How often do you stop and ask yourself these questions?
(And how often do you get asked 4 rapid-fire questions to start an article?)
If you don’t perform a simple self-evaluation regularly you are likely to waste valuable time and energy moving in the wrong direction. Or not moving at all. And honey-child, your time is far too valuable to be wasted.
The 4-Mode Method
We are always in one of these 4 modes: Sinking, Floating, Treading Water, or Swimming. (We are also sometimes in pie à-la-mode, but that’s a different story.) Use the following criteria to determine how things are going at any given point.
Sinking means you are not keeping up with the most basic requirements. You are falling behind. You are regressing. You are deeper in effort-debt each day. Sinking is failing. Untreated health issues, substance abuse, and other addictions can all contribute to sinking. Without an intervening act, sinking will lead you to the bottom of the pool. If you are sinking you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. If you don’t, sooner or later you won’t be able to ask for anything again. (That went dark quickly…)
Floating means you are putting in the minimum effort. You are waiting. You are doing nothing to improve, grow, or progress. You are simply letting external forces have their way with you. Floating leads to a lot of regret at the end of your days.
Treading water means you are putting in an effort. You are expending energy. But it is ineffective. All of your motion is simply enabling you to hold your current position. Your intention is good. But your results are not. It is like floating but with a terrible return on your calories burned.
Swimming means you are making progress. You have forward movement. You have coordinated efforts. Swimming means that you have discovered a repeatable process that works. You have direction. You have a goal and you are working towards it.
Always be swimming. Know what you want and work to get it. It’s the only way to get ahead. And it’s the best way to make the best use of your time.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
Life is a curvy journey. There is a definite beginning, a muddy middle, and a certain end. The government issues you a certificate to mark the start and endpoints. But the rest is up to you to chart.
Do you know where you are right now? Knowing where you are on your path is key to navigation. So is knowing your ultimate destination. So take a moment to evaluate where you are on your journey, like Steve Perry. You can use this evaluation on your personal life, professional career, or spiritual journey.
Where are you right now?
On the right road. This means you are doing what you expected to be doing right now. You have chosen a career you like or a role in your family or community that you enjoy, and it aligns with your vision. Keep going.
On a detour. A detour means you were on the right road, but something has forced you off. Now you are having to find a new path forward. If you are on a detour keep your eyes open for opportunities to get back on track. It may take a series of approximations and corrections. Just make sure you a still magnetized to the original destination.
Driving aimlessly Yes, you are driving. But there is no destination. You are traveling just to travel, not with purpose. While this can be an interesting way to see what is around you, it is also a way to lose time, like Morris Day. It helps to set a limit on how long you will allow yourself to move this way. Then it’s time to pull out the map and determine where you need to go next. Which may also require you to redefine your ultimate destination.
Lost You thought you knew where you were headed. But somehow you have gotten turned around, bright eyes. A job, a boss, a workplace, or a significant other has made you question whether you were on the right path for you. Maybe you have never found your purpose and have been driving aimlessly for too long. It’s time to stop and think about your purpose, your goals, and your ultimate destination. Think about what makes you happy. Write your own obituary. The way forward can often be found through this exercise because it forces you to start again with the end in mind.
On a dead-end road. There is no path forward on the road you are on. If you find yourself here, turn around now. Any other road is better than this.
In a Cul-De-Sac This is like a dead-end, only it is really comfortable. You may be in a job that is paying you well, but it is not getting you all the way to your original goals. Or you may be settling for good enough. The Cul-De-Sac can be very comfortable today. But may lead to significant regrets in your final evaluation.
Headed directly towards a clear destination This is the ultimate goal. If you know where you are headed and you are pointing in the right direction the only question is how fast are you moving? Check your speedometer, Casey Jones. Are you moving fast enough to get to your destination on time? Are you moving too fast, and likely to damage the equipment at your current pace? Or do you need to give it more gas? Chances are you could give it more gas.
To get the most out of life it is important to regularly evaluate where you are on your journey. Noting your where and when coordinates will tell you what you need to do next to get to your destination on time. Know your endpoint. Use all the navigational tools you have available to help you get there. And keep moving forward.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
According to the Chinese calendar, 2020 was the year of the rat. No one is likely to argue that designation. But for most of us, 2020 was also the year of the video call. In 2020 I used Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, Go To Meeting, Ring Central, Skype, and PantsOptional. (Ok, I may have made the last one up.)
Zoom and its various alternatives have provided a way for life to continue with some sense of normalcy since covid-19 burst on the scene and began stealing our toilet paper. Thanks to these platforms we can still have meetings and meetups. We can still conduct business. We can still educate our youth. And we can still answer No when asked if we drink alone on those pesky diagnostic questionnaires.
The Zoom Advantage
While it is easy to think of a Zoom meeting as inferior to in-person meetings, there is at least one major advantage Zoom offers over in-person get-togethers. And it’s not related to deodorant.
Zoom offers you the unique opportunity to see yourself the way others see you in meetings. It is arguably the greatest gift of 2020. And it’s a gift you should take advantage of.
When you are on a video conference, and you select to view the meeting in gallery mode, meaning that you can see all participants, you also get to view yourself, in real-time.
This self-view is extremely valuable whether you are talking and presenting or simply listening to others.
7 things to look for when you see yourself on Zoom.
How do you look? Check your attire and your grooming. Do you look professional and respectable? Are you well dressed? Are you properly groomed? Or do you look like you just stumbled in from a pajama party? Your clothing and your hair still matter on Zoom. Look the part.
Are you smiling? Do you look friendly? Are you scowling? Do you have RBF? It makes a big difference. Especially when you are not in the room together. A pleasant smile is a good default.
How is your posture? Are you upright and attentive? Or are you lounging like you are watching a late-night informercial? I am surprised at how many loungers I see on Zoom. Especially among the student population. Don’t be that kid.
Do you appear engaged and interested in the conversation? Or do you look like you would rather be anywhere else? People take as much interest in you as you take in them. So engage.
Do you come across as energetic or lethargic? When you bring energy to the screen others do too. When you lack energy you put people to sleep, like narcolepsy.
Are you providing affirmations? On video conferences, simple head nods go a long way to convey that you agree and support the points being made. However, one long head nod means you have fallen asleep.
How are people responding? You can easily tie your delivery to the response you see on screen form others. Are you connecting? Are you knocking it out of the park? Or have you lost the audience? Make adjustments to make sure you are getting the response you are looking for.
To make sure you are presenting yourself well check the following:
How is the lighting? Are you bright enough? Are you too bright? Do you look like you are beaming in from Heaven? Adjust your lighting using lamps or windows until you look great.
Does your background help your brand image or hurt it? Be aware of what is behind you. It has the ability to make you seem more interesting, or reveal that you are really a slob.
Check the camera angle. Think about TV news anchors. The camera should be at eye level. It should not be looking up your nose. Use books or boxes to raise your computer camera if necessary.
Are you looking at the camera? If you have a second monitor it can appear as if you are never looking at the camera. This happens to me sometimes. It is weird. Fix it if you can. It makes you appear distracted or disinterested.
Take The Fast Feedback
Zoom and other video conference platforms provide you with a mirror during meetings and meetup. They allow you to monitor, evaluate and adjust how you are presenting yourself to the world. This is a rare opportunity to see what you are offering the world in real-time. It is like watching game film. It enables you to see how you are being received. And it allows you to change up your style and delivery, on the fly, and see how your audience responds.
Take advantage of the opportunity video conferencing offers and tune in to see how others see you. Notice how others respond to you. And experiment with adjustments. Zoom will teach you how to become a better presenter and a better audience. All you have to do is pay attention.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this idea, please share it with them.
We have finally come to the end of 2020. This year is certain to be a first-ballot inductee to the Year Hall of Fame. The unprecedented health, economic, political, racial, and social issues of 2020 have made this a year like no other.
Yet the adaptability, innovation, resilience and humanness revealed in 2020 have shown just how amazing humans really are. While cockroaches are known as the species that will survive anything, 2020 has proven that human survival skills are very well intact. Right Mr. Darwin?
Preparing For 2021
Now it’s time to prepare for a great 2021. Why prepare? Because great years, like great lives, don’t just happen. We make them happen.
A key element of living a great life is self-reflection. Asking yourself good questions is like conducting your own performance review. It’s a simple way to discover where you need to course correct, where your course is already correct, and where your corset could correct.
1. Am I educating myself? Getting better starts with getting smarter. Continue to self-educate and your knowledge, abilities, and competitive advantages will grow like compound interest.
2. Am I exercising enough? Your body is your life vehicle. Regular exercise keeps it in top shape. Which will allow you to travel further, faster and over rougher terrain.
3. Am I giving enough to others? Shel Silverstein famously wrote about The Giving Tree. But there is also a magical Giving Boomerang (perhaps made of wood from the giving tree). Because when you give your time, talent and treasure to others, good things come back to you in even bigger and better ways.
4. Am I disciplined enough? Discipline is what gets the job done. If you are not doing the things you’ve committed to, or if you are not avoiding the things you should avoid, check your discipline. Remember, you only need enough to create a habit. Then the habit takes over and discipline can be deployed towards something else.
5. Am I thinking big enough? The answer for 99% of us is no. Think Bigger. Think as big as you can. Think Elon Musk-y. Because bigger thoughts lead to bigger results. It costs the same amount to think big as it does to think small. But the return on your thinking investment is much different. You can always go bigger. #TWSS
6. Am I taking the actions that matter most? Not all actions are created equal. Remember the 80/20 rule. Find the small actions with the biggest rewards. There are a lot of actions that generate very little results. Simply taking the right kinds of action (interacting with the right people for example) can change your life. For proof see Sliding Doors or Run Lola Run.
7. Am I empathetic enough? Are you putting yourself in other people’s shoes? (Like Dr. Scholl’s) Are you really thinking about issues from someone else’s perspective? Want to make and keep more friends? Or develop more sales? Develop your empathy.
8. Am I providing more value than I am costing? This is the key to becoming a highly valuable and sought after human. Always give more than you take and you will remain in control of your destiny. As soon as that ratio flips you are no longer in the drivers seat. Sorry Charlie.
9. Am I getting better or getting worse? Check your trajectory. You are either headed up or down on every possible measure. The good news is that with all but some physical aging issues you can always improve your own angle through focused effort, commitment and mindset.
10. Am I strengthening my network? Most people think far too little about the strength of their network. But take it from the mobile carriers, it is all about the strength of your network. Continue to develop and maintain meaningful relationships. Make as many genuine friendships as you can. When you do, your social, professional and political capital will continue to grow. Which opens you to more opportunities. Remember, opportunities are human things.
11. Am I valuable to know? Do you add value to others? Are you kind, helpful, or inspiring? Do you offer access and connections? Are you are great listener? Really think about the value you offer others. The more value you offer, the more people will seek you out. And you want to be sought after.
12. Am I stretching myself? Growth occurs by stretching beyond your previous abilities. By stretching you expand and strengthen. If you are not stretching you are prone to atrophy and shrinkage. Nobody wants shrinkage. Just ask George Costanza.
13. Am I surprising people? Are you simply doing the things others come to expect of you? Or are you surprising them with new abilities and ambitions? Have you become predictable? Or are you endlessly interesting? Keep the surprises coming.
14. Am I keeping my word? Trustworthiness is the bedrock of relationships, and the gateway to opportunity. Check your trustworthiness more often than once a year. Keeping your word is required on a daily basis. Like flossing and changing your undies.
15. Am I living into my vision for myself? You have aspirations. But simply having aspirations is not enough. You have to get yourself to the destination. You have to become the person you imagined, dragon. Do the doing, not just the dreaming.
16. Am I noticing those who need me? We all have people who need us. Family, friends, clients, employees, community members. Do you see them? Do you notice what they need from you? Do you notice what you have to give?
17. Am I being present? Be now. This is all you ever have.
18. Am I taking care of my health? Have you seen your doctor and dentist lately? Do you have a doctor and dentist? How about a mental health specialist? A chiropractor? Take care of yourself. Because everybody needs a body.
19. Am I eating well? You are what you eat. Literally. Be mindful of your personal building materials. It makes a difference. Because you don’t want to look like a Cheeto in your Speedo.
20. Do I have a healthy way to destress? The world is an all-you-can-eat stress buffet. You need to have ways to rid yourself of the stress. Sleep, exercise and church are my go-to’s. Find your ways to destress best.
21. Do I have enough human interaction? It is easy to become isolated from others, especially during a global pandemic. Humans are social creatures. We need a minimum of human interaction. Positive human interaction is often exactly what we need for comfort, belonging and perspective. During times of isolation, use technology to get your daily allowance of humans. Don’t use Chat Roulette.
22. Am I spending enough time in nature? Spending time in nature is great for re-grounding yourself. A little quiet time with Mama Nature provides peace and perspective you can’t get anywhere else.
23. Am I getting enough sleep? Sleep is the great reset button. It enables you to regenerate your best self. Take advantage of it. Get as much as you need.
24. Am I finding joy in my work? Work fills half of your waking hours. Finding joy in work is finding joy in life. If you are not finding joy it is time for a change. A new approach, a new job, or a new career should be on the table.
25. Does my boss value me? An unfair amount of your happiness is tied to your relationship with your boss. If you have a boss that values you and treats you well you have won half the battle. If not, make a change. Life is too short for bad bosses.
26. Am I living a story worth reading? You only get one shot at life. Make it great. make it a story worth telling, worth hearing and worth reading.
27. Am I positively impacting others? At the end of our days the only thing that really matters is the impact we have on others. Focus on making a positive impact and you will live a great life.
28. Am I laughing enough? This is the easiest way to measure happiness. Laughter is more valuable than money. Spend more time with the people who make you laugh. They will make you feel most alive.
29. Am I making others laugh? We are drawn to people who make us laugh. Are you able to see the humor in life and share it with others? A humorous perspective is always a valuable resource. Especially during difficult times.
30. Am I investing enough in my most important relationship? Think of the one relationship that means more to you than any other. A spouse or significant other. A parent, child or sibling. A friend, partner or neighbor. Are you investing in that person as much as you should? Always give the most important people the most.
31. Am I giving more than people expect? When you offer up 30 questions do you actually give 31? It’s not that hard to do. Overdeliver. People remember.
Self improvement starts with asking yourself good questions. You are a work in progress. Knowing what you should work on is how you make the progress.
*If you know someone who would benefit from these questions, please share this with them.
Remember photos before Instagram? I don’t. Because things are so much better now. Photos are no longer shared in their naked state. Instead, we use filters on our images to make them look their best. And the filtering of photos is fun. Not rollercoaster-riding fun. Or dance party fun. But you know, killing-time-at-the-DMV fun.
How Filters Work
If you haven’t used Instagram or Snapchat filters, here is an oversimplification.
You take a photograph
You look at that photograph. Every time you do it makes you laugh.
You upload it into Insta, or your favorite photo filtering app.
You apply a filter to the photo.
The filter applies its unique recipe of contrast, saturation, highlights, focal points, warmth and color to the image.
You taste test anywhere from 2 to 102 different filters on the photo to decide which one makes the photo look most amazingable.
You have a hard time deciding between two filters.
You ask someone nearby which of the two is better.
They don’t care.
You just pick one.
You share the image with the world.
Everyone thinks you are cooler, better looking and living a more amazing life than you really are.
I love using these filters. It’s fun to look at the same photo through different filters and see very different images. In fact, I love it so much that I have been using the same process in my work and life.
Real World Filters
As Instagram quickly teaches us, there are many ways to look at the world. A seemingly poor image can look great through the right filter. And a great image can look terrible through the wrong filters. The same thing happens with our professional careers, finances, health and relationships.
As an entrepreneur, I use many different filters on my business. I apply the Revenue filter to get a good image of how much money we are bringing into the business. I apply a Profit filter to see how much of that revenue we are actually keeping. I apply a Historical filter to see whether our finances are improving. I apply a Goal filter to see if we are doing what we set out to do.
But those are just the financial filters. I apply a Quality filter to determine whether my advertising and idea agency is producing great creative work. A Customer Service filter tells us whether our service is meeting our expectations and the expectations of our clients. A Happiness filter makes me look at whether me and my teammates at The Weaponry are enjoying the work we are doing. A Culture filter gives me a good look at our company culture and vibe. All of the images are slightly different. And they are all important to look at.
I am always evaluating my personal life with a full spectrum of filters. Here is a list of the filters that I regularly use:
Application and Feedback
I apply these filters often to get a quick look at how I am doing in various areas of my life. Sometimes the picture is beautiful and I want to show everyone. But I don’t always like what I see. That’s okay. A poor image gives me something worthwhile to work on. The filters help me spot my weak links, my blindspots and areas of concern. Once I see them I can give them the attention they deserve. I like to work on my uglies until they are reach a point where I would share them with the world.
There are many ways to look at your work, health, relationships and personal lives. Don’t just focus on the filters that make you look good. Use a wide range of filters to see how you are doing in many areas of your life. Find the areas that need improvement. Give yourself credit for the areas that are focused, sharp and beautiful. Always keep the big picture in mind. It’s the best way to live your life in a way that is worth sharing.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this idea, please share it with them.
I love a good rule of thumb. While other people collect stamps, art or sports memorabilia, I collect rules of thumb. In fact I have far more rules of thumb than I have thumbs. Which, upon further reflection, is not saying much. But I love a good, simple lens through which to view complex issues.
A few years ago when I was looking to hire an Executive Creative Director in Atlanta, I found many interesting candidates. While discussing their various merits, Michael Palma, my headhunter, dropped an interesting rule of thumb into the conversation. He said,
‘I think you always have to ask yourself, is the candidate’s best 5 years in front of them, or behind them.’
Evaluating The Path
I found this to be a startlingly simple way to evaluate a job candidate. Because it boils a career down to trajectory. Is the candidate growing and learning and becoming more capable, more energetic, more inspired, more influential, more well-connected and more wise? Or have they peaked? Have they begun coasting? Have they begun living off of past successes? Are they still seeking out bigger challenges? Are they still hungry and feisty? Are they still showering on a regular basis?
Palma’s rule of thumb isn’t just useful when evaluating job candidates. Its real power is that it is a great way to think about our own careers. And our own lives. I have sought out and surrounded myself with people who maintain an upward trajectory. I am inspired by people who continue to grow and challenge themselves to do, learn and be more.
I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, as part of a personal growth plan. I knew it was the next challenge I needed to maintain my trajectory of growth, passion and impact. As the business continues to grow and expand, it is clear to me that the best 5 years of my career are still ahead.
Take a moment today to look at your own big picture. Are you getting better? Are you pushing yourself? Are you taking on challenges that scare you? Are you maintaining a commitment to life-long learning and self-improvement? Are your interpersonal skills, maturity and accountability improving? If not, it is time for you to spend more time working on you.
Starting your own business requires a special mindset. You have to have both a tolerance for risk, and a confidence that you will succeed despite the odds stacked against you. But how do you know if you have the right kind of entrepreneurial wiring? Before I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry I didn’t have a predictive test to evaluate my risk tolerance. But now I do.
I recenly had a very interesting conversation about risk with my friend Tom O’Hara. Tom is EVP & Enterprise Risk Management Director at Huntington National Bank. Evaluating risk is a challenging task. You must find a way to assess risk tolerance in a way that people can easily articulate.
One question Tom poses in his risk evaluation is this little diagnostic gem:
If you have a meeting with the CEO of your company at 7am, and your commute usually takes 15 minutes, what time would you leave for the meeting?
The answer to this hypothetical question reveals a lot about your risk tolerance. If you say 5:30am you have a very low tolerance for risk. If you say 6:45am you have a very high tolerance for risk. If you say 7am you have trouble understanding the time and space continuum.
My big aha!
As Tom talked through this simple predictive test, a fake lightbulb went off in my real head. I applied the same evaluative criteria to my approach to catching airplanes. When planning my departure for the airport I don’t work off the standard ‘Be at the airport 1-hour ahead of time’ rule of thumb. I know that the check-in period for domestic flights ends 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure. But I don’t use the 30-minute rule either, because I always check in online.
Instead, I use the ‘What time will they close the door?‘ rule of thumb. I have always thought this was the only indicator that really mattered. As a result I am often the last person on the plane. Which has freaked out many of my more conservative coworkers. Yet, I can only remember missing a plane one time in my entire business career. And that was because I had the wrong departure time in my head. Stupid departure time memory malfunction!
What this says about entrepreneurship
Clearly I have a high tolerance for risk. Because those airplanes, they don’t wait (I heard that in a country song). That being typed, I am never unprepared for my travel too and through an airport. I have timed my airport route to the minute, and I allow for a degree of error in traffic, difficulty finding parking, and for crowds at security. On the other hand, my drive to the airport makes me feel alive. So does owning my own business.
Know thyself (but don’t call thyself ‘thyself’). If you have to be at the airport two hours before a domestic flight you may struggle with the coo-coo crazy of entrepreneurship. But if you like rolling onto the plane just as it prepares to roll away from the gate, you likely have what it takes to stomach a couple of years of unpredictability. But there is no right or wrong answer to risk tolerance. There are just different types of rewards. So whether you are traveling for work or pleasure, always consider the rewards that make you happy when you file your flight plan.
*If you like living dangerously and don’t mind missing any of my blog posts then don’t subscribe to this blog. But if you want to play it safe, and have every post emailed to your inbox upon publication, please subscribe today.
Have you engaged in some self-evaluation over the past week? I have. The start of a new year has a funny way of forcing us to take stock of what we have, how we look, the state of our careers, our relationships and the effects of our bad habits. Then, once a year, we take actions to course correct. But this once-a-year-course-correction approach is severely flawed. Almost as flawed as my ability to properly fold fitted sheets.
Life is a highway
Imagine your ideal life as a road. All you have to do is drive on it. Now, imagine you find yourself veering ever-so-slightly towards the ditch, or oncoming traffic. When should you make a course correction? As soon you recognize you are veering! But what if you don’t? What if you only steer once a year?
The problem with annual corrections
If you only make a course correction once a year, you will only ever make a maximum of 100 adjustments (and that’s making some generous assumptions about your longevity and the age at which you scribbled your first New Year’s resolution).
At just 100 adjustments over a lifetime, one of two things happens. You either veer far off course each year, or you travel really, really, really slowly to prevent winding up in the ditch before the end of the year. Either way, 100 lifetime corrections severely limits your ability to travel your ideal path.
Driver Safety Quiz
Question: How often do you need to make subtle adjustments when you are driving an actual car on an actual road?
Answer: Every few seconds.
What should you do instead?
It’s simple math. An annual evaluation and course correction will allow you 100 chances to follow your true path. A monthly correction will provide you with 1200 chances. Weekly evaluations provide 5200 lifetime adjustments. While a daily course correction will provide you with 36,500 chances to travel your true path (plus roughly 25 leap days which you can use as you please).
I’m not saying you need to course correct every day. I’m also not saying you shouldn’t. But a weekly or monthly inventory check will dramatically improve your odds of attaining your goals and living into the life of your design.
So don’t wait until the end of the year. Start by re-evaluating your course today, one week into the new year. If you are not heading towards your own true north, make the necessary adjustments now. Keep recalibrating. And steer yourself exactly where you want to go.
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