Book Review: Linchpin

I picked up the latest Seth Godin paperback release at the airport bookstore last week and devoured it. After being inspired by The Dip and The Big Moo, I was excited to have the opportunity to grab five hours of flight time for a Seth pep talk. It was worth the 16 bucks.

As an entrepreneur and someone who is constantly working to do remarkable work for my clients, Godin’s focus on artistry resonated and validated what I and many of my clients do every day: Engage in “artistry” (Godin’s term), rising above the pack to add that which cannot be described in a policy manual or procedure, adding that special something – creativity, emotional energy, caring – that sets my work above the rest. You probably do that too, and are at your best and most energized when you are in that zone. Godin profiles people including coffee shop employees, CEOs and sales executives, creating opportunities to identify commonality between the reader and Godin’s subjects.

One of the reasons that I still prefer paper books over the Kindle for non-fiction with lasting value is that I like to scribble in the margins. Stars, checks, lines, comments and other visual reminders of, “Hey, this seemed important at 30,000 feet,” make up my system. This book is now filled with them.

Are you working for someone else? Become a linchpin. Be indispensable be doing more than is expected, by adding the qualities that are unique to you.

Are you an entrepreneur? Work hard, work fast and give you best as a gift to your clients and employees. You too will become indispensable.

Godin’s point is simple, but profound in its ramifications. If your job can be described in a training guide or a policy manual, if it can be automated or given to someone else willing to do it at a lower price, you are cooked. He challenges us to think and act, working to be remarkable, indispensable artists of our trades.

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Pancakes and Purpose

Yesterday was the Rotary Club of Monroe’s (CT) pancake breakfast. The event was hosted by the United Methodist Church of Monroe, which allowed for the use of its kitchen, dining area and equipment, with all of the effort going to support Project Warmth, a resource of Monroe Social Services that assists people with home heating oil costs. Here in New England, a heating oil delivery can easily exceed $600. To the outsider, this event may not sound like anything all that exciting as it was similar to every other pancake/chicken/spaghetti fundraiser held all over the country every weekend of the year. To those involved, though, it had significant meaning. Here’s why.

This event was nothing more than idea 30 days earlier when Jesse Treviño, the Rotary Club’s president asked, “What do you all think about having a pancake breakfast fundraiser?” The idea was kicked around the room for 20 minutes and by the time the closing bell rang (yes, Rotarians ring a bell to stop and start the meetings), we decided that we would have the breakfast on November 19 to benefit Project Warmth.

There was a lot of work to get done in a very short time. The punch list included securing a venue, making signs and posters, purchasing supplies, doing publicity work and getting up very early on the 19th to flip the first pancakes to be served at 7:30AM. Everyone – Rotarians, church members, vendors and talented restaurant owners John and Sandy Kantzas – came through as planned. About 120 people were served and Project Warmth will be able to better serve its clients. There were also intangible and meaningful benefits that speak to the value of working together.

Dave Wolfe, a long-time Rotarian and charter member of the Monroe club, mentioned how well working together on a hands-on project brings everyone together and strengthens the bonds of club members. It was a lot of hard work, but it was great fun. Others made similar observations.

Rev. Kregg Gabor, the pastor of UMC of Monroe, said that it was wonderful to see different organizations with different missions coming together for a common cause, an outward looking approach to community and service to those in need. Even the church’s middle school students saw it as an opportunity to serve by planning and running a Thanksgiving-themed coloring room so the kids could have something to do while mom and dad had the second cup of coffee and one more delicious pancake.

I thought it was spectacular to see so many talented people collaborating to make a terrific event happen in such a short time. The Rotary Club of Monroe is made up of only 15 people, but every one of them is driven, professional and purposeful. The day was a great reminder of how all of us can do so much when we have a purpose, and so much more when we work together.

Turn On Your Time Machine

I had an interesting conversation with a client this morning about a job she had seen which at first seemed promising. Without getting too far into the details, the position was in high-end personal services, something for which my client has been a customer and was now considering as a potential job.

As we discussed the idea, she told me that the more she thought about this position and the company, the less she liked it. Selling and providing these services seemed much less exciting than consuming them. What can we learn from this?

One point is that things that we do for fun and for their own intrinsic rewards become much less rewarding when we are getting paid for them. Once money and job performance evaluations get into the mix, all of the fun can get sucked out of any formerly favored activity. I think my client was anticipating this sinking feeling.

Second, it makes sense to turn on your own personal time machine and project into the future. Can you see yourself doing this work full time for months or years? If not, stay away, even if you really need the job. The pleasure of the paycheck will fade while the agony of work you hate comes into its full rotten bloom, something that will manifest itself in your performance. None of us have time to waste doing something we loathe.

Flip on the power, watch the lights flash and gyros spin on your time machine. Jump into the future and think before you take that job that will feel like you are wearing someone else’s shoes.

Keeping Your Search Alive

Staying motivated in the search for a new job, especially during times of unemployment, can be one of the biggest challenges in the process. After all, who wants to hear “no” all the time, or worse – nothing at all? Sending out résumés and cover letters for jobs for which one is perfectly qualified and not getting a reply can wear out even the most resilient job seeker. What can you do to stay engaged and motivated? Here are a few tips.

Make a Plan for your Day. Whether you create tomorrow’s plan in the evening or start early with a planning session, make a list of the things that you need to accomplish. Don’t stop until you have completed your list. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and something to talk about if there is a significant person in your life who wants to know what you have been doing all day (can you say “spouse”?).

Eliminate the Distractions. While it can be tempting to kill time in front of the TV or with social media sites, set a time limit for these activities and stick to it. If 30 minutes a day is your Facebook budget, don’t stretch it to 35.

Get out of the House. Get your exercise, shower, dress and go meet people. Get out to the job fairs, meet colleagues for coffee and stay tuned in to the current events in your field.

Challenge Yourself to Add to your Network. Your network should include recruiters – both recruiting agency people and staff recruiters – as well as people with whom you have worked and those that you don’t know yet. Attend as many live events with other people as possible.

Don’t Stop with LinkedIn Messages. Anyone can build a network on LinkedIn, but if it is nothing more than a list of people and their pictures – a list of people you don’t know – you have not done enough. Pick up the phone. Send a personal note. Make the connection more meaningful and valuable for you and the other person. You will be surprised at how warmly some will welcome the extra effort.

Learn Something New. Public libraries, state departments of labor and other organizations give you the opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people, mostly for free. Explore the opportunities and sign up.

Volunteer. You can add new things to your résumé and meet people while helping others. Don’t discount the value of this activity.

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you have been doing all of these things and know that you are working as hard as you can to find a job, feel good about your effort. It’s a challenging labor market filled with wary hiring managers and senior leaders trying to chart a course in an uncertain environment. Don’t take it personally and keep at it.

Would You Sleep with the Elephants?

Job Description: Elephant rehabilitation specialist. Must be comfortable working and living with pachyderms, especially young elephants. Job requires constant 24×7 interaction, including sleeping in close quarters with emotionally traumatized animals. Excellent benefits, including full paid medical.

Do you want that job? Can you bed down in the same stall with an elephant prone to night terrors? There are those who do, and they love their work. That is if non-verbal cues and looks of joy mean anything.

During the long week of entertaining our children after the historic Halloween weekend snow storm that rocked Connecticut back into the days before Edison, we ventured down to the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium, a gem of a facility that includes an IMAX theatre. After tears of terror at a 3D movie at Disney in the spring, I didn’t know what to expect from my seven and five year olds, but we took a chance and got tickets to see Born to be Wild. The 2011 movie, featuring narration by Morgan Freeman, depicts the work of Daphne Sheldrick and Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas. Both oversee facilities that rescue young animals from near certain death after their mothers have been killed. For us, the promise of a six story high movie screen filled with baby elephants and orangutans was enough to get us there, but it delivered much more.

It is clear that Dr. Galdikas and Ms. Sheldrick, who work with orangutans in Borneo and elephants in Kenya, respectively, love their work. They have been doing it for decades and have had amazing success, rehabilitating these animals and successfully integrating them back into the wild. What impressed me, at least as much as these women and their work, was the total engagement of the people who serve in the facilities, some living with and sleeping with terror stricken animals. One statement by Ms. Sheldrick that I will paraphrase sticks with me: “Elephants have remarkable memories, and what they remember is terrible.”

If you take the time to see the movie – and I recommend that you do – you will witness people doing what they love. One would have to love the work to sleep in the same stall as an elephant, being there throughout the night to provide comfort and risking injury and death in the process. I wonder how many of us are so dedicated to our work that we would face serious risk to get it done. Am I as dedicated to my work as these Kenyans are to theirs? Drop 10 bucks and 40 minutes of your time and see this movie. My guess is that you will be informed and inspired in more ways than one.

Quit It!

“What am I doing?” Have you ever had one of those moments – maybe days or even weeks – of clarity when you realize that what you are doing is not moving you towards your long-term goals? Your actions, your job, your daily routine are taking caring of some immediate need, but are doing nothing to help you fulfill some greater purpose.

Seth Godin tackles this subject in his slim volume, The Dip. He offers a simple idea: maybe we should be quitting, quitting the things that are not moving us towards some purpose, goal or accomplishment. If what you are doing to survive is not moving you towards being the best at something, you should quit the distractions and focus on your purpose.

How about you? When you envision your greater purpose, the thing that you were built to do, how do your current activities move you towards that bright future? Are they? Or are your activities putting you in idle, revving your engine, surviving, but not moving you towards your purpose?

What about the dip the author refers to? Godin shares that getting to be the best at something requires a lot of time and effort in the trenches, working hard, sometimes in anonymity, moving towards that goal. There isn’t a lot of glamour and prestige in the dip, but if you make it to the other side, you can be the best at something, something that truly matters to you.

I was fortunate to stumble upon this book and it challenged me, and even though it is several years old, it is still relevant. I am considering what I need to quit so I can devote my time and energy to those things most valuable to me. How about you? What are you doing, what are your goals, and are you making progress towards them? Or are you just doing what you need to pay the next month’s rent? What will change in your life to move you back onto the right path?

Comments? Share what you are doing, not doing and quitting. Maybe you will inspire someone else.

Energized by Work?

For some people, the idea that one could be excited and enthusiastic about work seems ludicrous. You probably know people like that, those who dread another Monday because it feels like another five day prison sentence. It’s not like that for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be like that for anyone.

During the past week, while working on a freelance writing assignment, I had the opportunity to interview a person working for an organization that does important life-saving work in the pharmaceutical industry. As we discussed his project and the results of the company’s work, he was bubbling with genuine excitement about the past year and what the new one holds. I even commented to him that his excitement was evident and contagious.

Maybe you are fortunate to know someone like that and can draw some inspiration from that person’s story. Maybe you are blessed to be someone in a similar situation. You spring out of bed in the morning, ready to fulfill your plans and grab new opportunities.

It’s also possible that your excitement about your work falls short of what I am describing. Why? What can you change to make it better and find more meaning in your work? Is it time to change jobs or your career path? Go back to school to learn something new? Volunteer to do something fulfilling and lasting?

There is an infinite amount of important work to be done in the world. We all can only contribute the most is we are doing something we truly enjoy. Seek it out. Take a chance. Make a difference.