Archive for the ‘Business’ category

What do you love doing most?

February 19, 2019

A few months ago, I was struggling with an unexpected job offer – one with more responsibilities and more risk. But something was holding me back.

I was reading Adam Braun’s “The Promise of a Pencil” (2014) and he wrote about starting every conversation with potential volunteers by asking the question, “What do you love doing most?”

The question, asked at just the right time, made me realize that this new job would challenge me and take me out of my comfort zone. It could take me away from doing what I really enjoy or it could be an opportunity to see what else I might enjoy doing.

I looked back at all the jobs I’ve had and all the volunteering I’ve done, and I can see how I’ve gravitated to the parts of the job that fill me with enthusiasm.

Just out of school, I stumbled into marketing, which let me put my love of writing to good use in brochures, manuals, and press releases. I followed that path into direct mail, sales presentations, and trade shows. Each move game me the freedom to be more creative.

We don’t always have the luxury of doing what we love, but I try to make sure that what I do fits with what I value most in life. Values stay with me much longer than a job title or an employer.

Valuing family and home, I moved back to Hawaii, though I had a creative and rewarding job. And living in Hawaii has made me open to other creative and rewarding opportunities.

Valuing art, creativity, and education, I volunteered for a children’s art project, school fundraisers, and after-school classes.

Valuing kindness and compassion, I now work for a nonprofit counseling center, changing career paths entirely.

While I don’t enjoy paperwork, operations, and administration, I’m good at it. I do it so that I can do what I love: writing something new, designing something compelling, and being part of something that makes a difference.

Did I take the new job? Yes! I accepted the job on an interim basis. I’m still figuring out how to keep the parts that I enjoy, and delegate or contract out the parts that need to be done (not necessarily by me).

But I’m glad I took that risk. I think that I’m right where I need to be.

What one thing do you love most about job? What work would you do even if you didn’t get paid to do it?


Sudden good fortune

February 5, 2019

For a long time, my company, like many nonprofits, was struggling to make ends meet. Our budget was as lean as it could be, while still making sure that operations ran smoothly (if not quite quickly). We were working our way to financial stability.

And one day, with a letter and a phone call, things changed. We received a modest, unexpected bequest that did more than pay our bills for the month. Instead of juggling payments and hoping for donations, we had some breathing room to plan for the future.

What would we do with this unanticipated gift? Spend it? Save it? A little of both?

Sudden good fortune, like winning a lottery or jackpot, is one of the most dangerous things to happen to an organization – or an individual.

There’s that’s rush of euphoria, sense of freedom, and perilous impulsiveness. There are arguments about what to do with good fortune. There are other people who want to share in your good fortune. And there is the temptation to spend that good fortune quickly – and unwisely.

Having learned from a past gift that was unwisely spent, board leaders wanted to designate the entire amount toward our fledgling endowment.

Working with the day to day expenses and limitations of a small company, staff wanted to designate a small amount for operations.

As a nonprofit, we asked ourselves three basic questions:

1. Could we continue to function well if we didn’t have this gift? Specifically, how would our clients and staff be affected if we didn’t have this gift?

2. Will there still be a strong need for our services over the next 20, 30, and 40 years?

3. Are we committed to serving our future clients who need our services?

This unexpected gift spurred me to commit to our mission, not just in the short term, but for generations to come. It changed my perspective from today’s clients to future beneficiaries.

In the end, the answer wasn’t difficult. We decided to designate the entire gift toward the endowment, but also slightly increase our budget for staff and operations in the next year.

What would you do with sudden good fortune?

Doing less or more on vacation

January 15, 2019

There’s truth in what Lucille Ball said: “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”

It may be obvious to you, but recently it struck me that the busier I am, the more I get done.

Over the past few months, I have been overwhelmed, stressed, and a little ragged when I let myself think of all the things I need to do. Somehow the urgent things get done, and I move on down the list.

Then I took a vacation. Except for checking email every once in a while (so I didn’t face an overflowing inbox when I got back to work), most of the “busy work” halted.

I took time to sleep in, to read, to relax. But I also had plans, places to go and things to do.

On the first and last days of my vacation, we took two family day-trips – places we wanted to take our son for the first time. But with so much time, we couldn’t stir ourselves to take the second trip sooner.

Between those family days, I worked only on projects that I wanted to do. I couldn’t justify doing them when there were more urgent projects, but I enjoyed doing them. There were other things I wanted to do, and had the time to do them, but not the motivation.

Though my vacation is over, here are three things I could have done to make sure I got more done:

* Designate work times. I could have aside two days, or three mornings, as work days. Whether it’s checking work email, preparing taxes, doing yardwork, or cleaning the house, making that mental shift to “work” can help focus attention and set boundaries for the rest of the vacation.

* Set imaginary deadlines. My default was “I’ll do it over my vacation,” but that’s not specific enough. I should have set a date for when something needed to be completed – even if it was an arbitrary date.

* Tell someone about it. Better yet, I should have told someone what I wanted to accomplish, and when, so that I felt some pressure or accountability to actually follow through.

Now I have some ideas for staying on task during my next vacation.

What is your ideal vacation? Are your vacations all-leisure or a combination of work and play?

Spending more time in the future

January 1, 2019

Today, there seems to be a strong emphasis on living in the present, on savoring each moment. We can add meaning to our days by focusing on good things that happened, accomplishments, and kindnesses.


But we also need to balance living in the present with spending time in the future.


“The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is the defining competence of leaders. Leaders are custodians of the future,” write James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in “The Truth About Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know” (2010).


“Spend more time in the future,” Kouzes and Posner suggest. “You have to carve out more time each week to peering into the distance and imagining what might be out there. You have to spend time today in order to have the time tomorrow.”


So I spent some time imagining what our best possible organization could be like in five years. Who is part of our best team? What are our core programs, products, and services? What other organizations and agencies are we working closely with? What is the state of our finances? How are we making positive changes in our community?


Thinking about the future is revitalizing. It makes me feel hopeful. It gives me a renewed sense of purpose.


It’s like a reverse time capsule. In five years, what will your time capsule tell you about about today?


This ties in with a happiness practice that I recently learned through “The Science of Happiness” class. In this practice, we were asked to imagine our best possible self – in career, family, relationships, finances, hobbies/interests, and health.


And what it comes down to is time – more time doing meaningful things, like time with my family, time devoted to art, and work that has a positive impact on society.


The practice is not meant to make us feel frustrated about the difficulties that we face today or the challenges that we foresee in the future. It helps us learn about ourselves and what is important to us. And it can help us prioritize who we can be and what our organization can become.


Imagining the future made me really excited about doing even everyday tasks, because I could see how each small step could get us to that best future.


Do you make time to spend time in the future? What do envision for your life in five years?

Driving with bosses

December 11, 2018

One summer, my co-workers and I took a memorable roadtrip back from a conference. One of the sponsors came up with a Gold Rush theme, and placed a large golden nugget – complete with cactus, pick ax, and lantern – as the centerpiece on each dinner table. Unfortunately, it looked a little like golden poop. My boss had a great sense of humor and drove back to the office with that golden nugget taped to the hood of his bright red car. It still makes me laugh.

Another summer, I drove to work in the mornings with my boss. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but 45 minutes in the car, five days a week, with your boss is a golden opportunity. Usually we have only a few minutes during the day to catch up. But in the car, we had time to talk about work, make quick decisions, and get to know each other better.

We usually think of meetings as the best times to get things done. We schedule formal meetings with an agenda and specific action items. We set up lunch meetings to discuss business deals – or celebrate them.

But I’ve learned to appreciate the time I spend with my boss in the car. It’s a chance for us to talk about our jobs, the challenges we face, and our personal lives, without any distractions or interruptions. We’ve had conversations about our families, our past jobs, and current problems.

Roadtrips can be a bonding experience, especially when you’re driving to an unfamiliar place. You’re navigating unfamiliar roads as a team. You’re focusing on your relationship, instead of traffic. Getting lost can make the trip even more memorable.

I’ve taken roadtrips with bosses along scenic highways, through “country” towns, and to a little-known barbecue take-out restaurant. There’s a right turn that we almost missed without some fancy steering. These shared memories make working together a little easier. It just costs us time and gas.

Traffic doesn’t have to be a roadblock – it can be an opportunity.

Have you ever driven with your boss? Or, if you’re a boss, have you ever driven with your direct reports? What is the most memorable conversation you have had on the road?

Interviews with mirrors, webcams and Alexa

December 4, 2018

A few weeks ago, my 12-year old son asked if he could interview me for a school project. “Sure,” I told him. Then he said that he had to video the interview. “OK,” I said, less enthusiastically.

We cleared a space on the table and set a chair in front of the laptop. We cleared away things in the background. He told me that I should look at the computer camera, instead of facing him. Then we started the interview.

I was nervous at first, but then I realized that he was nervous – which made me less nervous, because I wanted to do a good interview for him. He asked some questions out of order, but he assured me that he could edit the video and we didn’t have to start again. In under ten minutes, the interview was done.

Public speaking usually makes me feel anxious and panicked, and I was surprised that this time, I didn’t feel very nervous at all.

After thinking about it, I realized that four elements combined to make me feel more at ease:

It’s not about me. I was doing an interview to help my son. So I was focused on providing good answers that would help him do well on his project, not about how I felt or what people would think about me. I learned that when I speak in public, I can try to focus on the audience and what they need, not on making a good impression.

It really is me. In this instance, I was talking to myself on a computer screen. I talk to myself all the time (usually, in my head). It’s hard to feel nervous talking to yourself. Watching myself on the computer screen, watching myself mirror my own body language and movements, helped to build rapport with… myself.

It’s become normal. In the past few months, I’ve participated in online classes, webinars, and video conferences. I’ve watched people make mistakes, like lose track of their thoughts and then get back on track. I’ve watched people take a moment while they decide what they want to say. It’s not strange to talk to a computer screen or webcam anymore.

Alexa helps. Before I could ask Alexa to tell the time, play music, or set an alarm, I had to practice speaking clearly so that Alexa could understand me. I couldn’t mumble or pause too long, and I had to learn to wait until there’s a break in the background noise. In real life, this has made me more patient about waiting for other people to pay attention to me.

I’m still not comfortable speaking in front of an audience. But mirroring and Alexa helped give me a confidence boost.

How comfortable are you with public speaking? Do you video conference at home or work?

Hiring the right people

October 16, 2018

The first time I had to hire someone, it was for a summer marketing internship position. The intern we hired didn’t have any marketing experience, and was actually on a business track at school, but I was open to working with someone who could bring a different perspective to marketing projects.

What mattered to me was whether they were intelligent, responsible, easy to work with, and willing to learn. Knowledge and skills were things they could gain on-the-job.

Years later, those are the same qualities that I still look for in an intern, but I’ve added something a little harder to quantify: whether they are a “good fit” for the organization. Now I ask why they want to work at the organization and whether they believe in what we are doing. I don’t expect them to have a “passion” for our mission – they’re interns, and their goal is to gain real-world experience – but they have to be open to and support what we’re trying to accomplish.

The stakes are higher when hiring an employee. Candidates and employers are both on their best behavior. I like the idea of asking questions to find out what really matters. Adam Bruan, founder of Pencils of Promise, asks “What do you love doing most?” to encourage people to share their goals and interests. Hopefully, it will be something that is a part of the job position – or something that could become a part of it.

Yet I’ve learned that sometimes, finding the right person isn’t enough. It has to be the right time for the employee and for the organization.

Last year, we hired someone who was qualified, enthusiastic, and a good fit for the organization. But their life circumstances changed, and the employee left after only a few months. It was a disappointing yet amicable parting.

Looking back, I also remember an employee who was an asset to the organization. But they became dissatisfied, and the organization didn’t act quickly enough to address their concerns. Both the employee and the organization were hurt by anxiety and broken relationships before they parted.

When James C. Collins wrote about good-to-great leaders “first getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) in “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t” (2001), I realized exactly what he meant.

This week, I’m reminding myself how important it is to build a team of the right people in the right position at the right time.

Are you involved in hiring or managing people? What do you look for in new employees? How do you respond when life circumstances change or when people are no longer a good fit for an organization?


Artwork courtesy of