“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.”

The week@work – Super Bowl@50, Facebook@12 and unemployment@4.9%

This week@work the center of the media universe shifted from Iowa to New Hampshire, and Silicon Valley where, separated by about 12 miles on Highway 101, Levi Stadium in Santa Clara will host the 50th Super Bowl game, and Facebook celebrated it’s twelfth birthday at corporate HQ in Menlo Park. And, in the U.S. the unemployment rate dropped to 4.9%, the lowest since 2008.

In the lead up to the big game there were hundreds of stories about those who choose football as a career, from the high school senior announcing a college choice to the veteran player rewarded with membership in the Football Hall of Fame.

The typical NFL player takes their first step in their career at the annual February ritual, ‘National Signing Day’. It’s the day high school football players sign a ‘Letter of Intent’ to accept an offer of admission and commit to play football at the collegiate level. This year, Tom Brady and Derek Jeter were on hand in Ann Arbor, Michigan to participate in ‘The Signing of the Stars’ “a flamboyant national signing day pep rally streamed live on Wednesday by The Players’ Tribune — the website founded by Jeter, a Michigan native — and intended to build the hype around this year’s class of prospective Wolverines football players.”

Time will tell if the top college recruit, Rashan Gary, from Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey will advance beyond his playing days at Michigan.

On the other end of the football career spectrum is recognition as an inductee into the NFL Hall of Fame. The class of 2016 includes former Oakland Raiders quarterback, Ken Stabler who let his team to their first Super Bowl victory after the 1976 season.

“While generally a cause for celebration, Saturday’s announcement of the class of 2016 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame carried a somber tone as Ken Stabler, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, was elected days after it was publicly revealed that he had had Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a degenerative brain disease, before his death in July.

Stabler, known as the Snake, who won a Most Valuable Player Award for the 1974 season and led the Raiders to the team’s first Super Bowl victory after the 1976 season, was previously a finalist for election three times, but this year, as a senior candidate, he was elected alongside Dick Stanfel, a star offensive lineman in the 1950s. The modern-era electees were Brett Favre, Marvin Harrison, Kevin Greene, Orlando Pace and Tony Dungy, as well as Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., who owned the San Francisco 49ers for all five of their Super Bowl wins and was elected as a contributor.”

On Wednesday, journalist, John Branch’s profile of Stabler, and his life after football with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) was published in The New York Times.

“After retiring from football, Stabler worked as a broadcast analyst for the N.F.L. and for the University of Alabama, where he had played quarterback under Coach Bear Bryant. His damaged knees became such a problem in the past 10 years that he rarely ventured out.

“His vision of what a leader is, what a strong person is, is someone who did not show signs of weakness,” said Alexa Stabler, 29, the second of Stabler’s three grown daughters. “Because it would affect the people he relied on and the people he cared about, whether that was his family or his teammates.”

When Stabler was 31, a 1977 Sports Illustrated feature story detailed his penchant for honky-tonks and marinas, usually with a drink in one hand and a pretty woman in the other…He pondered what he might do after football.

“My lifestyle is too rough — too much booze and babes and cigarettes — to be a high school coach,” Stabler said. “I’d hardly be a shining example to the young athletes of the future.”

His family hopes that the most powerful lesson he provides is the one delivered after he was gone.

In between signing day and induction into the Football Hall of Fame, if you’re impossibly lucky, is a chance to compete in the national championship of professional football, the Super Bowl.

The annual spectacle, held this year in the vortex of Silicon Valley has exposed the growing economic divide, “gentrification, sky-high housing prices and the technology industry’s influence on local government, even the nation’s biggest party has become a battleground.”

“The cost of hosting the Super Bowl — estimated at about $5 million for the city — has unleashed a storm of anger among residents already resentful of the influx of expensive restaurants, high-end stores and rich, young tech workers who have snapped up apartments in historically low-income neighborhoods. To tidy up for the tourists, the city’s large homeless population has been swept out of view, which some people here see as evidence that this city, long a seat of leftist activism, has sold itself to corporate interests.

“In San Francisco, we’re supposed to be the bastion of crazy liberals,” Ms. Leitner said. “Instead of raising wages for teachers so they can afford to live here, why are we spending money on a party for people who work for the N.F.L.?”

Fast Company writer, Michael Grothaus marked the birthday celebration on Thursday at Facebook.

“It’s a bit crazy when you think about it, but Facebook is 12 years old today. On February 4, 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched his fledgling social media site at Harvard. And the rest, as they say, is history. Twelve years on, Facebook has become the largest social media company ever. It influences myriad aspects of our lives and recently passed a billion active users each day.

It’s also kind of doing what candy makers and online retailers have tried to do in the past by deeming February 4th as an unofficial holiday that it hopes catches on: Friend’s Day.”

A look back to the 2004 Harvard Crimson article about ‘thefacebook.com’ may be the best  argument for why venture capitalists should be reading their alma mater’s student newspaper.

“Thousands of students across the country use it. Major corporations are falling over themselves to buy it.

But nearly a semester after creating thefacebook.com, a social networking website launched on Feb. 4, Mark E. Zuckerberg ’06 doesn’t seem to have let things go to his head.

Wearing a yellow t-shirt, blue jeans, and open-toe Adidas sandals, Zuckerberg sits on a ragged couch in the middle of a messy Kirkland House common room, surrounded by strewn clothes and half-closed boxes.

Amidst this squalor, he smiles.

“I’m just like a little kid. I get bored easily and computers excite me. Those are the two driving factors here.”

Thefacebook.com allows university students to create personal profiles listing their interests, contact info, relationship status, classes and more.

It started locally at Harvard. It now has almost 160,000 members from across the country.”

Twelve years later, Thomas Friedman considers the question, ‘Social Media: Destroyer or Creator?’

“Over the last few years we’ve been treated to a number of “Facebook revolutions,” from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to the squares of Istanbul, Kiev and Hong Kong, all fueled by social media. But once the smoke cleared, most of these revolutions failed to build any sustainable new political order, in part because as so many voices got amplified, consensus-building became impossible.

Question: Does it turn out that social media is better at breaking things than at making things?

Recently, an important voice answered this question with a big “ yes.” That voice was Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee whose anonymous Facebook page helped to launch the Tahrir Square revolution in early 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — but then failed to give birth to a true democratic alternative.

“Five years ago,” concluded Ghonim, “I said, ‘If you want to liberate society, all you need is the Internet.’ Today I believe if we want to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet.”

Beyond the Super Bowl and Facebook, the economy continues to improve. The jobless rate is under 5% and wages are rising.

“It’s not that the new data blew the lid off expectations or pointed to some radical acceleration in job growth in the opening weeks of 2016. Quite the contrary. The nation added 151,000 jobs in January, which was below analysts’ expectations and well below the revised 262,000 jobs added in December. That looks an awful lot like “reversion to the mean,” and it wouldn’t be surprising if final revisions show a slower pace of job growth across the two months.

But while economists and financial markets have traditionally placed the greatest weight on that payroll number as the key indicator of whether economic growth is speeding up or slowing down, we’re entering a phase where some other components of the jobs report are more important.”

Two additional articles of interest this week profile the executive who created the culture at Netflix and a BBC photo essay on the career dreams of the children who have fled Syria.

‘The Woman Who Created Netflix’s Enviable Company Culture’  Vivian Giang for Fast Company – “The woman behind “Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility” was the company’s chief talent officer at the time, Patty McCord…Instead of listing the company’s core values like every other company was doing, McCord decide to write down the things the company valued, what mattered to them, what they expected in their people.”

‘When I grow up I want to be…’ (BBC) “Despite their current predicament, children who have fled the conflict in Syria and are now living in neighbouring countries dream of what the future holds for them, and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) sent photographer Meredith Hutchison to find out.”

To end this week@work, let me introduce you to Rama, age 13, and her dream of becoming a doctor, as a reminder to honor your dreams.

_88034777_a80f7902-6be1-4991-913e-aed456838390.jpg“Walking down the street as a young girl in Syria or Jordan, I encountered many people suffering – sick or injured – and I always wanted to have the power and skills to help them.
“Now, as a great physician in my community, I have that ability. Easing someone’s pain in the most rewarding aspect of my job. To be able to give them relief is the most rewarding aspect of my job. To be able to give them relief and make them smile – this is what I love most.”

 

The Saturday Read – ‘Humans of New York:Stories’ by Brandon Stanton

We learn from the wisdom of others. In Brandon Stanton’s new book we learn from the wisdom of strangers. The ‘Saturday Read’ this week is ‘Humans of New York: Stories’.

“The simplest way to describe the development of HONY over the past five years is this: it’s evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog…after cataloging thousands of people, I stumbled upon the idea of including quotes from my subjects alongside their photographs. The quotes grew longer and longer, until eventually I was spending fifteen to twenty minutes interviewing each person I photographed. These interviews, and the stories that resulted from them, became the new purpose of Humans of New York. The blog became dedicated to telling the stories of strangers on the street.”

The first career story is the author’s own. He graduated from college, took a job in Chicago as a bond trader, lost his job, moved to New York and started taking pictures of folks on the street. His work evolved into a blog with 15.6 million followers. His first book of photography, Humans of New York, landed at the top of The New York Times Bestseller List in the fall of 2013 and the new book will debut at the top of the November 1, 2015 list.

Why the response? Because the Mr. Stanton’s stories, told in words and images are about us. The scope of his project embraces NYC folks encountered on the street, reflecting on their past and future. We don’t know names. We don’t know ages. We can only guess in connecting the photo to the quote. At times the words seem at odds with the picture.

Here is one example from a young man, perhaps in his early teens.

“I’ve sort of had an arrogant demeanor my entire life, and I’m learning that I’m going to have to change that if I want to succeed. I realized that it doesn’t matter how clever you are if nobody wants to work with you.”

Another from a young woman seated on a suitcase, in the middle of a train station.

“I wish I’d partied a little less. People always say: ‘Be true to yourself.’. But that’s misleading because there are two selves. There’s your short-term self, and there’s your long-term self. And if you’re only true to your short-term self, your long-term self slowly decays.”

And a man at mid-life in what appears to be a cold corporate lobby, sitting on a stone bench, framed by a stone wall.

“When you’re twenty-five, you feel like you’re riding a wave. You feel like opportunities are just going to keep coming at you, and you think it’s never going to end. But then it ends.”

“When does it end?”

“When you turn forty, and they start looking for someone younger.”

The reader gets a sense they are looking in the mirror, but they’re not. The photo doesn’t match the selfie, but the sentiment fits.

Heather Long, writing for CNN Money, interviewed Stanton and attended his reading at a NY Barnes and Noble. What has he learned in the process of photographing and interviewing 10,000 people? “Americans should reconsider how much they work.”

“He often asks: What is your biggest struggle? And what do you regret most in life?
“Balancing my life is an answer I hear a lot,” he said. “Balancing work and family.”
People go on to tell him how they wish they had skipped that marketing conference and attended their daughter’s 8th grade dance instead.”

One of my favorite ‘inteviews’ appears early in the book (page 5). The narrative comes from a third grader (?).

“I want to build a bridge”

“How do you build a bridge?”

“If you want to build a bridge, it’s going to take a long time and it might be hard because your employees might not be as interested in building a bridge as you are. You have to think about what type of bridge you want to make…” 

He could be talking about life and career.

HONY: Stories invites us on a road trip through the streets of New York, opting for the detours that welcome conversation. This is a book to read slowly, observing the detail in the photos and the humanity in the words. It’s a compendium of other’s lifelong learning, generously shared.

“I want to be an artist.” “What kind of art do you want to make?” “I want to make different versions of myself.”