A brief shout out to the LEAP interns (grad students interested in public service and the public good) I met with last week. Mary Rose, Leslie, Lisa, Pryanka, Seyron, Jen, and Vi engaged me in a wide ranging conversation about life liberty and the pursuit of fulfilling work, and of course, networking. Always inspiring and energizing to be around bright, youthful and idealistic students. I am certain that I received more benefit from the session than they did! Aaaah to be young and overwhelmed by choice and commitment. :-) I tried to impart these 4 takeaways:
- Students are powerful. Nearly everyone wants to help a student. You can ask "dumb" questions, you can be curious, you can talk to people at the highest levels. Later this type of power evaporates.
- Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone, your routines and try new stuff that is driven by your curiosities and your interests.
- Map is not the territory. Explore your ideas and experience them. Do not rely on your intellectual understanding or theories. Apply and test your theories.
- Minimize your regrets. Follow your mind and more importantly follow your heart. Because your age will be defined by the number of regrets you accumulate.
Maybe relevant lessons for those of us who have been out of school for awhile. I am sure a few of us would gladly trade our challenges for theirs!
A am just struck by how our lives are so influenced by the people we meet and get to know. How these encounters can put new spin and momentum on our lives as we accelerate towards intended and often unintended destinations. If we pay attention and we seek new ideas, our trajectories can be altered or strengthened through these human connections. We know in our hearts, that we can not figure this stuff out by ourselves. Notwithstanding the American ideals of boot-strap individualism and self-reliance, our lives are less about our singular visions for ourselves, but the confluence and convergence of a mosaic of thoughts, advice, role models, inspirations, and needs that we obtain or observe in others. Like Antonio Gaudi's amazing and awe inspiring works in Spain–mosaics made from broken shards of pottery and discarded porcelain, which individually may be de-valued but when connected create stunning possibilities. Such is our lives. We can create and put together fascinating worlds, propelled by the people we meet and get to know. Connecting ourselves to others and their ideas, and suddenly the world is smaller and our ideas are bigger.
My daughter Jenna was marveling about her newest friend and how a superficial homework partner has emerged as a trusted confidante in a few conversations. Someone she "knew" was different once she got to know her. Jenna told me about the new ideas that have sprouted as a result of this new friendship or shall I say latent friendship. She has been introduced to new cuisines and a new network as well. By being open to the possibility of learning, by exploring, and ultimately leaving the comfort of your habits and routines–stuff happens. And that stuff will make you think about who you are and what you are doing. It will introduce you to new perspectives. And anything that gives you those opportunities is precious.
A couple of weeks ago I was worried about what summer would be like without summer school, summer camp, and swimming pools. The budget crises closed all of summer schools here in LA, most of the pools, and many more families are unable to send their kids even to a local day camp. The consequences from these budgetary cuts will stunt the memories and opportunities for the youth who have few options to begin with. But I digress. Anyway, got my employer CCF to start a modest fund to raise some money to help at-risk and disadvantaged kids receive assistance to go to camp or join a summer activity. The first day failure was predicted. I was told that there are no funds from foundations, that donors are tapped out, that the unfunded needs were too great etc etc. I have always believed that to have a chance you have to start–Lesson # 357 on networking–I called the metropolitan YMCA to explore this idea for a fund, they talked to their Board. One of their Board members is on a huge foundation Board (not in Los Angeles), she talked to the President of the foundation, that president sat next to my boss Antonia Hernandez at a chance meeting and the other foundation president said she heard about the summer youth fund. And that foundation is now going to fund the summer activities of 3000 young people from low income homes! All of this happened in 10 days. Some say this was just luck. However, I have learned long ago that the ripples from our chance encounters and conversations can be enormous.
Try to return your mindset to those like the grad students I met. A world of possibilities. A world that opens up through others. As I like to say, networking is a contact sport but it is a team sport. Regardless, you have to start the conversations. You have to get know people you know and don't know. And also like the grad students, our opportunities and abilities to influence are always far greater than we think. We can choose to be the artist that builds the mosaic or the weaver that stitches together the fabrics or the pinball wizard that propels the balls that come our way to greater distances and opportunities. Once you make the choice and the commitment, the lifestyle of mentoring and networking starts ripples that can bring enormous returns to you and your network.
Thanks for reading. John