What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

IMG_20181223_135651

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The new year, of course, has me reflecting on what I want to do with my life.  That reflection made me remember this poem we read in business school asking what we plan to do with our lives (HBS runs the Portrait Project each year where you can read more formal reflections than mine).

This year, I want to contribute to a meaningful project, initiative, or product. Below are some areas I am currently interested in. I will review these at the end of 2019 and see if I’ve made any progress on anything. My goal is to make meaningful progress on one or more but definitely not all.

  • Find a way to make career coaching more accessible (Humu seems like a good idea)
  • Find a way to make mental health care more accessible
  • Help people eat or exercise better
  • Make searching for a job easier
  • Make it easier for people to understand how to save their money well
  • Help veterans find meaningful work that leverages their skills
  • Educate voters (and make it easier to understand the positions politicians take)
  • Increase access to the Internet
What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Do you know a veteran?

People often ask me why I decided to go to business school and if I think the experience was worth the time and the money. In my response, I talk about how the exposure I gained to a range of  people’s life views and experiences made it worth it alone. One of my most cherished exposures was to the military through two veteran friends.

Growing up, I knew that my grandpa served in World War II as a chemical engineer, but other than that I personally knew no veterans. I grew up in a suburb of D.C. where my family knew politics and lawyers, but no veterans, and certainly no current soldiers. If you look at the data, where our enlisted soldiers come from in 2016, it helps paint the picture.

I learned a lot about the sacrifice our enlisted make from my friends over the past six years. And, I learned why they thought it was worth it. Both of my friends subscribe to different political ideologies than I do. And, I think, knowing that they served and experienced our country in a way I never will, makes me more open to listening to their arguments.

I wish we all knew more veterans. I wish I exposed myself to different worlds more often now as I did when I was in school. Veterans Day reminded me of that.

 

Do you know a veteran?

How to ask for advice

As I progress in my career, I get more and more requests for advice.  People that helped me ask that I return the favor, colleagues or friends want to learn from a step I took or, commonly, people want to get a job at Google.

The preparation I see for these meetings varies widely.  After reflecting on the meetings I’ve had plus discussing “the advice session” with a few colleagues and mentors, I wanted to offer some best practices for preparing for any advice asking meeting you might attend.

  • Even before the meeting, let the person you want advice from know why you need to speak with them specifically.
    • For example: I see you made the decision not to go to venture capital full time after doing an internship at VC.  I need to make a similar career decision in the next few months, so I wanted to understand what factors you considered in making that call.
  • Once you secure the meeting, tactfully, and ahead of time, let them know what you want to cover to make the session a success.  Show you did at least some research before hand. 
    •  For example: I am hoping to understand the pros and cons you considered when deciding to leave tech for business school.  I read you started Google Fiber before business school on your blog.  Would you be willing to talk me through why you still felt like it was worth leaving Google for business school after launching Fiber?
  • During the meeting, don’t linger on small talk.
    • I often encounter situations where the advice seeker and I get twenty minutes into a meeting and I still can’t tell why he or she wants to talk to me.  We talk about the weather, current events, our weekends, etc.  Then, with five or ten minutes to go, the advice seeker asks about some serious life decision I made and why I made it, which is impossible to answer and get to my next meeting on time.
    • You need to balance acting politely and getting to the point.  Build rapport with about five minutes of background on yourself or the situation and then ask your hard questions.  Most likely, the person you meet with wants to use their time to help you not discuss the weather.
  • Limit asking about what I do.  Instead focus on how I can help you.
    • For example: If you want a job at Google and so you seek me out for advice, learning about what I do is only relevant if we have a very similar background and you’re my level.  What will help you is asking something like “I want to work at Google in marketing since given my experience I am the most likely to land a role there.  Would you let me know, from the resume I sent you earlier, which groups you think I should apply to and if I need to tweak my resume at all to make myself more appealing?”

I hope these tactics help you get more of what you want from the advice you seek.

How to ask for advice

New Year Resolutions for 5779: More five-minute favors

Tomorrow is the Jewish New Year. We move from the year 5778 to 5779.

In preparation for the holiday, I started to think about New Year’s resolutions, and one of my resolutions is to say “yes” to more five-minute favors this year.

(My thinking was motivated by a discussion of five-minute favors in a book draft that one of my friends wrote about Bill Campbell, a legendary coach in Silicon Valley.)

So, what is a five-minute favor? Adam Grant says:

Giving doesn’t require becoming Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi; we can all find ways of adding high value to others’ lives at a low personal cost. The five-minute favor is my single favorite habit that I learned while writing the book Give and Take. We particularly enjoy looking for ways to: (1) Share knowledge, and (2) Introduce individuals who might benefit from knowing each other.

(For more five-minute favor ideas, see “Pay It Forward with the 5 Minute Favor” in Forbes, 2013)

On that second point, Grant pledges to introduce his students to anyone he has met. (“Is Giving The Secret to Getting Ahead?” New York Times, 2013). I, too, especially enjoy connecting people to one another, and pledge to focus on trying to do so more often this year.

As I thought about making this pledge, one question that concerned me is: “What if I end up spending too much time doing favors and thus don’t have enough time to focus on doing well myself?”

But it doesn’t really work that way. In fact, acting as a “giver” generally correlates with success. Plus, even if your-five minute favors never offer anything professionally or personally in return, “givers” still tend to be more happy because giving helps people to feel that their lives have more meaning (“There’s More to Life than Being Happy,” The Atlantic, 2013).

It’s true that giving favors isn’t always convenient. For example, Adam Grant writes about how annoying it is when someone asks if they can “pick your brain.” (Read his blog for a better way to ask that question.) Yet, still, he encourages us to say “yes” to the request. After all, what’s the downside from experiencing a little inconvenience? In the worst case scenario, we lose time while we gain meaning, (potentially) help our own careers, and, in connection with the Jewish New Year, contribute to Tikkun Olam.

Happy New Year!

 

New Year Resolutions for 5779: More five-minute favors

Draw Large Circles

I read an HBR article tonight about managing work stress and how it is important that we do not rely on just one person to cope. We need a larger circle. In fact, ideally, in addition to people, we should strive to maintain hobbies and interests outside of work to de-stress.

This article reminded me of a commencement speech I read a few months ago that I wanted to share.

The theme of the speech suggests we form larger circles that encompass not only people but also thoughts and activities.

First, in his speech, Peter Salovey describes how we might broaden our views: “A conversation with six friends in real life [versus online] actually may lead to a greater variety of ideas and perspectives.” How will we solve problems if we can’t see other perspectives? My friend group still straddles one side of the political spectrum, but after going to business school and meeting many veterans on a different side, my views on military spending changed. Simply getting to know someone as a friend helps you to respect their perspective.

Additionally, Professor Salovey says that we not only want to draw larger circles but also more circles since this too helps us maintain a more open perspective. “We know one of the keys to happiness is developing a passion—even an expertise—outside of work. Sharing that passion with others gives us great joy, and it connects us to other circles of friends and associates who might be very different from the ones we would meet otherwise.” One of my passions is helping people find jobs that they will like. While it’s not as exposing as Professor Salovey’s bluegrass interest, it does enable me to constantly meet others I wouldn’t in my day to day. I do think I need to do better on this circle. I certainly did when I volunteered more.

Finally, another “great benefit of more and larger circles is that when you fail in one, your greater self-complexity “acts as a ‘buffer’ to negative experiences...For example, if you define yourself almost entirely in terms of your job, getting passed over for a promotion might be devastating for your sense of self-worth. Linville calls this ‘putting all your eggs in one cognitive basket.’ People such as our marathon-running bass player, on the other hand, bounce back more quickly after a setback. Linville even found that college students with greater self-complexity were less likely to get sick or experience depression or stress.”

In conclusion, Professor Salovey writes, “Draw many circles; make them large in all kinds of ways. You will find life richer, fuller, and more meaningful, and you will bring to the world the empathy and understanding we so desperately need.”

This blog helps me draw a larger circle by connecting me with people who reach out when they read something they want to know more about. It also provides me an interest outside of my core job. I am grateful I can widen my perspective and self-complexity here.

 

 

Draw Large Circles

No fee ETFs, and the future of finance

In business school, I developed an interest in finance. Technology and finance share many traits. For example, when, at school, some former financiers appeared to think they owned a monopoly on smart logic, I argued that a financial model looks a lot like the algorithms I’d seen in tech. Each solves complex problems with a series of if/then scenarios. So, to prove that technologists could take on finance, I took many of the same courses as my fiance peers like Investment Strategies and Stock Picking. I loved both.

As I continue my career in technology, I hope I can one day merge my passions for both tech and finance, and create a financial product based on technology that makes investing and saving more transparent and accessible.

The announcement that Fidelity will offer no-cost ETFs this past week is a move towards the direction I want to see. I want to invest my personal assets in products with low, and preferably no, fees when possible. And, I want to ensure that fees, when added, include understandable disclaimers that enable non-experts to understand how even small fees will compound. I believe Fidelity’s move (and the moves of the subsequent firms that will inevitably follow) will make ETF fund investing, and the fees that come with some ETFs, clearer to a broader population.

We are still a long way from providing asset allocation and financial planning (how much to save when) advice as broadly as it should be provided; however, if Fidelity’s move encourages people to question fees on non-free products, then we’ve made progress in the right direction.

No fee ETFs, and the future of finance

It’s not you, it’s me.

At work, we often take a selfish mindset when we encounter uncomfortable interactions.

Here’s an example: a sales manager interrogates a salesperson on one of her deals. The salesperson leaves the conversation thinking “Wow. My manager must think I am incompetent at my job or she wouldn’t have really dug into minute details on this deal. What did I do wrong? How do I show her I am capable? Should I change my presentation style?”

While I admire her self-reflection, this person believes what the sales manager did reflected her work or her style, not the sales manager’s goals. Most likely the sales manager dug into the deal so deeply because she needed to better understand that business for her boss, she developed a personal goal to understand deal nuances, etc.

I remember a few years ago I couldn’t sleep because I was so concerned about an email I wrote to my boss. I called my dad the next day to ask if, on a Saturday, I should write a clarification email. My dad gave a pretty rational, objective and removed reply; “What? You want to bother your boss on a Saturday? He is not even thinking about this.”

The next time you freak out because you believe you did something noticeably wrong or you feel insecure or offended by a reaction from a colleague or manager, try to remember that it might stem from the other person’s goals, motivations or situation. It may be you. But, it also may be them.

It’s not you, it’s me.