Archive for June 20, 2010

Goals With SMARTS… and Ear Wax

Way back when I was in third grade, our teacher did a huge activity celebrating the New Year when we got back from holiday vacation. She had us all write down on a piece of paper the thing that we were going to change (our New Year’s Resolution). She turned out the lights in the classroom, lit a candle, and one by one, invited us up to share what thing we were going to change – then we got to rip up the piece of paper and throw it in the garbage can (the next best thing to burning it, since we weren’t allowed to play with fire in the classroom).

She almost had the process of goal-setting right in doing this, but I’ll get into that a bit later.

I’ll always remember this exercise for one reason. One of my classmates got up in front of the group (you have to remember, we were in third grade and had no pride – nobody made fun of anybody else yet and life was just fun) and said that she had always stuck her finger in her ear, gathered up wax, and then eaten it. DISGUSTING. Her New Years Resolution was to never do that again. While I’m so glad she recognized this was a habit she needed to change, I will always associate New Year’s Resolutions with ear wax for the rest of my life.

Something you should know before I go any further is that I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. I believe they are a sad attempt at setting a goal, done for no reason other than the fact that we now have to remember a different year when we date our checks. When you’re truly ready to make a change in your life, it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is – you’ll go through the process of setting a clear goal and figuring out how to make this goal a reality.

Growing up, I was always tall and very skinny (until recently when the weight started catching up with me…but that goal is a whole different article for some other day) and somewhat uncoordinated. But there was something I wanted more than anything in the world. I knew, from the time I was in seventh grade, that I wanted to be able to slam dunk a basketball by the time I was a sophomore in high school. I was going to accomplish this by exercising every day (especially in the off-season) – I even turned out for track to give me added motivation for daily exercise.

I also had a huge sign on my door – it had some clip art of a guy slamming a basketball, and my own handwriting with the date I wanted to be able to slam the ball by. While my sophomore year was the last year that I played basketball for completely other reasons, I did meet my goal because I kept a few things in mind when I set it.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about setting SMART goals. Every presenter/trainer has their own little swing they put on it, and I’m no exception: I actually say that your goal needs to have “SMARTS” – I added a letter and changed the meaning of a few. Here’s a quick run-down.

First, the S – make sure your goals are Specific. Figure out EXACTLY what you want to do – if you want to lose weight – how much? If you want to dunk – dunk what – someone in the pool?

The M – Measurable. You need to know, when you’ve met the goal, that you’ve met it. What is the piece that changes or that signifies excellence? Mine was being able to dunk a basketball. If yours is to lose 10 pounds, fantastic – you have your measurable piece!

The A – one of my twists that’s a bit different from others – Aggressive. Don’t set a goal that’s going to be easy – choose something that you’re going to have to push yourself to make happen.

The R – I actually have two words that go here – Realistic (goes to counteract the A – don’t make it too difficult either – there was no way in the world I could have set my goal for my 8th grade year!). The second is Recorded – WRITE YOUR GOALS DOWN! Post them on your ceiling, on your door, in your car – everywhere that you’ll see them! Be constantly reminded of what the goal is!

The T – your Timeline. You have to say when the final day to accomplish your goal is. Otherwise, it’s just always your dream – but you’re never accountable for it.

My final twist – the second S. If you want to achieve excellence, you must have Support. Through my goal, my teammates all knew what I wanted to do, and they all encouraged me to make it happen. Whether you want to stop a bad habit, change your appearance, or anything else – use your support group! We all hear about how bad peer pressure can be when people are encouraging you to drink, smoke, or whatever else – what we don’t hear enough of is how incredible peer pressure can be when your friends are helping you to succeed!

My final thought to the reader – FORGET about New Year’s Resolutions – think of ear wax when you hear them. How many friends do you have who’ve made New Year’s Resolutions that are completely unplanned and end up failing? Instead of setting a New Year’s Resolution – wait for the right time and the right place to set a goal that has SMARTS!

Sometimes It’s Best To Fall

We often talk about success and we’re told that we should place special emphasis on achieving it in our lives. Everywhere we go and in everything we do, there is talk of success. And yet there is little discussion dedicated to exactly what success is. It’s almost something illusive. With so much said about success and with so many seeking after it, my effort is to share some insights into success and what it’s all about.

I believe that success is, in large part, a product of the experiences we have in life and what we choose to learn from them. To that end, I’ll share a series of articles that outline experiences I’ve had in life and what they’ve taught me about success. My hope is that by sharing these examples from my life your thoughts will turn to your own experiences and what you’ve learned from them that will help you to become more successful.

The first experience I’ll share took place a number of years ago when I was camping with a group of friends in the Marble Mountains of Northern California. It was a warm spring morning on the second day of our trip. We’d had an incredible time and were really enjoying the adventure of discovering what the various mountain trails held in store. After coming into a clearing at the end of one trail we discovered a beautiful waterfall that cascaded from some 150 feet above into a small pool full of rocks and boulders. We played at the water’s edge for a short time and then decided that our next adventure would be to find a way to the top of the waterfall.

After climbing and hiking our way up and around the rock outcroppings we finally found the creek that fed the beautiful waterfall. We were anxious to reach the mouth of the waterfall and hiked quickly along the creek bed. I had fallen somewhat behind the rest of the group and was running to catch up. The creek was overgrown with trees and brush making it difficult to see what was ahead. As I approached the sound of my friend’s voices, I broke through some branches and tripped on something in the water. As I fell, bracing myself with my hands, my body came to rest with my head looking directly down the waterfall and to the rocks below. I had fallen just at the mouth of the waterfall, and what was most intriguing, was that my life had been saved because I fell.

In life we become so preoccupied with success that we don’t even allow ourselves to fathom the possibility of failure. While I don’t advocate seeking out failure, I do not shrink at the chance to say that from failure can come some of life’s greatest successes. In fact, sometimes the best thing that can happen to us is to fall, or to fail.

We cannot live so afraid of failure that it prevents us from ever achieving success. Recognize that life is a process of ups and downs, successes and failures, highs and lows. No one will ever live without having to face those difficult times or those difficult experiences. These types of experiences are inherent to our existence and are what inevitably determine who we will become.

The lesson, then, is simple. Strive for success in all that you do. Seek it out and do all that you can to achieve it, but understand that failure may come. That’s OK. The success you ultimately attain in life will depend not on whether you failed along the way, but what you chose to learn from that failure and how it made you better.

Networking: Not just for CEOs and Corporate Executives

Whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a high school student, there are certain skills and abilities that are essential to your success. Networking is definitely one of those skills that has withstood the test of time and remains a necessary component for goal attainment in any facet of life. Don’t be fooled into thinking that networking is just for big shots and six figure executives: it is my opinion that networking is strongly tied to leadership, and that it is through effective networking that leaders become empowered to accomplish great things.

Networking consists of five main points that I’ve laid out in the acronym P.O.W.E.R.: Prepare, Organize, Wow, Engage, and Relax. By following these five simple steps, any leader can be well on their way to effective networking.

STEP ONE: Prepare. Where most of us fail when it comes to networking is the very outset. We approach a perfect stranger and begin gabbing about some topic that is of little or no interest to them. And why do we do that? Because we don’t take the time to think about what might be of interest to them. To effectively network you must first identify the person you’re talking to (for the purposes of this article we will call them our receiver) much like a salesmen would identify their customer before moving in with a pitch. Who are they? What are their interests? What is their background? What do they want? Place the focus on your receiver and not on yourself! Be sure that the conversation revolves around them and not you.

STEP TWO: Organize. So you’ve taken the time to assess your receiver, and you have an idea of what their likes and dislikes might be. You’ve thought about their background and current endeavors. Now is the time to formulate that knowledge into a cohesive conversation that will be both engaging and rewarding. Just as any tailor understands that no one suit will fit every person, an effective networker realizes that no one conversation will work for every person they encounter. They realize that their message must be custom-fit to their receiver. You’ve taken a mental note of what their background is and what their interests are, and now you must formulate a conversation that revolves around them.

STEP THREE: Wow. The “Wow Factor” is an essential part of any presentation. Whether it’s a big speech, a quaint business presentation, or a networking opportunity, it’s the “Wow Factor” that sets you apart from the rest. The “Wow Factor”, simply stated, is anything you can do to ensure that your receiver walks away from your conversation thinking, “Wow!” “Wow” because you impressed them, or “Wow” because you captivated them, or “Wow” because you made them feel just right… but always Wow! So just how does one achieve the Wow? By capitalizing on the things you do well and using them to your advantage. You don’t have to be a superstar to get a Wow; you just have to be yourself … your best self. Are you naturally funny, intelligent, outgoing, or penetratingly sincere? Focus on your strengths and bring them to the forefront in your conversation.

STEP FOUR: Engage. By now you’ve done all you can to understand who your receiver is and where they’re coming from, you’ve tailored your message to them, and you’ve made a point to focus on what you do well… so now what? The final two steps of our equation focus on you and how well you present yourself. The Engage step has to do with your voice, how you use it, and how you project it. One must realize that the way one talks, and not necessarily the words one uses, can communicate a lot about who you are. Be sure that you sound informed, educated, and qualified. Use professional language and leave out the slang. Use inflection; vary your tone as you attempt to express different emotions. Make it sound like you’re excited to be there and excited to be talking with them!

STEP FIVE: Relax. Hey, you’ve done your homework … so relax! Take a deep breath, collect your thoughts, and go get ‘em. You have just as much right to succeed as anyone else out there. Stand straight, keep your shoulders back, keep your head up, use good eye contact, start with a firm hand shake, and smile! If anyone can do it you can! Remember, if the person you’re networking thinks that you’re nervous, their first impression of you won’t be quite as favorable. So relax!

Networking is not a matter of eloquence or verbose intellectualism. It’s about being informed, being confident, being yourself, and staying on your toes. It’s about taking a deep breath, swallowing your fear of meeting someone new, and reaching out. You’ve earned the right to succeed and there is no one out there who can stop you … except for yourself!