Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Never Look Back

Continuing the discussion about planning for your career path, I’d like to relay some other amazing information I’ve most recently internalized. The biggest takeaway from my dinner with Greg was something simple yet complex he said at the end of it all. We were leaving and he says to me, “Adam, look at me. Once you do figure out what you want to do, never look back!” Once you make a decision it is imperative to get thick skin and only look forward. This is not to say looking back to your past to learn is not required and wise. Experiences are for learning, there is a lesson to learn in everything you experience in life. Some do choose, however, to take on a different perspective and look at experiences as circumstantial inconveniences. This perspective is the one to avoid as you move forward in life. It is not healthy to look back and wish things were different, that you would have or should have, and play the "What If?" game with yourself.

Simple advice - just move forward and never look back. The common denominator in second guessing, "What If?" scenarios, and the "should have, would have" conundrum is fear. Fear is too often understood as some horror film playing itself out. The kind of fear I am talking about is not someone jumping out of a closet and startling you. This fear is more subtle and understated, which is why it is so prevalent in our society. This fear’s nemesis is acceptance and trust. A seed of doubt is a simple euphemism for this fear. Individuals’ religion or faith are based on this fear at times. There is a predominant theme in our culture to not trust and to doubt. In an academic sense I think this is health, but in a self-reflective environment this is the most destructive thing ever. Some would say that this is the great enemy to humankind, self-deception and thus self-depreciation.

I was part of a team that started a mentoring program in a downtown homeless shelter. For me personally I cannot justify just writing a check and feeling sorry for anyone. I think people deserve interaction and to be treated equally and taught to view themselves in that manner as well. Because of that world view, every Monday night for the past several years I find myself with these kids who are living in the shelter for one reason or another. My heart melts for the younger boys with behavioral issues. As I take a special interest in them I find myself in hallways and rooms talking to them as they have been dealt the 5 or 10 minute “go inside and talk to Adam punishment.” Most recently I was in the hall with a boy who has a bad habit of throwing insidious insults at others and hitting. Of course, he hides his little head under his shirt and begins his epic story of how he didn’t do anything and that we, the adults, are mean. So I begin to ask him questions that attack his logic and playing the part of victim. He continues to hide his head in shame and make excuses. I tell him that life is hard if you don’t accept things and move on. The lesson I’m trying to teach this kid is to accept that you did something, apologize, make some kind of resolution, and move on. I tell him this and he starts to answer my questions honestly about why he was in the hall with me to begin with. I tell him he is a better man for accepting responsibility and responding to it. I follow him as he apologizes to another volunteer for being disrespectful and disobedient and to the child he insulted. He still hung his head low though. He was ashamed of a mistake, probably wishes he wouldn’t have made it. He was paralyzed and sat himself down refusing to have fun. I can imagine he was going over the situation in his little mind over and over again, just making himself feel worse and worse. So I just go over and pick him up and put him in the swing and tell him to hold his head high for he is a good man now. His acceptance of his past makes him that way and he should move on, smile, laugh, and play again. The rest of the evening he almost glowed with joy. Maybe that was the first time someone had told him that once he accepted and took responsibility for his past he could move forward as a better person. I can’t go around picking up people and putting them on swings. Side hugs of affirmation don’t have the same effect on an adult as they do a troubled boy, but maybe this is what we all need.

Now what in the world does this little guy have to do with a dinner with my father-in-law and not looking back? Honestly it’s something I had to reconsider for a second because I found myself caught up in the need for male mentors for boys like this. Trust me; there will be writing about this shortly. Moving forward, the connection really has to do with the idea of accepting things and learning form the past rather than allowing things that are history paralyze one from moving forward. Doubting yourself can have dire consequences both personally and professionally. Professionally, I think what Greg was getting at was that once you make a career path choice to not play the "What If?" game and doubt yourself. Do not allow destructive thoughts like that to throw you off course. 30 years into a career on a bad day, one little, "What if I would have chosen something different?" could derail a career if allowed to reach its full potential. This is said obviously regarding a sound decision made about your career. If you are in a career that you loathe, one that eats your soul, one that has you coveting the janitor’s job, then sure, allow these thoughts to run wild. If you have made a sound decision about your career, based on your personal desires, skills, talents, personality type, and other factors at some point then do not allow these thoughts to bump you off track.

Doubt, fear, second guessing, and "What If? are natural thoughts that will always creep into anyone’s mind. There is no off switch. There is only learning to manage these thoughts. We must learn to dismiss destructive, self-disparaging, thoughts that seek only to undermine the good decisions we have made. If our perspective is one of acceptance rather than fear of being or doing wrong perhaps we will be able to move forward without those thoughts weighing us down. As simple of a statement that, “Never look back,” is it reveals much more about the human psyche. So, once we make a career choice, never look back, never allow doubt to take away from a decision made in a sober state, a responsible choice, dismiss it and keep moving. Without the weight of self-depreciating thoughts you can run through walls professionally. Shake it off and keep moving and never, ever look back. My hope is that this sage advice can impact you the way it has me. May you not doubt and straddle the fence, may you never look back and always move forward. And perhaps even the climate of the professional market will change if it experiences a deluge of confident, informed young people.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Paths and Planning

“We have a strict no Journey rule here.”

I was running sound for a little band once and we were rolling through sound checks. When it was time for the keys to do their thing he immediately started playing Journey, Don’t Stop Believin’.

Jokingly one of the guys exclaims, “We have a strict no Journey rule here!”

Who would have thought such a song would turn into an anthem for people of all ages. This song bonds a diversity of patrons in any bar in any town on any given night. It has show-choirs practicing their best Steve Perry vocals and unites every teen-aged boy in his bedroom rocking out on his air guitar.

This epic song also has a great message, one that has been turned into a squishy, soft, over-used, and manipulated mantra for many lives. Disney and all sorts of celebrities promise kids that they can become and do anything as long as they can dream it up. Often these sorts of messages set people up for failure. The dream must be realistic, according to the dreamers’ skills, personality, education, etc., but also must not stop with a vision. The reality is that little Tommy who is 5’2” and has horrible hand eye coordination, but loves the game of basketball, will never be in the NBA. He is the type that is set up for failure. Well-meaning people pump these overly optimistic thoughts and encouragements into little Tommy’s head, creating unrealistic expectations. Years later Tommy feels like a failure because he didn’t achieve the dream. This is damaging, this is wrong, so the, “if you can dream it, you can achieve it,” should have an asterisk, an addendum that demands responsible and realistic expectation setting.

I’ve learned over my short life thus far that I have a particular personality type. Myers-Briggs calls it ENTP. I am a visionary. I like to think big, but, interestingly enough, my biggest area of weakness is in the follow-through, the details, the plan. I’m in an odd place in life right now, where I am trying to figure out what exactly I am going to do. I adapt well and can do many things well, so rather than just doing well at a career that I have fallen into, I’m looking to find a career path that I can enjoy at my very essence and excel in because I want to, not just because I can. Instead of waiting for something to come to me I am going to go out and make something happen and use all the tools I can to do something. Luckily I am surrounded by great people and have been meeting with quite a few lately to discuss my future and such. I have met with a fantastic career counselor, Barb Skinner, who has helped me greatly figure out what my personality type is and what I would be best and most happy doing. She has been relentless in her efforts to help me along my way. If you find yourself in a bind, confused about your career, or know someone, I’d highly recommend getting in contact with her. I have also met with my father-in-law, Dr. Greg Sipes, who is a very wise and caring man, and yes, I’d say that even if he weren’t my father-in-law.

Most recently we met for dinner to catch up and one of the many things we discussed was my career and most recent activity in attempting to sort things out and what I wanted out of life. I usually dislike the question about where you see yourself in 10-20 years because I feel inadequate answering it. Most times when I answer this in interviews the interviewer looks at me like I have a monkey on my head and says my answer is too ambiguous. Ambiguity has it place though. No one knows what life is going to deal out in 10 or 20 years, anyone to even claim this is either delusional or outright arrogant. So, no, I don’t know exactly what I will be doing or even want to do in 10-20 years. Responding to a question coming from family I felt a bit more comfortable to be honest and ambiguous.

In 10 to 20 years I’d like to be a great husband, great Dad, someone others model themselves after, making a good living in a job I enjoy with a good work/life balance.

That’s pretty much it for me. Greg accepted that, but gave me some advice and said some things that have resonated with me as things I need to share with others.

The two most important things to me that I want to be in the future are being a good husband and a great father. I’m not talking about just being a husband or father but being one that young men and others will strive to be, one that makes a difference in lives. My wife and I were sitting on our back porch the other night and she was reflecting on how her and her dad would eat breakfast together every Thursday for years and how much that meant to her. I hear that and see how much she respects her dad and that is the kind of thing I’m talking about when I say I want to be a good dad. I want to be the type of husband that inspires girls, that get a chance to hear my wife talk about me, to raise their standards in men. I want to be able to teach young boys about respecting their women and what proper love and marriage looks like. I want to be a great husband. At the end of my life if I can accomplish only two things, these would be it for me. I’m saying this to my father-in-law at dinner and he simply responds with, “Well, Adam, if these are the kinds of things that keep you awake at night and the kind of things you think and dream about, then you will definitely be them. I continued my discussion with him about my career choice and he gave me a similar response, but added a little twist, he said it was all about planning and building credibility.

He begins to tell me about what each decade of life was for from a career stand point.

• 20s are for choosing a path

• 30s are for gaining credibility

• 40s are for using the credibility to set yourself up for the best

• 50s and 60s are to thrive on years of hard work and planning

In bullet points that is basically what he said. You cannot just allow things to happen to you, to fall into a career, you have to make plans. I think it is important to learn from older wiser people because they have had to experience things for themselves and have been through what you will go through. So, no longer is good enough to just choose a job and do it well. What sets one apart is choosing a career path and making a general plan to reach success.

Don’t stop believin’ will not get you to a point of success. Obsessing over a dream cannot make that dream come true. This is not field of dreams that we are talking about, building it and expecting it to come or happen isn’t prudent. Singing it in the middle of your school day in a large Network may get you a popular show (Glee), but ultimately you have to come up with some kind of plan to achieve and build your success. The truth is that if your mind possess a dream or strong desire that meshes well with your natural talents, gifts, personality, etc. then by focusing on that dream and building a plan around it is what makes it happen, not just the thought itself. What keeps me up at night is thinking of being a good provider for a family and being happy with a career. The fact that this is consuming so much of my mental capacity produces evidence that these are things that I will do, but just thinking gets you nowhere, and I’ve learned that you’ve got to seek some sound counsel and make a solid plan to makes things happen. With these wise words I am now gearing myself up to tear apart things until something happens.

Maybe you find yourself in my shoes, no not size 9, classic Sperrys, but my situation. Maybe you are at a place trying to figure out what you’d like to do with your life and need to hear these words, you are not alone. There is nothing wrong with trying to figure things out and being uncomfortable. Don’t stop believin’’, but don’t forget to make a plan. What keeps you up at night? What thoughts fill your mind? Pay attention to all those you are surrounded with and seek advice. Make time for yourself to sit and think about these things and make some kind of a plan. You’ll begin to feel a lot better about things. So keep your head up, keep dreaming, don’t be discouraged, and start planning.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Stand Tall Carmel

I have vivid memories and frequent reminders, thanks to old friends, of me passionately declaring that I would never live in the suburbs. I was, and still am at heart, a city boy, I like the hustle and bustle, and I like the diverse businesses and people. I love eating at interesting places and enjoying unique art. I thought moving to the suburbs would be an immediate surrender of all I love in exchange for a house and yard. As I’m learning more and more as I grow up, I couldn’t have been farther off base. My wife and I are at a point in life where we are thinking of the future, we value safety, good school systems, and do enjoy low property taxes. All signs pointed north when it was time for us to find a place together after we got married. I felt my inner boy dying as I was torn away from the city-life. Surprisingly, just as I thought my art appreciative, gourmet dining, wine drinking, old self was taking its last breathe, we moved to the Arts and Design District in Carmel. I thought maybe this was one of those mirages you see when you are in the middle of a desert and are water deprived and exhausted. Surely in the heart of what all call Suburbia this couldn’t be a bustling city, full of culture, art, and great food. We moved into a loft above a Butcher Shop in the heart of the Arts and Design District. Now we only buy our meat from this butcher, which is quite a joyous experience in and of itself. We have come to love Carmel, and the Arts and Design District. We are actually having our cake and eating it too! Safety, good schools, low property taxes, homes with character, personable neighbors, established neighborhoods, and an overall great place to start a family have fused with art, the Monon Trail, great food, a world class performing arts center at the Palladium, local shops, art gallery walks, festivals (Carmel Fest, Rock The District, Art Mobilia, Art of Wine, Jazz on the Monon) and as of late a buoyant night life. We already have come to know and love Joe’s Butcher Shop, BUBs, BUBs Café, Mud Bugs, La Mie Emile, Donatello’s, Muldoon’s, Woody’s, and Bazbeaux’s Pizza. These are all worth your drive north, guaranteed good times. Time has passed and change has come, not only to our personal living situation, we’ve since moved into a house in the Arts and Design District, but also within the District, most notably with the additions of Detour and Shiraz.

Detour: An American Grill is this fantastic bar. It has this ornate interior enriched by a claw machine (you know, the one where you go mad trying to get that little teddy bear out of the glass prison it is condemned to), a mass amount of flat televisions, great food, huge beer selection, a trendy bar that has 35,000 pennies on it (you’ve got to see this thing and try to find pennies flipped tails side up), a great staff (courtesy of Moe’s and Sensu’s great management), and even a 32oz. yellow plastic cup you can take home with you and write your name on that they serve their beers specials in. I invited several friends to watch the NBA playoffs and Finals there and we had a great time. We were in Carmel, watching a game, talking about things guys talk about, having a grand time, and yes, it was past 9pm. We now have a place to watch games and meet pals. Carmel has now become a destination for after 9pm while keeping the class it normally boasts.

Next up, Shiraz, my new favorite place. I feel a little guilty this morning as I talk the Monday morning corporate talk. Asking people about their weekends and such knowing my motive for this inquiry is truly only to reveal what has me walking with my chest out and head held a little higher this morning, my experience at Shiraz and what that means for my town. If you were to blindfold someone, take them to Shiraz, and ask them where they were after unveiling their eyes, like what city, they would say something along the lines of New York, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, or another large metropolitan area. To their surprise they are in the heart of the Midwest amongst deep fried Twinkies, corn fields, pork tenderloins, a state fair, and THE mecca of basketball heritage, right in Carmel. White leather chairs surround stainless steel tables, nestled in front of a bar illuminated in purple light. There are two wine machines (Enomatic) at each end of the room, one for white and one for red. You are given what looks like a hotel key card that you fill up with money. You walk up to the machines and read the descriptions of the wines, what they pair well with, and how much it cost for a taste, half glass, or full glass. Once you make your decision you insert your card and press the appropriate button and out pours the nectar of the gods. You go around tasting different wines at your leisure while being treated like royalty by their fine staff. Genuine conversation about the area, food, what you do for a living and so on from the owner (Patti Erlewine) and manager (Mike Farrell) make this not only a neat place to sit and chat, but also one you want to revisit because of how you are made to feel, welcome. The food is top notch and something I have already had several dreams about. They serve appetizers and small, yet fulfilling, foods that leave you in awe of how food can taste so good. After chatting it up with most of the staff, the chef, Ricky, who must have hands gifted by a greater power, tells us about their upstairs lounge area with an immediate invite to go up and see for ourselves. It’s an area they plan on doing private parties and meetings in. It’s an intimate area filled with couches and tables surrounded by their signature white leather chairs and purple illumination. To top off everything for me personally, is that not only do they serve amazing food and wine, but they have a selection opulent desserts and serve nice beers (no Bud Light here). After finishing off an unforgettable experience at yet another local Carmel business we almost skip home in joy, literally, we are within walking distance of all this, which is another thing that makes the District so special, family residents surrounding it.

My smile ran from one cheek to another as I reflected on the amazing night we had at Shiraz for two reasons. 1. Shiraz is simply an amazing place to drink and enjoy light dining. 2. Shiraz is another staple of the Arts and Design District that I can now proudly brag about that separates Carmel a bit more from the other areas. The Arts and Design District is not something easily duplicated. We have reasons for people to head north and challenge their assumptions of Suburbia. So Stand up Carmel, the Arts and Design District is growing and is something to be proud of. And with businesses like Detour and Shiraz hopefully we’ll hear the buzz of life well into the night making this town nuzzled in the Midwest a destination to be desired by all.