Personal Development

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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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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The Timing is Never Right

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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!

What Stops Us From Changing The World?

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank

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Originally published on Student Voice.

A few weeks ago, I sat on an airplane with my newest Amazon purchase open on my lap: Adam Braun’s Promise of a Pencil. Braun’s story was, without a doubt, incredible. He had traveled for a semester at sea and founded the global education organization “Pencils for Promise” at the tender age of 24, eventually leaving his job at Bain and Company in an epic saga of social entrepreneurial struggle. As I finished the last page, I was propelled into a bit of an epiphany. Here I was, close to Adam’s age. I was still young, had all the resources Adam had when he started his journey, and had a similar desire to change the world. So what was stopping me? In fact, what stops most of us from changing the world at such a young age?

I thought back to early college when I was in a phase where all I wanted to do was start a business. I remember relegating all my other career options in favor of this daring and random pursuit of entrepreneurship. The more I lamented on how to achieve results, the more I realized that I was stockpiling on one toxic resource: the “excuse”. I’m not old enough. I don’t have enough time right now. This homework isn’t doing itself. I’m not qualified enough. I don’t have enough money right now. My idea isn’t new enough. Sunday football is on. I don’t know anything about technology. I don’t know nearly enough people. I’ll just work for a few years, save up money, re-evaluate life, and then become an entrepreneur. It’s too much to learn. The list went on and on.

Our mind will believe anything we tell it. Most of the time, the excuses and reasons for procrastination alone will preclude us from doing something we feel strongly about. Ignoring the problem seems to be easier than encountering the consequences or worst case scenarios. But how do we overcome these barriers we place on ourselves? How do some people make it while others don’t?

This is where I arrived after some pondering. Part of it is perspective. “Changing the world” can sound so daunting. The idea of starting a venture and putting your entire livelihood around it can sound daunting as well. We have to start with our own personal definition of “changing the world”. We don’t always need to quit our day job. People who volunteer change the world. People who put together book drives and food recovery programs change the world. People who donate money online to causes change the world. Of course, people who start multi-national non-profits change the world too. What kind of impact do we want to make in the long-run? We don’t have to make it all at once. While thinking big is encouraged, when we think too big that we ignore pragmatism and drive ourselves into an unreachable dream, that’s when most of us tend to quit.

Second, we have to find a reason to fix everything holding us back. Money. The internet has enabled new and wild ways to fundraise. Adam Braun only started out with $25 when starting his social venture. Too much competition. Find an area that drives you and work with other collaborators in that area. We spend too much time on competition and finding that “unique idea that nobody has ever thought of in the history of ever”. Not unique enough. Changing the world doesn’t have to start with a ground-breaking idea or re-inventing the wheel. There are plenty of non-profits out there who do the same exact thing. Qualifications. The only qualification we really need is passion. It costs a lot less than a graduate degree and a thousand certifications. We have to start ignoring the guy that tells us that we need to be old and rich to be a philanthropist. If you have a passion now, don’t risk letting it rot.

Finally, we have to start connecting. Read blogs from successful young entrepreneurs. Read autobiographies from the founders of inspiring organizations we respect. Meet young people in person. Follow them on twitter. Keep learning. I follow many people my age and younger and I can always count of them for some of the most refreshing professional perspectives I get on a daily basis. It can only benefit us to use these stories as a template that age is nothing when it comes to world change.

This all puts us in a position for the hardest part: to start executing. Zak Malamed, Student Voice Founder, once wrote, “The most disrespectful thing you can say to young people is, “you are the leaders of tomorrow.” This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where young people are stigmatized to believe that there is a minimum age for being capable of changing the world.” Let’s stop succumbing to the stigma and change the paradigm for youth and real, tangible change. We don’t have to find the next “Pencils for Promise” but just create something that’s a reflection of a real, raw dedication towards a cause. Why not us?

The Art of “Not Knowing”

Uncertainty. This is a topic I’ve discussed on the blog before but I found a post on Facebook this morning from a speaker I met at a conference three years ago, Dhru Purohit. Dhru is the CEO of the Clean Program, a highly endorsed and acclaimed detox program. He wrote on the art of “not knowing”:

Not knowing the answer to a question doesn’t mean you are confused. It just means you don’t know.

Confusion is: not knowing, but needing to know. The “needing” changes everything. The needing is where the anxiety and stress comes from.

When I hear people say “I’m so confused, I don’t know what I want,” I feel like I’m hearing one of two things:

[1] “I don’t know what I want, but I feel I should know.”

or…

[2] “I do know what I want, but I’m afraid of the consequences of my decision.”

If you don’t know what you want here is my suggestion: breathe and slow down. The answer always comes if you are willing to be silent enough to hear it. Allow things to unfold. The pressure of needing to know is going to drive you freaking nuts. A lot of growth happens when we become comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s worked that way for you in the past and it will happen again.

If you do know what you want, but are afraid of the consequences of your decision, here is my suggestion: address the fear. It always comes back to fear. Write your fears down on paper. Be clear about them, don’t hide from them. Give a name and a face to the boogie monster that is holding you back. Monsters are never as scary as they seem when we can see what they really look like.

If I had to put my money on it, I’d say that most people who say they are confused actually do know what they want. But for some reason they are scared. Scared of making the wrong choice, scared of losing love, scared of failing. Being scared is a great thing, it shows you that you care. But when we stop because we’re scared, we don’t learn the lesson that we were meant to learn.

Best honest with yourself. Question your fears. Go for what you want.

The Power of Empathy

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch

Empathy. The ability to understand the feelings of another.

I’ve long been an advocate of empathetic qualities in organizational leaders but for the longest time had trouble discerning the meaning of empathy. Was it just being nice to people? Asking them questions? In truth, it is far more abstract than that. I found this RSA Short a while ago that I think does a beautiful job of showing how empathy works in a dark situation. It’s less than 3 minutes long, check it out!