Bump and grind

WordPress.com, of which I am a very happy user (cost = free, uptime = 100%, functionality = great and always improving) has one interesting limitation – the blog statistics one can easily access are “blog traffic,” meaning the number of site visits you get on your blog.  There’s no direct information about how many RSS subscribers you have or people subscribe to your posts by email (never mind stuff being retweeted, re-Facebooked, re-emailed).

If blogs were magazines, this would be akin to tracking how many copies you sold at the newsstand and ignoring your monthly subscriber base.

The thing is, monkey see, monkey do.  Seeing those on-site stats daily makes you care about their mostly random vacillations.  And while they do matter some – if you’re writing good content, others will link to it, repost it on social media sites, etc. so your onsite traffic will increase – they’re mostly noise compared to getting and keeping loyal readers.  For example, getting 25 new RSS subscribers is obviously more important than getting 5,000 hits on a single day (25 subscribers = ~5,000 impressions /year), but it just doesn’t feel that way.

So when something big hits that gets you visibility, there’s a natural tendency to thirst for the next big bump – the big sale, the big media hit, the big donor, the big something new.  Keeping your true fans insanely happy somehow seems like less of a victory than landing the next big customer, maybe because happy customers are often quiet, meaning there’s not as much feedback there as you’d like or need.

And so we get one big bump, one big new sale, one major new donor, and the moment things go back to normal we thirst for that next bump and the accompanying adrenaline.  It feels exciting to bring in someone new, to make that big pitch, to close the sale.  After all, isn’t big game hunting what this is all about?

Well no, actually.  This game is part hunting and part gathering, and, in the long-term, nurturing and feeding your biggest fans pays off a lot more than that next potential big win…in fact, looking off too far into the distance is a surefire way to make your most enthusiastic supporters feel like chopped liver.

That constant cultivation, the care and feeding, is the real work that makes a lasting impact.

Work really hard

All the most incredible people I know work hard.  Really hard.  Crazily hard.

My first job out of college was as a management consultant.  The deal in those jobs is that you sign away your life for a few years in exchange for a professional experience that gives you a lot more exposure and learning than you really deserve, given what you know.

That was my experience.  In the first two months on the job I worked 7 days a week, 12-14 hours a day.  It was pretty miserable.  And that was a close approximation of the next four years.  Of course, I also learned a lot.

I also figured that working that hard had to be temporary.  It had to be, I figured, since the distinction between “work” and “my life” was a bright line.  Work wasn’t terrible, but it was definitely work = something I had to do.  Not working = fun.  Over time, the more I worked the less I felt I was living.  For me, that was exhausting.

That’s why I think passion and loving what you do win every time – because you want to be there.  Your mind is always churning with the next idea, not because your boss tells you to but because you’re doing your life’s work.

Of course you’re not going to love every job every day starting today for the rest of your life.  It takes some time to get there, since it’s a combination of self-discovery, trial-and-error, and chance.

If you’re not working at your dream job today, what do you do?

The easier, but ultimately limiting, option is to slog away at the job you don’t love, and steal every last minute you can for “free time.”

The other option is to make finding and living your passion a big part of what you do, starting today.  You don’t do this by quitting your job (assuming that’s not an option) but by taking the time you have when not at “work” to keep on working, not on your day job but at discovering and learning your craft and your passion.

Jump into your dreams today.  Find the 15 most influential/inspirational people doing/writing about the work you hope to do, and read them religiously.  Add in a few people who are going to give you a daily dose of kick-in-the-pants inspiration.  Get involved in conversations that will lead to opportunities for real-life interaction and opportunity. Learn the skills that will serve you in your life’s work – by setting aside the time today, rolling up your sleeves, and doing the work.

Stephen King famously said that step 1 in writing is “Put butt in chair.” That chair isn’t placed in front of a TV or a computer that’s browsing Facebook, it’s not a barstool and when you sit in it you’re not reading a trashy novel.

It’s placed squarely in front of the tools of your trade, the ones you hope, someday, to master.

No shortcuts

I vividly remember an end-of-year b-school class – my leadership professor asked the class where they’d like to be in 25 years.  Answers varied, but most sounded pretty lofty until one guy said what I suspect others were thinking: “This is all great, but I’m going to make as much money as I possibly can, then I’m going to buy an island and retire there.”

That wasn’t my dream, but I appreciated the clarity and the honesty.

The problem, though, arises after the first six months (or year?) on the island: then what?

I meet a lot of people who have had a great deal of financial success, and what I’ve found is that there’s a pretty low correlation between financial success and having a sense of purpose – that is, some people who are hugely financially successful have a great sense of purpose and passion; others don’t.  I can’t seem to find any greater or lesser tendency amongst uber-successful people in knowing why they were put on the earth.

As we all live (hopefully) longer lives, we will at some point have to start on the work of figuring our our passions, what we love, what inspires us.

My friend living on that island will be starting that work in 25 years.

You could start it today.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Commencement job blues

Graduation is in the air, and I can’t help but think about students finishing  their degrees and marching off to their new jobs.  It’s a stressful enough time, and I suspect that even though the economy is no longer in a free fall that jobs are still hard to come by.  Which makes it all the harder for students to stick it out for the jobs they really want instead of the jobs they can get.

It’s easy to pretend that the first job you take is just that, and that it’s not a first step down a path.  The truth is, it is a move in one direction.  It’s not an irrevocable one, but this step will make it easier to continue in one direction, harder to turn to another one.

While I was at business school, I had an offer for a job that was exactly the kind of job you go to business school to get: prestigious, it would get me a set of skills I thought I wanted, it paid well, the works.

The only thing was, I didn’t want the job.  The people weren’t right, the culture wasn’t right, my motivations for considering the job weren’t right.   Just thinking about accepting the job physically made my stomach tighten up.  But I knew it would be a stepping stone to other things.  And I knew my classmates would say I was crazy (or worse) for turning it down.

A close friend gave me some advice I’ll never forget.

She said, “A few months from now, it’s just going to be you showing up at that office.  None of your classmates, none of the people who are going to tell you you’re crazy for turning it down, no one but you is going to be there.  And then what?”

It’s true.  It’s you, it’s your job, it’s your path, it’s your life.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Original passion

I recently came back from a weeklong trip to Europe and was swapping stories with my wife about the week. She admitted what I already knew, that my five-year-old son has started to really notice my absence when I travel for work.

“But,” she said, “It’s actually really easy to explain to him why you’re away.  I say to him that Daddy is out helping get money to help pay for things like safe water to drink or a safe place for a mommy to have her baby for people who need it.  And he understands that and it makes sense to him.”

First, I was overwhelmed by this kind of support from my family.

Second, I noticed that, even to me, this is not exactly how my week felt.

Of course I was talking about the work that Acumen Fund does and explaining to people why supporting Acumen Fund helps bring about large-scale change to persistent social problem.  But, even for me, it is easy to get caught up in the process of it all and lose track of that very simple, very important, very basic connection.

A friend of mine who serves on a number of nonprofit boards recently told me that, in her opinion, there’s no better way to tap into your original passion for a cause than to sit in front of someone else and ask them to support that cause financially.  It forces you to get to the root of why you think that cause matters, to share that original passion with someone else, and to invite someone else to have the same sense of exhilaration and purpose that you feel in being part of that organization – that cause – every day.

Somehow, in the midst everything it takes to do the work – getting introduced to the right people, meeting with them, sharing your story – you can get so caught up in the process that the original purpose gets out of focus.

It helps to remember, every day, “this is why I do this.”

Yes, the act we’re engaging in is raising money, but the thing that’s really happening is that another person has safe water to drink, or a proper place to give birth, or a more productive farm, or a vaccine for a life-threatening disease, or a school that will provide them with opportunity in their lives…and all of this thanks in part to the work you’re doing.

If we can tap into that original passion – in ourselves and in others – I’m sure we can unleash a different kind of energy, and I’m sure that we can overcome all our fears about putting ourselves out there and asking people to walk our path with us.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

The catch

To thank someone in a way that touches and moves them, you have to feel real gratitude.

To be outstanding at customer service, you have to want to make your customers love your product (not just be “satisfied”).

To have employees who consistently make the right decisions, they have to care about the brand, the company, and its success.

Faking it only gets you so far. 

To give yourself over totally to something, you have to care.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook