“Discover who you are – not who you are supposed to be” Larry Ellison@USC

In all the meetings I have had with folks about career choice, the number one topic, by a landslide, is how to manage the expectations of others: family members, mentors, friends and colleagues.

“My parents want me to major in ‘x’, and apply to ‘y’, but my passion is in ‘z’. How do I get them to understand my decision?”

On Friday, at the University of Southern California, Larry Ellison drew on his personal experience to address the topic. I hope the parents were listening. I guarantee members of the Class of 2016 were texting quotes.

He began where most career conversations start. Recalling his early aspirations to attend USC Medical School, he began to realize that his family’s conviction that he become a doctor was not his own. “Their dreams became my dreams.”

And it wasn’t long before he “became painfully aware that he couldn’t make himself study something that didn’t interest me.”

The power of parental/family influence on career choice can provide either a scaffolding of support or a detour of unending disappointments.

Here’s the thing, the next great innovation is yet to be discovered. The next emerging market is yet to be identified. Categories of new job titles are yet to be defined.

So we fall back on what we know, and what society values as acceptable professions.

In Ellison’s narrative, he dropped out of college and took on a “a couple of jobs I loved and one that was fun”: river guide, rock climbing instructor and computer programmer. It was in the world of technology that he found the link to the same kind of satisfaction he had found solving math problems and playing chess.

But as he incrementally travelled toward his dream job, he found he was unable to live up to the expectations of others.

At the urging of his wife, he returned to college, to pursue his degree. The only course he remembered was a sailing class at Berkeley. The beginning of his love affair with the Pacific Ocean marked the end of the one with his wife, who viewed him as irresponsible, and lacking in ambition. “She kicked me out, and then she divorced me.”

“This was a pivotal moment in my life… Once again, I was unable to live up to the expectations of others.

But this time I was not disappointed in myself for failing to be the person they thought I should be. Their dreams and my dreams were different. I would never confuse the two of them again.

I had discovered things that I loved: the Sierras, Yosemite, the Pacific Ocean. These natural wonders brought me great joy and happiness, and would for the rest of my life. I had an interesting job programming computers and more money than I needed.

For the first time I was certain I was going to survive in this world.

A huge burden of fear had been lifted. I’ll never forget that moment. It was a time for rejoicing.”

Ellison’s career path accelerated along the trajectory of Silicon Valley’s early days, as he tried to find a job he loved as much as sailing. He founded Oracle Corporation, built on his ‘crazy idea’ of constructing a commercialized relational database, and the rest is history.

I spent thirteen years on the USC campus, working with students and alumni as they wrestled with career decisions and connected the mosaic of past experience into a plan for the future. There is no better advice for folks@work or those just starting out than the shared wisdom of Mr. Ellison.

“Each of you has a chance to discover who you are and not who you are supposed to be.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, and try lots of different things. And don’t let the experts discourage you when you challenge the status quo.”

‘It Couldn’t Be Done’ a poem by Edgar Albert Guest

 

How many of us have been motivated by someone telling us ‘it couldn’t be done?’

In September 2007 Randy Pausch, professor and founder of the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center, enumerated the brick walls he climbed to achieve his childhood dreams. The message of his now famous ‘Last Lecture’ was about overcoming obstacles, reframing our perception of obstruction.

“…the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

Ninety years earlier, Edgar Albert Guest published his poem ‘It Couldn’t Be Done’. Paired with Pausch’s ‘Last Lecture’, this week’s Friday Poem encourages the Class of 2016 to follow their dreams, and not be sidetracked by the doubters.

 

It Couldn’t Be Done
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Edgar Albert Guest   1917

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The week@work – A ‘fumbled’ transition @ABC, a second chance for Cho, the Class of 2016 & the ‘Secret Shame of the American Middle-Class”

When is the right time to share news of a career transition with a colleague? This week@work, the communication of Michael Strahan’s move to ‘Good Morning America’ provided a lesson in what not to do. In other stories: Jerry Seinfeld stepped in to mentor fellow comedian Margaret Cho, the Class of 2016 enters the job market, and the middle class continues to live paycheck to paycheck.

‘Kelly Ripa’s Absence From ‘Live’ Points to Rancor at ABC’ was the #1 most read New York Times business article this past week. #8 on the list was ‘Michael Strahan, Switching Shows, Is Headed to ‘Good Morning America’. Leadership lesson: the reaction shouldn’t be bigger news than the announcement.

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Why did this story resonate with readers?  Because it’s a story about fairness @work, professional respect among colleagues, and being left out of the loop. We have all been Kelly and many of us have been Michael.

Both GMA and Live fall within the Disney brand portfolio. It might be time to send the management team to the Disney Institute for a ‘values’ refresh. Jeff James, president and general manager of the Institute, often writes for INC. Here is a sample from April, 2014.

“Walt Disney said, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

To achieve success, leaders should consider these three concepts to motivate and inspire their team:

  1. Vision and Values. At Disney Institute, we believe every leader is telling a story about what he or she values. These values must be aligned with the vision for an organization or team… 
  2. Behaviors over Intentions. Individuals within an organization will look to a leader as a model to develop their own behaviors and decisions… As a leader, it is essential that your behaviors reflect your values and your vision… 
  3. Purpose before Task. When assigning new projects to a team, it is important to discuss the purpose behind the task… if a team understands the common purpose behind individual responsibilities, they will be more inspired to own the tasks as well as the goal.

Tomorrow morning Kelly Ripa will return to the ‘Live’ studio to resume her hosting assignment. In anticipation, Ned Ehrbar of CBS News asks “Is 9 a.m. too early for popcorn? Because this should be good.” Stay tuned.

There was a small story last week about second chances.

“Last month, the stand-up comedian Margaret Cho had a bad set at the Stress Factory in New Jersey. It happens. O.K., it was worse than usual since a clip of Ms. Cho being booed by the crowd showed up on TMZ. But for a comic, bombing is part of the job. What’s less common is getting a second chance with the same audience.”

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We’ve all been there. We prepare a presentation complete with all possible tech bedazzling, and imagine kudos from a receptive audience. However, the execution doesn’t quite match the expectation and we experience an epic fail.

Recovery for the average worker is a combination of coaching, training and perhaps client feedback. It’s extremely rare for an entertainer to revisit the scene of a bad set. Enter Jerry Seinfeld.

“In an invitation sent to all the ticketbuyers from her late-night show in New Brunswick on March 26, Mr. Seinfeld wrote: “At most workplaces, if there’s a problem on the job, there’s a conversation and usually some sort of outcome. But when a stand-up show doesn’t go well, the audience and the comedian both go home unhappy, sometimes not really sure what went wrong.”

Then Mr. Seinfeld made a proposal: “So as I was talking with Margaret about this show last week during the taping in L.A., we started wondering, wouldn’t it be something if we could go back to New Jersey, back to that club with the same audience and try to make things right? Have a discussion where both sides — comedian and audience — could talk about what happened? And then both of us could do a show — a sort of redo for the audience?”

When the jacaranda trees begin to bloom in Southern California, you know it’s time for commencement, and the string of news stories on the job prospects for the Class of 2016.

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Lydia Dishman reported on the Economic Policy Institute’s analysis of work prospects for this year’s grads.

“Members of the class of 2016 are about to take their first steps on career paths. While no one can predict how they will do once they become part of the workforce, the Economic Policy Institute analyzed employment, enrollment, and wage trends to determine their economic prospects.

A paper, titled “Class of 2016,” found that this cohort has better job prospects than members of last year’s graduating class. Thanks to the steady economic recovery, these young people are expected to do better than any other class since 2009.”

The Economic Policy Institute’s paper is not an optimistic read, but a well researched study on the impact of nonexistent wage growth and a volatile economic future.

“Graduating in a weak economy has long-lasting economic consequences. For the next 10 to 15 years, those in the Class of 2016 will likely earn less, and have more spells of unemployment, than if they had graduated when job opportunities were plentiful.”

Saving the best for last, Neal Gabler‘s courageous, must read article in The Atlantic Magazine, ‘The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans’.

“Since 2013, the federal reserve board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?

Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47 percent.”

In an interview with NPR last week, Gabler spoke of “the shame of financial impotence”.

“That shame weighed on me — and I am not overstating the case — on not only a daily basis, but an hourly basis. It keeps you up at night. It is ruinous for relationships, the shame is so great. The ongoing sense of shame, that in a country where we are told anyone can be successful, and where, as Donald Trump has told us endlessly, if you don’t make it you’re a “loser.”

So, yes, did I feel like a loser? You bet I did. But what can you do with that sense of shame? You can’t share it with anybody, because to expose it is, like sexual impotence, something you just don’t want to talk about.”