to do.

But how many times do you keep doing that before you never get where you “thought” you wanted to be? Is it a matter of being tired of climbing the mountain and simply deciding to stay where you are, in the basecamp? Because even though you’re not going anywhere, at least you’re safe and you don’t have as much to worry about?

Nope. Playing it safe hasn’t really gotten me anywhere. Using the mountain analogy, staying in the base of the mountain where it might be warm is great until there is an avalanche that buries your cabin. Or it snows so much that the only access road you have out is buried and you’re running out of food and wood for fuel.

The point is, no matter how safe you try to play it, life is going to happen anyway. So you might as well be doing what you want. How you get there and how you go about accomplishing it, is up to your imagination. But over the past few days, I’ve come to a few critical realizations that I feel are worth sharing, as I imagine that other folks have arrived at similar conclusions.

1. Your life is yours. Sharing it with those people who value it.
Simply put, you can’t spend all of your time trying to impress people who won’t ever be impressed. You’re a great person and you do great things. So why waste your time trying to convince people who don’t know it, can’t see it or won’t say anything…about what you have to offer. You have better things to do.
2. Stop worrying.
It’s Saturday night, you’re going out with some friends and all you can think about is that meeting you’ve got on Thursday or that presentation you have in 10 days that’s contingent on this thing and that thing. If you’re sitting at home working on it, that’s one thing. But if you’re about to go out to unwind, decompress and enjoy life, then do that. Turn up the music and just chill out. The work will be there when you get back.
3. You’ve waited your whole life to grow up. So do it.
We wait our whole lives to get from under our parents thumb. Then we grow up and spend another twenty years trying to do things to please them, get their approval and to thrust people who are far less important than them into the role of approvers of what we do, how we do it and what we believe. Stop being ridiculous and start being real…with yourself. It’s your life. There is no such thing as a useless major and you’re only wasting your time living if you’re doing what you want. Be kind to others and start thriving.

This post started off in a different direction, but melds the core ideas that have been floating around my head for the past week or so. It just occurs to me as I talk to people and even contemplate my own life, that we let so much stuff clog our brains that we make it so hard to truly thrive the way we want to, which is a shame.

To summarize, you have the world at your fingertips and what you want is within your grasp. You owe it to yourself and those who’ve come before you, to reach for it.