Don’t Let Your Grit Become Workaholism

What comes easy to you? What do you love? After you’ve sat through 4 meetings, done the dishes, taken out the garbage, or stood in line at the Division of Motor Vehicles, what are you excited to escape to?

I have friends who find solace in yoga, escape into reading, or immerse in deep conversation. Their version of self-reward is to get a group together and share ideas over lunch. I also have introverted friends who dread the idea of hosting a big meeting. My friend Chris’ idea of joy is to curl up in a chair and knit and knit and knit. She says they will find skeins of yarn untouched after she’s gone. She can’t get enough. My friend Jeff clocks whole afternoons lost in his workshop shaping cabinets. Hopper can spend an entire week swimming in the open ocean.

In order to get good – really good – at something we have to work at it, put in the long hours, maybe even ten thousand of those hours. And if you’re going to put ten thousand hours into something, you deserve to enjoy it. So start with something you feel drawn to, something that comes easy.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
– Richard Bach

If you start with what comes easy, the work becomes passion. “Grit is the combination of perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Angela Duckworth goes on to say, “It’s not simply working really hard and being resilient, it’s working toward something that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning.”

Workaholism, on the other hand, is working compulsively at the expense of other pursuits, and possibly at the expense of physical or psychological health. A work-obsessed individual pursues power or control until it becomes a compulsive addiction to gain approval or public recognition of success.

The primary difference here is that workaholism is work for work’s sake. It’s also work for external validation – like getting affirmation or money or power. Grit involves the pursuit of a higher calling, a striving to achieve something of meaning beyond the work itself.

Choose what comes easy. Then the work becomes joy.

May you and your loved ones have a joyous holiday season, and a wonderful new year.

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My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Last summer, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored this with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Wanting to Be Someone Else Is a Waste of the Person You Are

We rode into the small town of Lincoln, New Hampshire and stopped at a small grocery. The owner came outside excited to look at our bicycles, adorned with panniers and travel bags from our ride across the United States. After 3000 miles we were lean, our bikes were well used and covered in stickers and personal touches. We looked the part.

We explained to the store owner we intended to camp and then head up and over the Kancamagus Pass in the morning. He furrowed his brow and nodded. “Good plan,” he said. “The Kanc is steep and long. Leave early and take your time. It will be work to get up over the pass.”

We woke early to attack the pass, and after about an hour and fifteen minutes of climbing we topped out at the peak, pulled over at a scenic rest stop and took some photos. My son Charlie (16) and I didn’t think it was much of a big deal at all. After seven weeks of cycling across the United States it didn’t seem a big climb.

That version of myself that was in better shape. If I rode up that mountain today it would be a much different story. Today, I’d wheeze and labor up the climb. It would take me twice as long. I’d probably stop to stretch and breathe. Instead of lamenting that I’m no longer in that physical shape, I should instead embrace who I am now.

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”
–Kurt Cobain

Unlike our puppy Wally, who doesn’t appear to have any self-conscious thoughts, we humans have an ongoing relationship with ourselves – a constant inner dialogue about our sense of self-worth. It is, of course, why people pursue fame, fortune, and power, in the false belief that we will achieve satisfaction through adoration, money, or control over external forces.

What we really long for is to be understood, loved, and appreciated. Since this is true, we should afford the same thoughtful care to ourselves. Stanford Professor Christian Wheeler did a study which examined our idealized attitudes versus our actual attitudes and behaviors. In other words, he examined what happens when our more perfect version of ourself is in conflict with our actual behavior.

When our behavior is incongruent with our idealized attitudes, we feel worse about ourselves, and we often cheat our behavior to better match the version of ourselves we want to be. For example, if we idealize ourselves as fit and attractive and we aren’t currently, that tension makes us feel worse about ourselves. Which is why Spanx is a thing.

In another example, Wheeler asks us to imagine someone who wants to like their job, but their job actually makes them miserable. They may spend time convincing themselves the job is fun and meaningful, but if they cannot bridge the gap, the incongruency will only make them more despondent.

Meet yourself where you are. Self-compassion will fuel your personal change far better than beating yourself up. Just imagine what you would say to a dear friend in a difficult situation. Say those same things to yourself.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

You Don’t Suck. Give Yourself Compassion.

We’re never good enough, smart enough, thin enough. Pharmaceuticals are dispensed, and therapist calendars are booked solid. Most people, when asked, say they are more kind to other people than they are to themselves.

I’m such an idiot…why did I say that?…I look fat and ridiculous…I’ll never succeed…It’s so obvious I have no idea what I’m doing…

If your close friend starting talking like this, what would you say to them? You would build them up, and tell them they are worthy. You would tell them they were smart, talented, and resourceful. You would tell them to stand tall, take a deep breath, close their eyes and envision a stronger, more resilient self. You would send them on their way feeling emboldened.

And if your child came home with a poor test grade you would ask, “How can I help? What do you need? Can I find you a tutor?” You wouldn’t belittle and degrade them. You would be kind, understanding and compassionate.

So why do we talk to ourselves differently? We should use the same internal self-talk we use with our closest friends, our family, and our children. People who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, or stressed out, and are much more likely to describe themselves as happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future.

In one study, combat veterans who practiced self-compassion suffered less from post-traumatic stress after returning from combat zones. These combat veterans with higher levels of self-compassion showed better functioning in daily life, and fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress. In fact, self-compassion has been found to be a stronger predictor of PTSD than level of combat exposure. That’s right: PTSD rates are higher among those who tell themselves they deserve it, or are not worthy.

Self-compassion is not self-esteem. Our self-esteem is our sense of worth and value, and is often derived from external validation factors such as comparing ourselves to others. Comparison is the death of joy. Even being referred to as “average” feels like an insult these days, which is why the most negative form of chasing self-esteem often involves putting others down to create a manufactured sense of self-worth. Narcissism has recently been described as an epidemic.

Self-compassion is kindness to ourselves when things go sideways. It’s a caring, thoughtful response to difficult circumstances or adversities. Self-compassion is the act of mindfully acknowledging whatever pain, ill thought, or difficulty we are confronted with, and treating ourselves with humanity and care. It’s the very opposite of the harsh, critical language we often use on ourselves. So stop telling yourself, “You suck! Come on. Pull it together, you loser” and start giving ourselves more thoughtful and compassionate counsel when we feel beat up by life.

For more on the power of self-compassion, follow Kristin Neff, associate professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who has been studying the positive effects of self-compassion for over ten years.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

In Defense of Troublemakers

Let’s play free association. If I say “blue”, what do you think of next? Maybe “sky” or “color”? And if I say “green” what do you think of? Most people will think “grass”, and only a very few will think “Ireland” or “emerald.”

Free-association and brainstorming doesn’t work because we think in exceedingly predictable ways. It’s why you can often predict what your friends or partners will say. It’s why our weekly meetings often sound the same. But if we introduce dissent, we can get much more creative qnd interesting results. When people speak their mind, raise their concerns, or voice their opinions, the outcomes of discussions are typically much more rich and productive.

Berkeley psychology professor Charlan Nemeth did a series of experiments over thirty years ago in which she showed colors to participants and asked them to free-associate ideas. When shown black they dutifully said “night”, and when shown blue people would predictably say “sky.”

Later in the experiment Nemeth secretly introduced a dissenter. She brought in a fake participant who was told to say they saw a different color. When the color blue was shown to the group, the secret dissenter would say “It’s green.” That small, intentional voice of dissent almost immediately brought out more creative free-association words. Immediately people in the group would say “jeans” or “jazz”.

Another form of liberation is to be less afraid to think differently than others.
– Charlan Nemeth, Ph.D.

In the experiment, the voice of the dissenter and troublemaker brought out more creative and inventive responses from the entire group. Many companies do not easily tolerate troublemakers, those who rock the boat. But research suggests that consensus narrows the mind, while dissent opens up new ideas and possibilities.

This is not to suggest that consensus is a bad thing. Indeed, a clear decision creates a shared vision for a group to execute clearly.

The research suggests not that consensus is bad, but that we arrive at group consensus too quickly. If we permit dissent, our team decision process will be more reflective, more thoughtful, and our decisions more considered. Don’t intentionally create dissent, but do build an environment that permits and embraces dissent when it appears.

Playing devil’s advocate isn’t the same thing. That’s manufactured dissent. What you want in group settings is honest, unrestrained opinions.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

How Do You Create Something Special?

Almost anything I have ever created, built, designed or written that anyone else in the world cared about, I did on my own initiative, out of love of the work, love of the process, love of the team, and the sheer enjoyment of the experience of creating something new.

I’m not saying everything I’ve ever created of value was easy or fun. Creating something that didn’t exist before is hard. Building a company is hard, frustrating, yet sometimes deeply rewarding. Cycling across America can be difficult, exhausting, yet interrupted by moments of elation. Writing a book about the experience is time-consuming yet gratifying.

Robert Berger is a strategic planning professional who has spent his professional career building teams, running successful government initiatives and projects. But the most gratifying and engaging work he does is pro bono. Through the Taproot Foundation he gets engaged with projects he cares about and applied his project management skills for free. He has dedicated over 800 hours of time, and says it’s the most rewarding work he has done in his entire life.

When we do things that we aren’t expressly being paid for, we are more creative and engaged in our efforts. If we are being paid to deliver a specific piece of work, we ask our client lots of questions about what they want. We ask how long the article should be, or what color the image should be, or where the painting will hang in the house when we deliver it.

In other words, when we work for someone else, we are working to their expectations. And the result is that we stifle our own curiosity and creativity in the process. We subsume our own creative inclinations and instead try to figure out “what the client wants.”

I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.
– Stephen King

Almost twenty years ago, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and her colleagues conducted an interesting study. They asked 23 artists to randomly select 10 of their commissioned works and 10 of their non-commissioned works. That is, 10 works of their art that they were paid to create, and 10 works of art they created entirely on their own initiative.

They then took the 460 works of art to a big room where they could be displayed and evaluated by a team of art curators, historians, and experts. All of the experts evaluating the art had not been told which was commissioned (paid) art, and which art was created at the self-direction and initiation of the artist.

Amabile and her colleagues reported their findings:

“Our results were quite startling…the commissioned works were rated as significantly less creative than the non-commissioned works, yet they were not rated as different in technical quality.”

It was the non-commissioned, self-directed art that was found to be more creative, interesting, and valuable to the experts. Do more work you care about, and other people are likely to be more interested. If you care.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

The Problem with Stereotypes

“A single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. When we stereotype others, we reduce them. We imprison them in our own small view, a dark and tiny place with no light and no room for growth.”

novelist Chimamanda Adichie

 

 

Isn’t that the truth. When we only see the world through our own fixed lens and refuse to listen deeply and empathetically to those we encounter along this path of life, we reduce and belittle them.

Measure your success by what you give and not what you get for it will make everyone – yourself included – happier in the long run.

Check out our new micro-learning series Small Acts of Leadership. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!

    ____________________________________________________

SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Change the Task, Not the Person

Ask yourself. Does our company only hire the best and the brightest? Only accept the most remarkable and enlightened ones?

And does our company try to mold them, transform these new recruits so they talk like we do, sell like we do, write code like we do, and write marketing copy like we do?

What if the way our company does things is tired, stagnant, and outdated? What if our company is recruiting talented people with new skills and ideas, and then training it out of them?

Maybe the problem isn’t teaching the new person our way of doing things. Maybe the problem is the task, and the tools we’ve been using.

Don’t try to change someone to do a task or a process better. Change the task or the assignment to better fit the strengths of the amazing new people you hire. Or better, let the new person choose the task and the tools.

Who Does Not Move Forward, Recedes

I spent this past weekend visiting with dear college friends, reminiscing, laughing, and catching up. Of course, we’ve all changed over time. But back in the day we thought we were special, unique.

The term is chronocentrism. It’s the belief that our group, our cohort, at a particular moment in time is special, and poised on the brink of history, as if we are locked in a remarkable and magical moment. It’s pretty common for graduating classes to feel this way, or groups of employees at a company to feel this way when working together during a period of change or growth. During these times we solidify our values, deepen our identities.

It’s a good feeling and creates lasting bonds among the group that can persist for a long time. But it’s also important to move on. It may have been a watershed moment in your evolution, but who you are then is not who you will become.

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you have ever been.
– Dan Gilbert

Never believe that you are done learning, or done changing and evolving. The choices we make today will lead to who we become tomorrow.

En francais, “Qui n’avance pas, recule.” Which means, “Who does not move forward, recedes.”

Learning is Interactive, Not Consumptive

We have a new puppy. The kids named him Wallace, although he has immediately become “Wally”. Neighbors want to hold him, get a selfie with him. He is adorable. He also creates disasters everywhere around the house, chewing, shredding, drooling, peeing everywhere. He can be a wrecking ball.

He’s also learning more quickly than I expected. We have an older yellow lab named Penny who knows all the tricks of the house. She knows when mealtimes are, where to nap, where the walking trails are, and where the bathroom is (See Wally? It’s in the woods beyond the backyard, not in the living room).

Wally is picking up on all of this by following Penny’s lead. He’s not learning half as much from the humans. On walks, Wally follows right behind Penny and sniffs where she sniffs, stops where she stops.

Numerous studies demonstrate puppies (and chimps, and rabbits, and cats, and mice, …) all learn faster by imitating the behavior of older, more experienced members of their own kind. Here is a super cute video of an older dog teaching a puppy to walk down scary stairs:

The same is, of course, true in humans. Yet in the United States younger people don’t apprentice under masters nearly as much as they do in other countries around the world. Britain has been enjoying a renaissance of apprenticeships with their successful “Get In, Go Far” initiative.

Get In, Go Far matches younger aspiring learners with companies and opportunities to develop skills in their particular interest. And it’s not confined to skilled labor jobs like electrical or plumbing work. Get In, Go Far is matching younger people with apprenticeships in information technology, project management, marketing, computer science, teaching, and much more.

We conducted a leadership workshop recently with participants from around the world including Brazil, Spain, Germany, England, Poland, Philippines, Canada, and the United States. When the conversation turned to mentoring at work, everyone said they had strong mentorship and lots of opportunity to learn from masters at work. Everyone, except the participants from the United States. They said the philosophy at their US-based location was more “sink or swim” or “figure it out on your own.”

It’s time-consuming, and expensive to find, and keep, good talent. Retaining talented people requires constant care and respect for their development. Remember these two small truths about mentoring:

  • It’s not one to one. People in organizations can, and should, learn from many different people, in different settings, with different skills. You have your workout group, your monthly book group, your hiking friends, and your dinner club. You learn different things from all of those experiences. The same is true at work. Create variety. Diversify learning opportunities.
  • It’s a two-way interaction. Whatever your level of seniority, you have something to teach, something to share. Learning is an interactive process, not a consumptive process. You don’t get paired with a single master, like Obi-Wan, and metamorphose into a Jedi. You have an obligation to contribute. You’d be surprised what you know that others don’t understand yet.

Check out our new micro-learning series Raising Resiliency featuring bestselling author Jen Shirkani. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

You Can’t Control People. But You Can Control the Environment

This may surprise you, but prior to the early 1970s the word “parenting” didn’t exist. The word parent was a noun, not a verb. A parent was something you are, not something you do. In the same way that we don’t child our parents, and we don’t husband our wives.

According to Alison Gopnick, a researcher at the University of California, in the 1970s we came to think of being a good parent as a problem to be solved, a skill to be developed. And if only we had the right manual, and the right set of skills, we could then excel at being a parent, in the same way we try to excel at our classes or our jobs.

The analogy she uses to illustrate her point is to imagine a carpenter and a gardener. The carpenter is exacting, measured, controlling the materials, bending them to her will, designing the results. The gardener creates an ecosystem, plants seeds, introduces fertilizer and diversity, and watches growth unfold. The gardener manages an environment, the carpenter presses resources into service of his vision.

In her research, Gopnick has found that parents in the United States and western Europe have, over the past few decades, gradually adopted practices to design outcomes for their children (in extreme, think Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother). In doing so, we have also increasingly removed the level of risk we allow children to take.

In 1971 80% of third-graders walked to school alone or with their friends. By 1990, it had dropped to 9% and today is even lower. Most parents will tell you the world is more dangerous than it was back then, but it’s not. There are fewer traffic accidents, fewer playground injuries, and fewer of the most horrifying of fears – abductions. The rate of classic abduction-by-a-stranger is less than one-hundredth of 1% of all missing children, which itself is less than .04%, and also trending down over the last few decades. I understand any number above zero is intolerable, but the chances of a child being kidnapped by a stranger are more remote than being hit by lightening or winning Powerball.

Alison Gopnick’s point is that as we attempt to remove risk from our children’s lives, we also remove their ability to solve problems, persevere through adversity, and deal with the inevitable uncertainties of life.

In a post-industrial world, exactly the skills that we need – innovation, creativity, risk-taking – are exactly the ones that we’re not encouraging in this very kind of narrow, competitive, academic parenting culture.
– Alison Gopnick, Ph.D.

Deep play – the kind that is unstructured, open and immersive – helps build critical thinking skills necessary for thriving later in life.

Kids then grow up and go to work. At our workplaces, most organizations set clear guidelines for behavior, and expectations for performance. Salespeople are expected to sell in a certain way. Programmers are expected to code using particular protocols. Marketing writers are expected to follow rules of copywriting, and product placement to drive customer influence. And everyone needs to keep track of what they do.

As a leader, instead of controlling people, try instead to change the environment and give opportunities for deep play by:

  • Changing the environment: schedule a walking meeting outside, meet at a different location, attend a conference or event with your team, ask your peers in other departments to flash mentor members of your team.
  • Pushing people to develop new skills: Encourage people to grow new capabilities by providing opportunities and encouragement to try new tasks, and take on new projects.
  • Giving autonomy: Define what needs to be done, not how to do it. Help team members envision best results, but let them decide how to accomplish the task.

Check out our new micro-learning series Raising Resiliency featuring bestselling author Jen Shirkani. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!

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SmallActs-3DWe’re doing the best work of our lives right now at Mindscaling, a company designing custom curriculum, and building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can buy a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.