Focus on the Miles that Matter

A Good Traveler by L. Cota Nupah Makah

A Good Traveler by L. Cota Nupah Makah

My wife and I, and our 14-month-old son, just got back to Provo, Utah after spending three months in Texas for an internship with Hewlett Packard. After the trip was over, we were a little surprised to see that we drove a total of 6,000 miles during those three months! It is only 1,300 miles from Utah to Texas, so that means we drove 2,600 miles getting there and back, and 3,400 miles while in Texas!

To us, the 1,300 mile trip each way seemed like a big deal. We had the car checked out, mapped several possible routes, planned out lunch stops and hotels, and packed enough food to feed everyone on the freeway system between Provo and Dallas a pretty solid meal. We were prepared. Little did we know we would travel much more than 1,300 miles once we got to our destination. The real trip began right after we arrived. The two big milestones we planned for turned out to be small compared to the miles traveled in between. 

Small trips, quick excursions, and everyday errands turned into 3,400 miles of travel over the summer. Though we did not pack snacks, plan breaks along the way, or get the car checked out ahead of time, these little trips had a much larger impact on our overall experience than the two “big” road trips did. This may seem like a no-brainer for road trips- but I think we ignore this principle in regular life far too often.

What if the things we think matter are actually just tiny little turns compared to all the miles in between? How often do we think: Once I get a promotion, I will relax and spend more time with family. Once I graduate, I will have more time to serve at church. When we move into our new house, I will get to know the neighbors. When my kids are a little older, I’ll have time to….

We travel many more miles between our life milestones than we realize, and it is those in-between miles that matter. It is up to us to decide what we do with those miles and make sure they are not wasted. If we are not careful, we’ll realize too late that milestones come and go and it is the life we live before and after them that really matters, not the milestones at all.

The question is: How do you keep everyday moments in focus while working towards larger milestones?


A Giver At Best


I recently started reading a book called Give and Take by Adam Grant, a professor at The Wharton School. It is an incredible book you should read. period. I won’t ruin it for you, but I want to touch on one subject that really hit me. We have all heard of givers and takers. Well Adam Grant highlights a third group called Matchers.

These people maintain a healthy ratio of give and take. They tend to give only when it appears they will receive something in return immediately or in the near future. They will not take if it means they have to give more than they are comfortable giving. It is all about balancing give and take.

Well I am/was a Matcher. I didn’t really know it until recently, but I usually do keep track of what I do for others so I know who to ask favors from later. I find it hard to help people I know will never reciprocate. I have a hard time recommending anyone but close friends for jobs because I feel the potential harm of that person failing at the job outweighs the potential good of that person succeeding. 

Right before I started reading Give and Take, I reached out to a Google employee through LinkedIn who graduated from the same MBA program I am currently in. We had not personally met, but we did share a few common contacts. I asked him if he had any knowledge of a program called @GoogleTalks  or if he knew someone close to the program that I could talk with. I explained that I hoped to learn more about how the program originated and how they maintained it so well. This individual accepted my connection request and then responded, ” I am not comfortable sending you to the people who manage the program, since I don’t know you other than an intro email on LinkedIn. Nothing personal.”

His response irritated me. What was he worried I would do? I wondered. Am I that untrustworthy right from the get go? I felt a little offended that I was assumed to be unworthy of someone’s good will just for being unknown. He could have offered to connect first and find out more details. He didn’t bother. This man was a Matcher at best and a Taker at worst. There was no benefit to him so he saw no reason to help. Considering Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, I found this situation ironic.

I learned a valuable lesson though. I did not want to treat anyone the way he treated me. And then I started reading Give and Take. Givers do not need anything in return for helping someone. They are happy to lift someone by giving advice, sharing resources, listening, or making a critical introduction. They are not reluctant to help strangers. A giver thinks if the benefit to the other person outweighs my own discomfort, I’ll give. That is an important point. Usually we think, will the benefit to me outweigh the potential harm or discomfort of helping? For most of us, thinking about the benefit to the other person first is a fundamentally different way of thinking.

I decided to start giving more- wherever I could. I soon found that opportunities were everywhere! A colleague I had not spoken to in almost 8 years posted on facebook that he was looking for work. I took 3 minutes to make a connection with a recruiter I knew and put them in touch with each other . I took a few minutes to write a few LinkedIn recommendations for some coworkers. I reviewed a friends resume and gave him a few suggestions. I took more time to play with my son when I got home from work.

Small opportunities to give have not stopped coming. I now realize how many chances to help people I know well (and some I don’t know so well) I was passing up each day. Now that some time has passed, I am learning that I have stronger relationships with people I care about. I notice people’s needs and remember their goals more. I am happier. I am not busier, more tired, poorer, or anything like that. So, there really is no downside to giving more.

Are you a Giver, Taker, or Matcher? What keeps you from giving more? What motivates you to give?

Experience Teaches

Experience teaches only the teachable.

                                              – Aldous Huxley

Have you ever blamed just about everything and everyone else only to finally realize you were the problem all along? It is a humbling moment. How do you stay teachable?

You Can Change. Steve Jobs Said So.

You have much more control of your life, circumstances, environment, skills, habits, strengths, and weaknesses than society will ever admit.

A 2012 Gallup Poll shows that 54% of Americans believe they are thriving in life. On a 10 point scale, those Americans rate their current life a 7 or higher and their future life an 8 or higher. Given that we are in the middle of one of the worst economic disasters in recent history, 54% is decent.

I won’t ignore the remaining 46% though. Sadly, 43% of them say they are struggling and the remaining 3% – suffering. If you fall within that 46% now or in the future, I encourage you to learn from Steve Jobs. Before he returned to Apple and made it the world’s most valuable company, the following clip was taped by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association.

Could he make his point any easier to understand? Push on life and something will “pop out the other side.” In other words, nothing will change unless you push, poke, or prod opportunities around you. In the next few posts, I will discuss a few ways you can push on life to change it. Your push should be deliberate, well thought out, specific, and prudent. For now, the important hurdle for you to clear is understanding that you can change. Life can change for the better.

“Embrace it. Change it. Improve it. Make Your Mark Upon It.”
-Steve Jobs

What do you feel is the biggest obstacle to reaching your goals?

4 Keys to a Successful Info Interview

Info interviews are critical to networking and actually achieving personal success. If you are wondering what an info interview is or why you should conduct one, check out my earlier post.

The 4 Keys

1. Interview The Right Person
This first step is often botched. Too many of us think too far down the road. You may think “I want to be the VP of marketing,”  so you seek out a VP of marketing to interview. The problem? You are currently an intern for the marketing department of a billion dollar company. Intern to VP is a pretty huge leap. Don’t forget the positions in between your current job and your dream job. Find someone that currently holds the position you will most likely transition to next. Your best bet is to interview a marketing associate. Once you are a marketing associate, interview the senior manager of marketing, then the director of marketing, and finally the VP of marketing. Be smart and get information that you can actually act on instead of information that simply educates you about a job you are not and will not be qualified for in the near future.

2. Prepare
Here’s how:
(a) Research the interviewee’s company and position. Make sure you know the company’s history, products/services, recent achievements and struggles. Be familiar with the interviewee’s basic job functions and what education/skills it takes to fill that position.
(b) Write down 15 to 30 questions ahead of time and make sure the questions are succinct and helpful. Don’t waste time asking questions you can easily find answers to on the company’s website.  
Be prepared to answer the question, “what can I do for you?” In other words, make sure you can clearly state why you are conducting the interview and what you hope to gain from it.

3. Control the Interview
You run the interview – period. Do not wait for the interviewee to ask you questions or give you some magic signal that it is your turn to talk.  Make sure you take control from the very start of the interview. Thank the interviewee for meeting or talking with you and reiterate that you will only take 20 to 30 minutes of their time (Do not go over time unless they specifically tell you they have more to tell you after the 30 minutes is up). Introduce yourself and explain why you want to interview them. You should control the interview, but remember they are doing you a favor by meeting with you. Yield to the interviewee if he or she starts talking, even if it is slightly off topic. Always bring it back around by asking another question that steers the conversation in the right direction. If you have a prepared list of questions, this won’t be difficult.

Structure your questions in a logical way. For example, you may first ask how the interviewee decided to pursue their particular field of work. You may then ask what skills and education helped them get to where they are now. Then you can ask them several questions about their current position (responsibilities, culture of the company, needed skills, work-life balance, etc.).

To signal that you are ending the interview (to be respectful of their time), you should thank them again for making time for you and sharing their experiences. Ask them if it is okay if you stay in touch as you utilize the information they provided to ask any follow-up questions you may have. Lastly, always ask for names of individuals you should talk with to learn even more about the company and/or position. This will help you expand your network and set up additional info interviews.

4. Send a Follow-up Thank You
Send an e-mail, LinkedIn message, hand-written note, or a bike messenger for all I care. Just make sure you send a follow-up thank you to let the interviewee know you really appreciate their time and advice. Neglecting this is irresponsible and will make it more difficult to get future meetings with the interviewee.

What do you believe is the most important question to ask during an info interview?

Learn This 1 Lesson From Billionaire Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theatres, and Magnolia Pictures. He is the chairman of the HDTV cable network HDNet and stars on ABC’s Shark Tank. Oh, and he’s a billionaire.

Skip Bayless is a sports journalist and television personality for ESPN. Bayless is reportedly a millionaire.

Mark Cuban recently appeared on ESPN and made Bayless look like an idiot. Cuban’s point is not directed at Bayless alone, however. Many of us make the same mistake Bayless makes over and over in the ESPN clip. Watch the clip and cringe. This is how you should feel every time you use Bayless’ approach to understanding your own shortcomings, failures, and successes. Without Cuban’s approach, I guarantee you will not be able to take your success (skill, ability, salary, title, whatever means success to you) to the next level.

Cuban points out that Bayless deals only in generalities. It is impossible to accurately describe  a cause and effect relationship using generalities. Cuban points out how commentators were saying Miami “wanted it more” or the Mavericks “didn’t play hard enough.” That is how they attribute success or failure to professional teams. The problem is that you cannot improve generalities. How do the Mavericks “want it more” or how do they “play harder?” Actual improvement requires more concrete detail. Have fewer turn overs, manage the clock better, keep so-and-so out from under the basket, etc.

We need to avoid this problem in our own professional lives: did you get passed over for that promotion because you didn’t want it enough? The other candidate wanted it more or tried harder? Were you ‘just not feeling it’ the day of the interview so it didn’t go so well? Was the interview just awkward for some reason? If you want to get that next promotion, you need to improve in specific ways. What questions can you answer better? How can you improve your image as a reliable employee who would make a strong manager (be on time to work, turn in high-quality work before the deadline, volunteer for projects, etc)? How can you make an interview comfortable for you and the interviewer (smile, make light conversation, make eye contact, etc)?

Learn from Cuban, deal in facts. What do you need to improve to take your success to the next level?

What common generalities hold us back on a daily basis?

Reach Out to Successful People: They Can Help You

The #1 way to get in touch with successful people (if you are aspiring to become like them) is to conduct an informational interview.

You have conducted hundreds of informal info interviews already. In fact, every time you ask someone about their hobbies, work, or background (say, on a first date or a long flight sandwiched between two strangers), you are conducting a small info interview. You already know how to gather information and build relationships. The key here is to take that knowledge and apply it to a more professional setting.

The Basics of an Info Interview

First and foremost, an info interview requires that you interview a professional. Not necessarily someone in a suit at a corporate office. You simply need to interview someone who is successfully doing what you are trying to do. This should be a one-on-one meeting between you and the professional.

I am about to begin the MBA program at Brigham Young University. Quite a bit of legwork is required before I even start the program. For example, I need to identify the top 3 or 4 companies I want to work for. A Google search or a perusal of a company’s website only yields so much information (usually sugar coated or negatively skewed). It is impossible to get a good feel for a company‘s true culture, what the company expects from employees, or what a typical workday is like for a specific position without talking to someone who works for the company. So, I decided to conduct several info interviews.

LinkedIn is a great way to find potential interviewees. Look up specific companies and find individuals who have job titles or responsibilities you are interested in. Ask one of your contacts to introduce you or send a direct message to ask if they are willing to be interviewed. When you send a request, include the following:

1. Who you are (name, school/company, and location)

2. Why you would like to interview them (learn about their experience with x program/company/profession/position)

3. How much time you intend to take

4. Gratitude for their time

I reached out to several second-year MBA students who are currently interning at companies I am interested in. I used LinkedIn to send a message and ask if they would be willing to talk for 20 to 30 minutes about their experience in the MBA program and their internship. Each person I approached happily accepted my request. The list of companies I am interested in changed dramatically because of these info interviews. I crossed off several companies I thought were perfect for me and added companies I had never considered before.

A well executed Info Interview will grow your network and increase your chances for personal success. In my next post, I will talk about how to conduct an info interview, what you should say, and what you should not say. In the meantime, who will you invite to an info interview?

More Posts

Want to Enjoy Your Job Again? Jot These 3 Things Down

Hard time getting a job? I Dare You to Ask for Help

Want to Enjoy Your Job Again? Jot these 3 Ideas Down

Do you stare at unread messages in your inbox and feel absolutely no desire to open them? In fact, do you search for something (anything) to do besides opening those unread e-mails? LinkedIn, Facebook, Google News…

Do you leave projects unfinished because no one will ever notice whether they are finished or not?

Do you work a little, distract yourself, scold yourself, work a little, distract yourself, scold yourself, work a little, get up to get a drink, and then start the whole process over again?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are either lazy, or underemployed.

Today, I want to talk to the underemployed. You are better than your job and probably better than your boss. You are under utilized, under challenged, and probably losing your edge, which drives you nuts. Don’t give up. The worst thing you could do is doom yourself to your own job for one more day than is necessary. You can enjoy your job again. You can enjoy it for as long as you are in it. If you do the three things listed below, you will enjoy work and you will move on to a much bigger challenge sooner than you think possible. Good things come to those who give their all no matter what.

Jot these three ideas down- and do them! You will notice the difference immediately.

  1. Define your position. Don’t let it define you
    Your job does not describe who you are or what skills you have. You can do everything in your job description and so much more. Make it clear to your boss and co-workers (through performance, not words) that you won’t limit yourself to your job description. You are better, smarter, and worth more than the desk you occupy, so don’t limit yourself to everyone’s image of your position. Blow their mind with what you can make happen from your desk.
  2. Take the initiative. Don’t wait for your boss to give you additional projects
    I bet you string out the work you have because if you really sat down and did it at your normal pace, you’d be done in about 20 minutes. The problem is, if you finish it in 20 minutes, you have to look busy for the rest of the day. Looking busy is much harder than actually being busy. Don’t wait for assignments. Ask for a new project (or propose your own) as soon as you finish your work. Bug your boss until he gets sick of hearing from you. He’ll either give you much larger responsibilities or you will be poached by another department that appreciates work ethic.
  3. Leave your signature on every project you touch
    Make sure you complete every project ahead of schedule, under budget, and/or add awesome features no one else thought of. Every project you touch should have your name written up, down, and across it so everyone knows the quality of your work. Do this, and your name will precede your work. Projects, special requests, and promotions will fall at your feet based on the reputation you create for yourself.

Do these three things and you will be well on your way to enjoying your job again. You will probably be faced with a new problem. You won’t have time to enjoy your current job because you’ll be offered a new one. Enjoy!

See Related Posts:

Hard Time Getting a Job? I Dare You To Ask for Help

Hard time getting a job? I Dare You to Ask for Help

Let’s say you apply for several jobs and never get called for an interview. What do you do next? Right, use the same resume to apply for more jobs and wait longer. Then what? Exactly, send out your resume a few more times. This time, change the font and add more bullet points. If you still don’t get an interview, the job market must be horrible and all the jobs must be going to friends of the hiring managers right? Probably, but it is your fault you aren’t attractive enough on paper to get an interview despite the bad job market or the hiring manager’s nephew’s need for a job.

If you want different results, try a different approach. Have you ever asked someone for help? No, a Google search does not count. Neither does a blog, wiki, or website dedicated to the perfect resume in just 10 minutes. Have you ever asked a real person for help? Is there someone who you trust that is currently employed? Have you asked for a copy of their resume or asked them to take a look at yours? I know it is a hard thing to do. In fact, I used to share my resume in the same way a little boy might burst through the front door at home and thrust his soccer trophy into his father’s hands. So, when I get feedback such as “this part is confusing” or “this section is wordy,” I feel like the little boy whose father says, “I’ve seen better trophies and you missed a couple of easy shots.”

If you think your resume is perfect, your cover letter is flawless, and your interviewing skills are deadly- you are wrong. If you are employed and wrong, no harm done. But if you are unemployed and wrong, we have a problem. The good news is that you can have a killer resume, an attractive cover letter, and a solid interview if you simply ask for help.

I dare you to find a professional friend, workshop, or class to help you develop the skills you need to land the job you want. You will be one of the few that ask for help and thus, one of the few to get a job offer.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: