What No One Ever Tells You About Burning Bridges

A couple weeks back, I had gotten a message on Facebook from an old friend from college. He had gotten into a typical predicament regarding job offers: He had accepted a job offer with a large accounting company and recently got in touch with an opportunity in the education industry on the West Coast that he had wanted for months. I asked him what stopped him from moving to this new opportunity and he responded with this:

“I don’t want to burn a bridge.”

“My career counselor told me it wasn’t a good idea. I may get blacklisted. I don’t want to have a broken relationship with recruiters if I apply for a job there in the future. ”

I felt uncomfortable giving him direct advice but I told him it was better to explain his reasoning to the first recruiter than beat around the bush. After some more reflection, he chose the new opportunity. The recruiter congratulated him and it was over after that.

Sound simple? Unfortunately, few people will pull the trigger in the same situation. I don’t blame them. We are constantly encouraged by career centers to make sure we keep our relationships intact with employers. We’re pressed on the value of maintaining strong relationships in business. We are routinely introduced to that word “integrity” and how much it matters. We live in the fear of blackballing, revoked offers, and patterns of negative perception. I found an answer to a similar question on Quora related to this. As expected the answer was: “Show your integrity and stick with the first opportunity.  Your reputation and career are at stake.”

The impending need or desire to break a commitment is awful. You can’t predict reactions or escape the fact that your integrity thrives in a small world. Our pride and ego naturally encourage us to pursue the more appropriate decision. There are no classes on effectively burning bridges or dealing with dissonance. It’s a visibly uncomfortable topic. It’s inevitable. Is there a right or wrong way to do this?

Silence is Not Golden: Be upfront, honest, and humble. If you have to break a commitment for any reason, don’t play games or let the other side find out from someone else. I laud Lebron James for his famous “Decision” segment on ESPN because he provided some great fodder for ‘What Not Do in PR 101′. Without any warning, he destroyed his relationship with the fans and owners of the Cleveland Cavaliers in a single day due to his unwillingness to have a private and genial conversation regarding his desire to leave the team. Would his old team have been happy either way? Probably not. Any decision driven by self-interest and not communal benefit may not make others happy. At the end of the day, being open about it is more of a testament to good character than being aloof.

Evaluate Your Relationships: Are you holding onto a relationship that isn’t there? Think back to the first example with the company that my friend had yet to even work for. In the short amount of time they had known each other, I doubt many interviewers could attest to his skill, work ethic, or personality. Would they have been annoyed at the extra paperwork? Of course. Would they have been credible sources for reference? No way to tell. If you have to leave a company or a job you just started, ask why you’re leaving. If it’s a situation with a terrible boss, ask yourself if it’s worth staying just to appease them. If you are leaving for a new industry or career path, assess if your relationships will be helpful. Most individuals change jobs six to eight times before the age of 30, often building out new networks along the way. Ask yourself if you can start building out a new network should there be no way to salvage your old one.

Learn To Say No: Here’s the best way to avoid breaking commitments you don’t want: learn to say no in the first place. My friend Tam Pham writes in his blog “Trust Your Gut, Not Your Ego” about the story of how he accepted an offer from another company that was offered on the spot only to leave soon after. His moment of epiphany came from author James Altucher who once said, “If it’s not a HELL YES, then it’s a no.” Before you take that first job offer, pursue a new project, or leave a current job, ask yourself if you’re doing it out of pride or out of necessity. It’s easier to say no before than after a contract is established and a relationship is in progress.

Build Your Marketability: Most college recruiters in the NCAA who pursue high school players will often choose to keep a strong relationship with players even if they reject or revoke a commitment to their school. Why? They are talent scouts and out to build teams based on objective ability. If the player is unhappy with his current team and looking to transfer after two years, coaches may jump on that opportunity. Many companies operate in the same fashion. If you have a special skill they want in a couple years or you become an exceptional candidate, most recruiters will offer to re-establish that trust. Remember that most candidates are not irreplaceable. Companies are in business to make money. Any other agenda they put forward is most likely secondary. Holding grudges takes extra effort, one that is often not conducive to the company at large.

You Can Wait or Start Over: Not every burned bridge is permanent. People forgive and forget. It happened to Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and Nas, Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s true that time does heal wounds. People change over time and find new reasons to like you. If you wait or make an offer to reconnect after a reasonable amount of time, you might be pleasantly surprised. Another option? You can start over. Ask yourself what results in the worst case scenario if you happen to burn a bridge at any point. It happens to good people all the time. There is insight in failure and endless opportunities that come with a new path.

At the end of the day, I don’t endorse burning bridges in most circumstances. In my own career, I am proud to say I have kept strong relationships because of this and ashamed to admit that I have also let opportunities go. None of these reasons should give you excuse to do a mediocre job, be a generally apathetic or unkind person, or go out of your way to screw someone over. I do think that it’s a conversation we don’t often have in business and something we should start discussing before college students sail into the rough tides of the real world.

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Why Arthur Ashe Would’ve Been Happy With Caitlyn Jenner Winning The Courage Award

When I first found out on June 3rd that Caitlyn Jenner would be awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards, I was a bit perplexed.

I knew that she would be a powerful icon for the transgender movement. I knew that with her brand and the image of her family, she would be making a big sacrifice in choosing to live her life a different way. I have the utmost respect for her decision and I didn’t, for a second, doubt her courage.

At the same time, I had the same big question as anyone else: What the heck does any of this have to do with sports? With big stories around the indelible impact of Devon Still and Lauren Hill’s courage, it was hard to figure out why a former decathlon athlete who had long been removed from sports-related headlines would suddenly deserve this honor.

I soon realized my critique was innocuous compared to what I began to see on social media.

It didn’t help that Caitlyn Jenner had long been affiliated with the Kardashians, a family known for publicity and unique capitalist opportunities, or that the announcement came very close to a Vanity Fair cover that had not allowed much time for society to process or educate themselves on the meaning of the transformation at all. As expected, many chimed in to announce more deserving winners and pictures of army soldiers and cancer patients. Others threw in words like “freak”, “gross”, “disgusting”, “monster” and other hateful comments with no relation to the award. An extreme low.

The most intriguing comments I saw were related to Arthur Ashe himself.

I was curious. I looked up Arthur Ashe’s story and what his thoughts would have been to Caitlyn Jenner as a recipient.

Many know Arthur Ashe as a reputable tennis player but few know why he became the namesake of an award related to courage. In September of 1988, after receiving a surgery, Ashe was discovered to be HIV positive through a complication from blood transfusion. For years, he and his wife kept his illness private for the sake of his young daughter. It wasn’t until 1992 that Ashe decided to go public with his illness and became an advocate, working to raise awareness of the virus and to clear up common misconceptions about his diagnosis and disease. He started the Arthur Ashe foundation for defeating AIDs and committed to working for resources and funding to build support. This was at a time when there was still confusion around who could contract it and how to interact with those who had it.

There was a large stigma especially around the fact it was mostly homosexuals who could contract this disease. This led Ashe to interface with many members of the LGBT community throughout his fight and it was stated that he had nothing but sympathy and respect for the gay communities, often arguing in defense of their lifestyles.

My guess is no — Arthur Ashe wouldn’t have been upset. As a celebrity creating awareness for a relatively unknown disease, he would’ve had empathy for the challenge that lay ahead of Caitlyn Jenner and battling the stigma around the transgender movement. As someone who had to keep a matter private for the sake of reputation and his family, he would’ve understood Caitlyn’s struggle. As someone who spent much of his life fighting to create acceptance of a new reality for millions of others, he would’ve been smiling to see Caitlyn Jenner trying to do the same.

As for the courage award itself being awarded to those in sports, my quick research led me to another understanding: the award is not limited to athletes. By definition, the award goes to those whose contributions transcend sports. The award was won in 2009 by Nelson Mandela for his actions in South Africa to divert racial tensions. It was won in 2002 posthumously to those who diverted one of the flights during 9/11. The award has been won by cancer patients, military veterans, activists and more. If anything, this award should teach us that courage comes in many forms. Last year, Michael Sam caught similar criticism for his public announcement of homosexuality. Courage means staying brave in the face of bullets and medical treatments, but also staying brave in the face of hate, discrimination, and harmful prejudice. Courage is not a competition. In fact, courage in 2015 is starting to mean more. For Arthur Ashe, he had to brave a debilitating virus but dealt with much of the same skepticism from American society. He understood courage in many of its different forms. To think that he would have condemned this type of courage is disingenuous at best.

Whether you think someone else was more deserving of the award, it should not mean that Caitlyn Jenner was simply not a qualified candidate. I highly doubt it was a simple decision from a PR side. It was probably one that was highly scrutinized by Disney and ESPN alike. If you should criticize anyone, you can continue to criticize ESPN. Just know that many others — including the 40% of transgender people who attempt suicide at some points in their lives — count this platform as a blessing.

The Questions No One Is Asking About DeflateGate and the NFL

It’s been almost two weeks since the ‘DeflateGate’ mystery hit the mainstream media. The timing was uncanny; it energized antagonists and conspirators who were upset about a Patriots win, baffled and numbed those still in the midst of an AFC Championship celebration and turned the heads of non-NFL fans to yet another juicy story about questionable integrity. Why has this story become so dramatic despite the fact that many claim it had no influence on the game whatsoever? For one, it’s a classic Good vs. Evil contest. It’s the arrogant and reticent Bill Belichick against the rest of the team’s fans. Why should this man be so quiet and shady without having ulterior motives? Hungry NFL Networks and advertisers are the primarily catalysts of the “DelfateGate” support team. They love yet another shot at attempting to corroborate the narrative that a dominant team like the Patriots cannot win games without bending the rules and scoffing at unknown league policies. Why not? The Patriots are one of the easiest targets. Challenging the integrity of a team that has had much success gives people a common platform for opposition and a neat opportunity for the confirmation bias many people have yearned for since Spygate.

Sadly, the league that has instigated investigation has made so little effort to prevent the extremities of media reporting that it makes those who have accepted the Patriots’ firm denial wonder what the NFL is hiding. For anyone who believes “DeflateGate” was the beginning of suspicious league tom-brady-leaves-practice-with-a-possible-knee-injuryactivity is overlooking the fact that this postseason alone has already began to prove the incompetence of officials (“Rescinded Flag in Cowboys Game”). While the NFL tries hard to portray the league as fair and balanced, their credibility is faced with the constant threat of questionable calls by officials that have unequivocally turned games around. The Patriots are taking the fall for what is amounting to a crass lack of responsibility in the officiating, game procedures and the NFL in general. Why does the NFL care more about antitrust law than the health of the players and fairness of the game? What is the rationale behind any team to be in possession of game balls and why has there never been a procedure to detect any ball manipulation? Other players and teams have done it, right? Many teams have even claimed the Patriots did it multiple times this season. No one finds it funky that this media frenzy just happens to come up before one of the league’s biggest cash cows? Why is this investigation, if it’s considered essential to the league, planning to extend itself until after the league’s biggest game of the year? Most importantly: Why is the NFL, who took a huge hit on public image for their lack of transparency with the Ray Rice ordeal, still choosing to give zero information?

Nobody should narrow down this crisis to allegations of the Patriots: DeflateGate is just another domino that further exposes the problem the NFL has been having with preparation and accountability. The fact remains that the Patriots were and are a superior team. The players deserve proper recognition for their hard work and accomplishments. It’s hard for anyone with common sense to dismiss any appreciation for what the Patriots have accomplished over these past 13 seasons. It has been over 7 years since the one technical violation and the Patriots have continued their winning ways through diligence, talented team building, and creative coaching. To say that their success is attributed to the fact that every player on the team has continued to be complicit in a culture of cheating is extreme. To say that a coach who got penalized severely is still attempting to practice cheating under the table is disingenuous at best. Enough of the jealousy. Enough of the “DeflateGate” garbage detracting from the play of a great football franchise. Enough of the exasperating excuses for why a team may have gotten steamrolled on both sides of the ball aside from the fact that the quality of the teams were unequal. Enough.

15 Quotes To Help You Think Differently in 2015

Originally published as a Linkedin post.

Inspirational quotes and sayings are one of the best ways to help us inspire change when it comes time for self-improvement planning before 2015: they can prompt us to look at situations differently, motivate us to reach that next level, or simply capture thoughts or emotions that make us feel better after a rough day. Sure, they look cute on calendar box sets and your high school friend’s Pinterest posts, but they can also have a profound effect on your attitude towards life if you let them. Here are some quotes to help you think differently…

..About Success:

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

..About Adaptability:

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, but about learning to dance in the rain.” – Vivien Greene

..About Optimism:

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” – John Wooden

..About Bullshitting:

“If you’re really successful at bullshitting, it means you’re not hanging around enough people smarter than you.” – Neil Degrasse Tyson

..About Limitations:

“Our fears are mental. The mind that perceives the limitation is the limitation.” – Buddha

..About Throwing Away Opportunities:

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, It might have been.” – Kurt Vonnegut

..About Perspective:

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” – Abraham Lincoln

..About Ambition:

If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” – Donna Williams

..About Doubters:

“People will kill you over time. They’ll kill you with tiny, harmless phrases like ‘Be realistic.'” – Dylan Moran

..About Expectations:

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it; it’s that our aim is too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo

..About Complacency:

“Whenever an individual or a business decides that success has been attained, progress stops.” – Thomas Watson

..About Courage:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

..About Acting Over Complaining:

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” – Chinese Proverb

..About Valuing Others:

“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.” – Galileo Galilei

..About Life:

“The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” – David Viscott

If you enjoyed any of these, feel free to tuck them away for a rainy day or share with a friend. Happy New Year and good luck with your resolutions for 2015!

Six Mistakes You Might Make At Your First Post-College Job

Originally published as a Linkedin post.

Imagine stepping into your first job after college. Armed with a new wardrobe, hours of advice from relatives and ubiquitous encouragement, you feel prepared. Still, your preparation meets fear. Butterflies line your stomach. You’re new. You’ve heard horror stories about incompetence at first jobs and unforgiving bosses. There is so much that can go wrong. How are you expected to be wary of everything?

Here’s the good news: You aren’t. Nobody is. Mistakes are expected. They remind us that we are flesh and bone and provide us a chance for reflection, improvement, and relationship building in the future. Most executives and partners you ask will admit with little hesitation that they have made mistakes early in their career that have taught them a significant lesson.

Even Irish novelist James Joyce once said, “Mistakes are the portals to discovery.”

One way to mitigate the chance of big picture mistakes is by sharing our own experiences and learning from each other to be more prepared and conscientious. In the spirit of giving, here are mistakes I’ve seen in my first few months here at IBM and subsequent takeaways:

  • Setting Fuzzy Expectations: There is nothing more uncomfortable than the feeling that you’re under-achieving or that your manager is suppressing disappointment. Before you start the job, sit down with your manager or supervisor and have the “talk” regarding your objectives and expectations. Be transparent. Even after the first week, reach out to your manager regularly and ask what they expect of you. Write your objectives down and verify them as they change and evolve. This will also help your manager as they will know exactly what ruler they are measuring you on when it comes time for evaluations or promotions.
  • Using Confidence to Hide Faulty Logic: We’ve all been taught that confidence is a key to succeeding anywhere. Confidence enables us to talk to people without reservation, establish our brand, and paint our work with trust and credibility. There’s a big difference, however, between being confident because you are correct and confident hoping that nobody will check that you are correct. Most experienced people in your company will be able to smell rubbish from a mile away. It’s better to admit you don’t fully know and admit your lack of certainty with confidence than to use confidence to hide faulty logic.
  • Lack of Knowledge On Your Role: Depending on how big your company is, you’ll meet many people that might have no idea who you are. Knowing your role isn’t as simple as two or three words or one line on a business card. Know your function within the big picture of the organization, know exactly who you’re working with, and recognize your value-add to the team; for extra measure, come up with a quick pitch that will give people the idea right away.
  • Holding Back On Your Story: You may be a recent graduate or young professional with minimal work experience but don’t sleep on what you bring to the table both as a professional and a person. Be open about your story. Even if it’s something as trivial as your obsessive compulsive need to color coordinate Power point presentations or your unhealthy love for dogs, you never know when a unique need for you might arise. Even if you may not get something from your direct work stream, you could be given small responsibilities that help build a reliable and more vibrant reputation.
  • Assuming Knowledge and Understanding: At times, it might seem hard to ask a higher-up to explain something. You want to create the perception that you are intelligent, can pick things up quickly and don’t need extra instruction. There’s a quote I really like by Confucius, “He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen pride hold people back from asking dumb questions. Never assume that you know something if there is still an ostensible lack of clarity. Every time you see something even remotely unfamiliar, write it down. Make a list of questions. Even if it’s as small as a clarification, it’s always better to ask.
  • Having No Personal Vision: It’s often hard when we’re working for someone else to worry about our own vision or career trajectories without feeling guilty. The reality: We are humans, not machines. We have aspirations, dreams, and goals to grow in our jobs, careers, and personal lives. Be wary of what you want for yourself and make a list of a few new things you want to learn over the course of your first job. Tap into your personal network at work and see if anyone can help or mentor you. It should not take precedent over your primary responsibilities but it should also not be left out in the cold.

It’s never too late to turn our mistakes into opportunities. Make them. Share them. Embrace how you’ve changed with them. It’s not so bad when you realize that, despite what we perceive from the highlight reels of social media, we all have small and large realizations of our vulnerability.

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A Ted Talk in Honor of International Education Week

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

International Education Week falls between November 17th – 21st, a time to reflect upon and cherish educational opportunities around the world. One of my favorite social entrepreneurs has a story that starts with studying abroad and follows his developing desire to change the paradigm of education in developing countries as he goes backpacking and learns more about what the poorest students in the world want the most. His name is Adam Braun, founder of Pencils For Promise. In the midst of protests, many developing countries carry a candle of hope because of organizations like PoP. This TED Talk outlines some of Adam’s story and also talks about what the US can learn from developing countries in education. Enjoy!

The Timing is Never Right

timing

One of the biggest factors of anxiety that we have when starting something new is the timing. We always want to wait until the “time is right” when we want to do something that will create a change in our life.

I wanted to share a quote from a great book I recently just finished called the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss:

“For all the most important things in life, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The Universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up all the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. If it’s important to you and you want to do it ‘eventually’, just do it and correct course along the way.”

If you wait for the timing to be right before you make a move, you may never make a move at all. Great advice to consider as we approach a new month!