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.

Don’t Let Someone Else Define Who You Are

Right now, over 2 million high school seniors all around the United States are applying to college. And many of those apply early, to receive an early response, and to possibly increase the odds of getting in to their dream school. Those who applied for Early Decision or Early Action, are hearing the news right about now. Hope abounds, and I understand. Our son, a senior in high school, understands.

If you are a high school senior, or have a high school senior, you should know something that matters much more than acceptance at your dream school. The choices you have made, and who you have become by the time you are 18, matter way more than any decision by a college admissions board. And whatever acceptances or rejections you receive, they are temporary and they do not define who you are or who you can become.

The friends you have made, the adventures you have embarked on, the books you have read, the challenges and adversities you have confronted, and the small acts of kindness you have given over your years leading up to age 18, define you far more than the seemingly arbitrary and confounding decisions of college admissions professionals. Don’t let a small group of people who have never met you, define who you are. You get to decide that.

There are a lot of schools you can attend, and have an equally marvelous experience. What matters, of course, is not where you are, but what you think, and who you play with, and share time with. So remember, whatever school you are accepted at, choose to attend, or life choice you make, the most important thing you can do is to make a difference where you are. Solidify your intentions. Light a candle where you are, and let it burn brightly.

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Last summer, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a book about it called Chasing Dawn. (Because, you know, we were cycling east. Get it?) 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.

Our company Mindscaling, builds powerful leadership development experiences, and curriculum, for companies big and small. My other new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post #5 bestseller. Woot! You can grab a copy on Amazon. Have a meeting coming up? I can help. Let’s talk.

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

When Cultures Start to Drift from Values

Diane Vaughan is a social scientist who coined the term “normalization of deviance” to describe the way organizational cultures can begin to drift morally and then rationalize that drift over such a slow time horizon that they aren’t even aware of it themselves.

As she wrote about in her book The Challenger Launch Decision, Vaughan studied the infamous 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion and discovered that faulty O‑rings, linked to the disaster, were identified as fallible long before the disaster occurred. Engineers knew they could fail, it had simply become “normal.”

“The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”
– Steve Gruenter and Todd Whitaker

NASA, from the beginning of the space shuttle program, assumed that risk could not be eliminated, according to Vaughan, because the ability of the shuttle to perform in a real launch could only be mathematically predicted and tested in simulations. For that reason, the engineers expected anomalies on every mission, and disregarding danger signals, rather than trying to correct any problems, became the norm.

“Social normalization of deviance means that people within the organization become so much accustomed to a deviation that they don’t consider it as deviant, despite the fact that they far exceed their own rules for elementary safety.”
– Diane Vaughan

For example, after space shuttle Discovery launched on January 24, 1985, and then returned safely to earth, engineers performed an autopsy on the vehicle, which included carefully examining the O‑rings. In disassembling the Discovery’s O‑rings, the engineers discovered an alarming amount of grease that was blackened from exceedingly high pressure and temperature.

The O‑rings in the Discovery launch held but were more damaged than they had been in previous launches. Engineers calculated that the O‑ring temperature at the time of Discovery liftoff was approximately 58 degrees Fahrenheit. “[Challenger] could exhibit the same behavior,” the engineers reported after the examination. “Condition is not desirable, but is acceptable.”

They also recommended proceeding with the next launch of Challenger. In fact, they not only recommended proceeding with the next launch, engineers painstakingly argued their position regarding the tolerable O‑ring damage in a formal report. At the eleventh hour, only a day before the fatal launch, engineers Bob Ebeling and Roger Boisjoly contradicted themselves and strenuously argued to NASA officials that the O‑rings could stiffen and fail to properly seal the joints of the booster rockets because of the cold January temperatures.

These arguments were not persuasive to NASA officials because, after all, they had the original detailed engineering report stating that the risk was acceptable. It’s important to understand that the engineers were not simply acting or pretending that the damage was acceptable. Up until the engineers made their final plea to officials to halt the launch of Challenger only the day before, they actually believed that there was nothing wrong at all with that classification. “No fundamental decision was made at NASA to do evil,” Vaughan wrote. “Rather, a series of seemingly harmless decisions were made that incrementally moved the space agency toward a catastrophic outcome.”

The O‑ring damage observed after each launch was normal. The culture had simply drifted to a state in which that condition was also considered acceptable. In the NASA example, the existence of the damaged O‑rings after each launch was deemed acceptable. It became an implicit, and accepted, rule that everyone simply tolerated and believed to be quite normal.

But if we step back for a moment and study the situation, as Vaughan did in her analysis, that acceptance of damaged O‑rings seems pretty crazy.

To avoid groupthink, encourage debate and populate your team with different personalities and areas of expertise. And recognize that speed can kill. When we are rushing to deadlines, and racing to complete projects, it’s much easier to overlook mistakes and rationalize errors in an effort to get it done.

As the great John Wooden once said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

Check out our new micro-learning series Small Acts of Leadership to begin making cultural shifts one small act at a time. 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, (Routledge) just released. 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

The Hardest Part is Starting

Last summer a couple friends and I took our teenage kids and cycled across the United States from Seattle to Portland, Maine, and I can tell you the hardest part wasn’t doing it. The hardest part was getting to the starting line.

The adventure of cycling every day for two months in strange, beautiful places became part of our lifestyle. Doing it became as easy as our everyday lives. The hardest part was convincing ourselves and our kids to do it. Sure, there were some difficult moments on the trip. When we were tired we rested, when we were hungry we ate, and when we were bored we played in the river or went to the movies.

Life is full of unrealized dreams because we don’t know how to get started. Yet it turns out the hill isn’t as steep as it looks, the trail not as long as it looks once we get started. Experienced parkour athletes estimate the height of walls and fences lower than novices. Successful football field goal kickers estimate the upright posts as farther apart than less successful kickers. Golfers who are better at putting often describe the hole as “big as a bucket” or “as big as a basketball hoop.”

It’s not the doing part, it’s the starting that is almost always the hardest. Here are three useful ideas to get started.

Think About What Can Go Right.
What can go wrong is easy. 2:00am awake and wondering if your client will like the project you delivered, what the reviews will be on your most recent presentation, if your kids are exposed to bullying at school, the fact that you haven’t tipped our newspaper delivery guy and probably should, if you am ever going to finish this current book project, and generally if you should be doing something else with my life. That kind of stuff can go on if you let it.

It turns out that luck is a choice, and we can create positive outcomes often by imagining them.

A Little Stress is a Good Thing
I once had an interview with the master entrepreneur and writer Seth Godin. I asked him what does he do when he finds himself in a stressful moment. He said he reminds himself that he is in exactly the right place. What he means, of course, is that when we place ourselves in challenging situations, we have the opportunity to accelerate our learning, become more resilient and gain new skills and insight.

“I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert.” – Daniela Kaufer, University of California

Find People Who Have Done It
Other people who have been there, done that, are more trust-worthy advisors than your own instincts. But you won’t believe them anyway. In a study entitled, “The Surprising Power of Neighborly Advice,” Dan Gilbert and his colleagues demonstrated repeatedly that the advice of others, who had experienced what the participants were contemplating, was consistently a better predictor of happiness, and positive outcomes. The reason we are likely to reject the advice of others is because we overestimate our uniqueness. We think we are special.

“We don’t believe other people’s experiences can tell us all that much about our own. I think this is an illusion of uniqueness.” – Dan Gilbert, Harvard University

The research suggests we should get over ourselves, give trust and listen thoughtfully to those who have gone before us.

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Shawn 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, (Routledge) just released. 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

Act Your Way Into a New Way of Thinking

“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than to think your way into a new way of acting.”

– Jerry Sternin

How do we help someone learn something new, or attempt something difficult? Instead of adjusting rewards and incentives, or scaring people with negative punishments, try changing the environment.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has an attraction called Kilimanjaro Safaris. It’s one of their premier attractions, just behind Expedition Everest in terms of tourist volume. And if you take the eighteen minute safari you will be awed by the sight of Black Rhino, Cheetah, Elephant, Flamingo, Gazelle, Giraffe, Hippo, Lion, or Wildebeest.

As you admire the lions sitting nobly on a grand rock for the tourists as they pass by, you might think it all looks a bit staged, a bit orchestrated, just a wee bit too convenient to have a noble lion poised on a rock just as you roll by in your propane fueled jeep. Because it is.

The engineers at Disney have created climate-controlled rocks, so in the hot summer months when a big lion might prefer to hide in the shade, they are instead enticed to nap on the artificially cool rock. Or in the chilly winter relax on the artificially warmed rock. All for the pleasure of the tourists.

You can’t often make a lion do things she doesn’t want to do, just as you can’t coerce performance from the people around you. Sometimes it’s best to instead create the environment and the circumstance for people to learn new things.

We all want to possess those traits of honesty, respect, humility, perseverance, gratitude, self-discipline, and willpower. We want our kids to have these traits. We want our colleagues to behave like this. But these are not behaviors we can learn just by being told or reminded. We have to live them. We have to experience them.

To understand perseverance, we have to actually persevere through something difficult. To understand gratitude, we have to discover what it means to be sincerely grateful. To possess problem-solving skills, we have to first solve some real problems.

This summer two other fathers and I took our teenage kids and bicycled from Seattle to Portland, Maine. The seven of us pedaled over the Cascade mountains and into Yakima valley, over the Idaho Bitterroots, through Paradise Valley Montana and into Yellowstone, onward to the Bighorn Plateau of Wyoming, Thunder Basin, Devil’s Tower and across the plains of South Dakota and the Cheyenne reservation, across Lake Michigan (on a ferry), into Canada over Lake Ontario, down through the northern kingdom of Vermont and into Maine.

It was adventurous, beautiful, painful, and joyous. And it required that we collaborate, persevere, and solve problems on a daily, even hourly basis.

Our brains like complexity and challenge. We stay more alert in changing environments as we try to understand and assimilate new contexts and new circumstances. When we want innovative outcomes, or new habits for ourselves or for those around us, instead of changing motivational influences, try changing the physical environment.

To accelerate Innovation on your team, see Out•Innovate the Competition by Stephen Shapiro. Message me and I’ll send access to preview the course. It’s awesome.

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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, (Routledge) just released. 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

The United Airlines Crisis of Human Dignity

Someone working in that situation should have had the strength and presence to say, “Hold up a minute. We don’t do that. We don’t treat people like that. It’s not who we are.”

The United Airlines event yesterday was an attack on human dignity, the most basic of human needs. The people staffing that flight and gate could have averted the horrific scene of dragging someone from the plane by putting human respect and integrity before United’s business interests.

Human dignity is the basis of human rights, the basis of civility and social structure, the center of our identity, the foundation of who we are. China is outraged. We should all be appalled.

It wasn’t just the unfolding of the event itself, but also the way in which United Airlines defended the action in an internal statement to employees. The language in the statement is defensive, suggesting the event was “unfortunate”, while United employees “politely asked”, the passenger “refused.” The whole statement is defensive instead of apologetic. In part, it says:

Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation. Further details on the removed customer should be directed to authorities.

What saddens us the most is the motivation of United Airlines. After the gross incompetence of overbooking the flight, United made a business decision to prioritize their own crew over a paying customer. The rationale for removing several passengers was so a crew could be transported to service a flight out of Louisville to maintain their business operations.

Apparently since the crew on board didn’t have the leadership and emotional intelligence to change their decisions in the face of a growing human crisis, they called the Chicago police to remove the man for them. The official statement later wouldn’t address the incident directly, but instead directed people to the Chicago police for answers.

There were numerous other choices in that circumstance. United could have attempted to assign a different crew for the Louisville flight, offered higher incentives, delayed longer, etc. But most importantly, United employees on that plane and at that gate could have been trained by their leadership and reinforced by their company culture, to make discretionary decisions in the moment which respect the dignity of each and every person.

The definition of a steward is a person who looks after the passengers on a ship, aircraft, or train, and cares for their well-being. Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s 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, (Routledge) just released. 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 Approach Your Work?

How you approach your work matters. You don’t have to repeat to yourself focus, focus, focus… there are some specific ways you can prime yourself to choose better priorities, and be more productive. How you set your mind and your body into your work can make a big impact on the quality of the work you perform. Here are a few ideas from Laura Stack’s bestselling book and online course Doing the Right Things Right.

Know that you are an executive.
Despite your role or title, you are an executive. In other words you are the #1 person responsible for managing your time and getting the right things done right. It might feel like your time is not your own, but one way or another you must make it yours. Only you can own your own engagement.

Know your strengths.
Are you a person who thinks and plans before acting? Or are you more apt to focus on your team to get things done? You may also be one of those who truly enjoy doing tactical work and using every app imaginable to manage your time. Knowing your strengths and learning from others just makes your executive job more powerful.

Know what’s important.
Reacting to email, social media, late demands, and interruptions can be called work, but it isn’t the kind of intentional, personal, and self-designed work which gives us a sense of purpose. Emptying our in-box is not work we cherish. When we have to do new, original and creative work such as delivering an article, researching, or preparing a new presentation or report, we are far more productive when we mentally plan what we will do, and remain more focused and dedicated to protecting that time because of the commitment and planning.

Start with your posture.
Sit up. Slouching makes you sad. Erik Peper, a professor at San Francisco State University, did a few experiments in which participants were asked to sit in various positions. They were then asked to recall either negative experiences and memories or positive, empowering ones. Slouchers had a harder time recalling the positive thoughts. According to Peper, “If you take on a collapsed position, it really shifts the physiology.” Also known as a “cowering position”, slouching is a posture of defeat.

Don’t worry, you can almost immediately reverse the negative effects of a slouch by simply standing up and skipping in place. Subjects who sat up in their chair had an easier time recalling positive and optimistic memories, and just 30 seconds of skipping in place improved mood and energy levels.

Even better, crank up the tunes and dance. The positive physical and psychological effects of dancing are well-researched. Better than tennis, cycling, golf, and swimming, dancing has a stronger ability to ward off dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Researchers concluded the combination of physical intensity, mental focus, and social connection compounded to produce stronger positive results.

Adjust your attitude.
Don’t tell yourself, ask yourself. Instead of telling yourself “I will go to exercise class in the morning!”, instead ask yourself “Will I go to exercise class in the morning?” Contrary to the old wisdom of using positive self-talk, such as “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” to boost self-confidence, using positive questions is much more powerful. If instead we ask ourselves, “Can I do this?” we will have to answer the question in our minds and be specific about how we will meet the challenge.

Similarly, if we challenge ourselves by asking, “Will I finish this article before I read Facebook again?”, we are more likely reflect on that challenge and accept it. In being honest with ourselves and asking if we are up for a challenge, we’re more likely to face that challenge successfully than simply repeating, “I think I can.”

Now, give yourself less time.
“But I didn’t have enough time!” Yes, you did. You had all day, all week, all month. You burned it doing something else. Often when you have more time, the obligation will simply fill your mind with more anxiety and dread than if you give yourself less time and get it off your desk. Recently I had three weeks to prepare a presentation. I spent so many moments lost in thought about what I should change or remove or add, that I realized the obsession was crowding my time for creating new ideas and projects. I delivered the presentation a week early. Once I delivered the project, and knew I could make no more changes, I let go. I moved on to being productive in other valuable work.

To learn more about choosing priorities in your work, and executing with greater efficiency and speed, take a look at world-class productivity expert Laura Stack and her course Doing the Right Things Right:

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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, (Routledge) just released. 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

Why It’s Better to Ask for Help

I actually think the same things do make most people happy. The differences are extremely small, and around the margins. You like peach ice cream; I like strawberry ice cream. Both of us like ice cream much better than a smack on the head. – Dan Gilbert

Let’s say you are weighing a big decision like whether to quit your job, or move to California, or get engaged to your boyfriend. Or it could be a small decision, such as what to order on the menu, or where to visit on your next vacation. Someone else can make a better prediction of whether you will enjoy that decision than you can, and you should trust their advice.

People regularly overestimate how happy they will be if they win the lottery, get a promotion, or even exact revenge on someone. We also overestimate our unhappiness. The think we will be miserable if we lose our job, or have a bad accident. The truth is we aren’t very good at predicting how we will feel in the future, and therefore aren’t very good at making decisions.

Dan Gilbert, of Harvard University, has some advice for you. Ask someone who has been through it, who has taken the vacation to Boise, quit the job, eloped with their girlfriend, or eaten the banana walnut ice cream. Their advice will be a more accurate predictor than your own judgement. Here’s the catch: you probably won’t believe them. If you ask for advice, your likely reaction will be that you are unique, you are special, your situation is different, and after all, how could they possibly know what’s best for you?

In a study entitled, “The Surprising Power of Neighborly Advice,” Gilbert and his colleagues demonstrated repeatedly that the advice of others, who had experienced what the participants were contemplating, was consistently a better predictor of happiness.

Here’s an example. In one part of the study, 33 women were asked to go on a 5-minute blind date. To identify who they were about to go on a date with, they were offered either a document profiling the height, weight, interests, background, favorite songs, movies, etc. of the man they were about to meet. Or they could choose to read a review from another woman who had been on a blind date with him, and read her opinion on how much fun she had on the date.

After choosing one of these background sources, they were asked to fill out an “enjoyment scale” and predict how much they thought they are going to enjoy the speed date that was about to happen.

Those who chose to read the background document, instead of the opinion of someone who had spent time with him, were almost 50% more likely to be incorrect in their prediction. Even more surprising, those who chose to read the background documents, instead of the opinion of someone else, rated their confidence in their own enjoyment prediction at over 84%. In other words, they were not only wrong, but also wildly confident in their bad prediction.

The reason we are such poor predictors of what will make us happy, and ignore the advice of others, is because we think we are special, and unique. The truth is we are all more alike than we often admit. We have the same hopes, fears, longings, and joys as many other people in the world, particularly those friends and family who are close to us.

Give trust. Ask for help.

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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, (Routledge) just released. 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