Identify Your BHAG

I have a brain-crush on Jim Collins.

It’s true. I’ve read and listened to his books at least 10 times and regularly slip in his ideals (properly cited, of course) to my students, in my speeches, and at my Monday girlfriend lunches. I’ve seen him speak and he autographed my copy of “Great by Choice,” where I got to shake his hand. **Sigh**

One of my favorite models that he introduces in “Good to Great” is the Hedgehog Concept. It gets his name from the animal who does one thing and does it really well: as Jim describes it (hey, I’ve spent a lot of time with him so I figure we’re on a first name basis by now), the hedgehog rolls into a prickly ball to protect itself from the sly fox. He translates this to business success which I translate to personal development. If you find yourself bored, stuck, or just plain depressed, do some soul searching around these three principles:

1. Do something you’re passionate about.
Something that you can’t help but think about. Something that you read about even when you’re on vacation. Something you do because you love it, even if you didn’t get paid. What are the things in your life that make you smile most? What injustice do you get most fired up about? You could be passionate about helping the elderly, or educating children, or assisting single moms.

2. Do something to drive your economic engine.
In other words, how can you take your passion and make money at it? I firmly believe that money follows passion. Your passion-money connection might not be immediately visible, or highly logical, or even in existence yet (think Facebook). A few years ago there was a “Silly Bandz” craze whereby rubber bands were molded into various trendy shapes and colors. Kids would collect them and wear them as bracelets and link them together and trade them. My daughter spent all of her allowance buying them, while I sat back and asked myself, “Now why didn’t I think of that?” (I asked myself the same thing about Webkinz.)

3. Do something that you can be the best in the world at.
This one can seem a little intimidating at first, until you remember that Jim is talking about companies, and I’m talking about personal development. So bring it down a notch. What can you do that you can be the best in your region? In the town? In your neighborhood? Start small and work your way up. You can always move up to being the best in the world. The key here is just to be the best. Often, this is something that comes very naturally for you. If you’re completely stuck, ask your closest friends and family members what you do that is unique, that sets you apart from others. If you have a life or workplace coach, ask him or her what they see in you that’s special.

The sweet spot where these three things connect is your BHAG – your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (another Jim-ism). What’s that one big dream that is so crazy you’re almost scared to say it out loud, let alone think it? Yet when you do allow your mind to wander there, you get a big smile on your face. This is when you’ve really made it! (My BHAG is to someday collaborate with Jim on a project. Yikes- I said it out loud! But I’m smiling!)

Don’t be afraid of your BHAG. He’s a friendly creature. Cut out a picture of him and put him on a vision board. Write him down and put him on your mirror. See him everyday and make him a part of your life. But acknowledge that it will take time. Acknowledge that it will take a lot of hard work. And acknowledge that it will never happen if you don’t take a step today (even a small step will work) in the direction of your BHAG.

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Where’s Your Inspiration?

I identified my life quote when I was in high school.

With Emerson’s definition of success in mind, I set off into the world to succeed. Along the way, I’ve found leadership and inspiration from various people in a variety of ways.

At the risk of sounding trite and predictable, my mother was my first inspiration. As a single mother, she portrayed a sense of resolve that filtered through to me. She endured betrayal, yet still always looks for the best in others. When faced with a teenager’s dilemma, she didn’t tell me what to do; rather, she consistently encouraged me to do the right thing by answering to “the girl in the glass.” Most importantly, she led by example. She never asked me to do or behave in a way that she didn’t already exemplify. Her fortitude and perseverance have molded me into the woman I am today.

Perhaps also predictably, there are several nationally known personalities who have inspired me: Stephen Covey, Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, Jim Collins, and Simon Sinek, among others. They are not only leaders in their professions as authors and speakers, they are leaders in thought. I admire their intellect – their ability to take complex matter and relay it to us “common folk” for general consumption. They are leaving the world a bit better, and I aspire to be like them.

But sometimes leadership and inspiration can hit you when you least expect it.

EllieI’d like to introduce you to my cousin’s daughter. Her name is Ellie, and she was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of two. She was granted a trip to Disney World from the Make-A-Wish foundation, so when her family went in January, we made the short trip from my home in Florida to see them. The thing that struck me most about this active four-year-old was her determination. At one point, she was climbing backwards up a slippery slide on the playground. When she neared the top of the 6-ft slide but was having trouble rounding the corner to reach the top, I asked her to sit down because I was scared she was going to fall. She looked right at me and said, “No! I can do this!!” The look on her face was pure, solid resolve. It brought tears to my eyes. And it reminded me that no matter how hard life gets, if you keep trying, and maybe adjust your approach a little, you can reach the top.

This little girl, who laughs often and much, won the heart and appreciation of this honest critic. At the blossoming age of four, she has already succeeded.

Moving from Information to Wisdom

So many books, so little time.

Therefore, I frequently listen to audio books I get for free from the library to maximize my time while driving or exercising. (If you’re a book fiend like me and haven’t yet discovered the Overdrive app, check it out!) Recently before embarking on a long car ride I “grabbed” Ariana Huffington’s new book “Thrive.” In it she said something that has really made me think. I will paraphrase it here:

Information does not beget Knowledge
Knowledge does not beget Understanding
Understanding does not beget Wisdom

How often have you known someone who gathers a piece of Information and immediately considers themselves an expert? (Because obviously WE have never done this ourselves!) There is so much information out there that we consider ourselves wise if we read something on the internet. But I believe there are three important steps that need to take place first.

1. Remember It
Have you read something fascinating then tried to tell someone about it, realized you can’t remember the cool facts, then end up with, “Well, I’ll send you the link so you can read it yourself”? This is the classic and most common blunder of not really paying attention to the information enough to have the knowledge to be able to share it with someone else.

2. Apply It
If you have memorized the data points (and thereby have the knowledge), can you apply it? This has happened to me when I teach my university HR Management class. I have the information and the knowledge about the NLRB and Taft-Hartley Act and other labor relations tidbits, but I’ve never worked with labor relations, so I don’t have the understanding to be able to apply it. (Knowing this deficiency is why I always have my friend, who’s an expert in labor relations, come and be a guest speaker for this portion of class.)

3. Live It
Having true wisdom is akin to the Self-Actualization capstone on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: it reflects angelic-like breakthrough understanding that permeates all levels of the issue. (This is why I believe the best CEOs are those who started out as janitors, line workers, and fry-cooks.) It’s when you study and know and understand something so deeply that it becomes a natural part of your being – your gut reaction, or – as Seth Godin calls it – your “lizard brain.” Like when you can tell your child really doesn’t feel well or something is bothering your spouse. When you can answer a question at work without thinking about it. When you can take one look at a close colleague and know they are applying for another job.

Moving from Information to Wisdom takes acknowledgement, patience, and the courage to have the discipline and to ask the questions to get there. I am convinced we cannot be truly wise about everything (it would take away from the magical quality of wisdom!) but once we achieve true wisdom on those things that we are passionate about, it is a heavenly elation.

Hide and Seek

Last year, I went through what I affectionately called an Identity Crisis: What do I want to be when I grow up?

I had been asking myself a lot of questions: Do I want to teach? Do I want to be a consultant? Do I want to be a world-renowned speaker? Do I want to head back into Corporate America? Do I want to go back to school?

I had finally decided to combine all of the above and go back to school to get my Ph.D. so I could be a university professor. It’s OK if I go into debt, I reasoned, because I’ll be doing what I love.

Enter in my best friend. “Jen,” she queried, “are you sure you’re not just going back to school because you don’t know what else to do?” I fumed. This couldn’t be the case. I’ve always wanted my Ph.D. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about it. How dare she suggest that!? “Learning is your comfort zone,” she continued. “Learning is what you’re good at, and you want to be good at something right now. But you don’t need to go back to school and spend lots of money to be good at something.” I made a hasty excuse to get off the phone and quickly filed away the conversation in the Forget This Ever Happened portion of my brain.

A couple weeks later, I shared with a friend that I would soon find out if I got accepted into the program to which I had applied. I guess he finally decided I wasn’t going to figure this out on my own so it was time to say something. “How much money is this going to cost you?” he asked. Uh, a lot.  “Are you going to be able to teach what you want to teach after you get this degree?” Well no, but it’s OK because I’m studying what I love. I’ll just focus on my consulting business. Providence will provide me with opportunities when I have the degree if I’m following my heart. Wow – I can justify anything. “Jennifer,” he said, somewhat pointedly, “you already have the knowledge and experience to do what you want to do. You don’t need a Ph.D. to prove you’re worthy of consulting or speaking or writing a book.”

I needed to hear that: That I was good enough. I don’t need to hide behind more schooling and letters after my name. And I don’t need to seek for more answers. I already have what I need. Now I just have to apply it.

My question for you today is this: Are you hiding in your comfort zone and seeking for things that are already staring you in the face? While you’re pondering this, go out and tell someone they are good enough. It just might save them some money.

Getting Started

Tick Tock.

Stare at the blank screen.

Switch over to email to see who the new message is from.

Remember you were starting to write, switch back.

Tick Tock.

I’m hoping that as you’re reading this you’re nodding your head, thinking, “Oh yeah, I’ve been there.” Sometimes we have the best intentions in the world to make it there on time, to start that new project, or to write that blog. Unfortunately, it’s not the thought that counts. It’s the execution.

What is it that keeps us from starting? With me and my blog, it’s fear. Fear that I’ll write something uninteresting. Fear that next month I’ll learn something that will make this post outdated. Fear that someone will question my ideas or flat out won’t like it. Fear that (*gasp!*) I’ll publish something with a grammatical error in it! (No, really. That’s an English major’s worst nightmare.) Do any of these fears sound familiar to you?

But the truth is, all of those things are going to happen. Some people will find my writing uninteresting or factually ill-conceived. Things will continue to happen and I will continue to learn, making my material out of date. And yes, even English majors make grammatical errors from time to time.

So now that I’ve identified my fears and realized there’s nothing I can do about them, I have a choice to make. I can leave my words inside my head, where they don’t help anyone but me. Or I can acknowledge the fact that I read blogs every day written by people who probably (since they’re people) have (or had, at one point) the same fears that I have. And I can acknowledge that I learn a lot from those people – from the things they choose to write about, from the knowledge they impart, or simply from embracing the diversity of a viewpoint different from my own.

Are there people like me out in the world? Are there people who could benefit from my words if I put them out there instead of keeping them in my head? I think so. So I’m going to, as Nike says, Just Do It.

Here it is, friends. Here is my first blog. You may not like it, it may be outdated, and there may be a tiny error in it, but that’s OK. I did it. Columbus wouldn’t have found the New World had he not set sail, and I won’t be able to reach my maximum effectiveness if I keep all my ideas in my head. I’m putting myself out there and opening myself up for criticism and ridicule, as well as praise and admiration.

But that’s not my motivation; it is this: I hope that by reading this, my first blog, you are encouraged and empowered to do something for the first time too. Dust off that thing you’ve been wanting to do for a very long time, and take the first step. We can take this journey together.