Crouching Leader, Hidden Agenda: 10 Signs Your Boss Is A Toxic Egomaniac

January 15, 2015 • 8 minute read • by Saeed


“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

– Lao Tzu – 

IF YOU HATE YOUR BOSS YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

65% of Americans feel the same way.

A venomous boss will likely jeopardize your career growth and impact your personal life. A study conducted by Baylor University, calls this the “spillover effect,” meaning your work -life also affects your marriage and other intimate relationships.

To be sure, good leadership is hard to find (and harder than it looks). A good manager will help you thrive and bring out the best in you. Conversely, bad bosses can cause more damage than economic downturns, organizational upheavals, or global business shifts combined. In a 2007 study, Bennet Tepper, professor of management and human resources at Ohio State, found that nearly 14% of US workers are subject to abusive superiors. Because of the damage mean bosses inflict on workers’ self esteem and productivity levels, Tepper estimates that abusive supervision costs  companies $23.8 billion a year.

It’s important to identify the signs of an emerging messianic leader early on, before you get too involved (especially if you spot them during the job interview) because your boss will eventually crush all happiness you may be clinging to and short-circuit your career prospects.

To help you recognize and buffer yourself from these Leviathans, here are 10 signs that your boss is a toxic egomaniac:

  1. They have XL signatures: A study by a business school at the University of North Carolina analyzed the signatures of more than 600 American CEOs and found that the bigger the CEO’s signature, the more likely they’ll have an extremely high opinion of themselves. According to the study, oversized signatures are a sign of over-bloated egos and narcissism, and guess what… narcissists tend to be appalling decision-makers and managers. So, your boss could quite literally be signing your career away. For the record, the CEO with the largest signature in the study was Timothy Koogle, who ran Yahoo from 1995 to 2001.
  2. They don’t know when to quit: Managers that are there every day before their staff arrives and are the last ones to leave have a problem and need to get a life. There is a way to be productive and it’s not through burning yourself and your staff out. They either don’t know how to manage their own time or how to delegate effectively.
  3. They take credit for your work: A good manager is concerned with developing the people who work for them. They encourage people to develop their strengths. They offer training and professional development and constructive feedback (vs. criticism). They provide big picture input so that their employees understand the company as a whole, not just their piece of it. They bring them along and set them up for success. They stand alongside their employees rather than upon their shoulders.
  4. They are all about their own power: Bad bosses are on a power trip. They flaunt their title, act like they’re above it all, remain distant from the rank and file and cannot side step their own egos. Their power-centered authoritarian leadership style is the antithesis of what Robert K. Greenleaf coined as “servant leadership’ – those leaders that focus primarily on the growth and well-being of the people and communities to which they belong and serve rather than their own Selves.
  5. They don’t know how to empower: Rather than encourage and support their employees towards higher levels of performance, toxic bosses attempt to shame, blame and humiliate their employees into submission. In his provocatively titled book The No Asshole Rule, Stanford professor Robert I. Sutton, advocates for companies to establish a rule to screen out toxic bosses and bullying behavior which impact morale and productivity. Two tests are specified for recognition of the asshole:
  • After encountering the person, do people feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves?
  • Does the person target people who are less powerful than him/her?
  1. They have a hidden agenda: In a nutshell, the toxic boss has an objective to meet at your expense. If you find yourself not invited to important meetings you are qualified to attend, given performance reviews that seem out of whack, given feedback that is incongruent with your actual performance, or constantly having to read between the lines, there is likely a hidden agenda at play.
  2. They rule through manipulation: The archetypal manipulative personality is the narcissist (see: #1). Sitting nicely alongside the narcissist is the martyr, the passive-aggressive, the paranoid, the insecure and the control freak. Through their shrewd machinations, these personality types convince you to give up something of yourself in order to serve their self-centered interests. They need to advance their own purposes and personal gain at virtually any cost to others.
  3. They are all or nothing: Egomaniac bosses view challenges to their reign as akin to treason. You are either with them or against them. Unless you stroke their ego 24/7, you are the enemy. They demand blind loyalty and allegiance to their vision and they meet defectors from that vision with swift punishment.
  4. They are often charming: It is common for toxic traits to be hidden behind a mask of charisma. Toxic leaders are actors playing a role to overshadow their personal shortcomings. In fact, since toxic leaders often lack substance, their charisma and fear mongering is likely what has propelled them forward in their career . This points to a more disturbing trend within organizations:  as long as they are achieving results, we ignore the methods by which those results were achieved.
  5. They divide in order to conquer: Operating on the premise that competition fuels productivity, toxic bosses pit individuals and teams against each other creating seething swamps of resentment and back-stabbing. Nice! On the other hand, experienced managers discourage internal competition in favor of external competition. They encourage employees to channel their rivalry towards the competition rather than at each other. Poisonous leaders create divisions amongst their employees and sap their strength and creativity.

Detox or Depart?

If you have a toxic boss, you have to first decide: should I stay or should I go? Sometimes, leaving is the best option. If leaving is not an option, you have to learn to communicate assertively and set clear boundaries. Remember  that you have the right to be treated with respect. You have the right to express your feelings, opinions and wants. You have the right to set your own priorities and to say “no” without feeling guilty. You have the right to have opinions different than others and most importantly, you have the right to protect yourself from physical, mental or emotional harm.

There is good news in all of this. Companies are catching on to the high price of their bad hires and they are getting better at screening out these poisonous personality types. Remember Timothy Koogle with the oversized signature who ran Yahoo from 1995 to 2001? It appears he has not held a meaningful job since then.

Good Luck.

©2014 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

6 Reasons Why Your Job Search Is Failing You

December 19, 2014 • 10 minute read • by Saeed

WARNING: This post may be a difficult pill to swallow for some jobseekers (also it has lots of numbers).


“Nothing will work unless you do.”

– Maya Angelou –

Reality Check #1: 70% of people land jobs through networking.

Reality Check #2: 15% of jobs are filled through the traditional application process.

Reality Check #3: 42% of openings are filled by internal candidates.

If you were gambling in Vegas, which of the odds above would you bet your money on? The reality is that most jobs are either filled internally or through employee referrals. In your job search, Similarity Theory, which states that most people gravitate towards what’s familiar, is working against you. People don’t really want to hire strangers. That’s difficult-pill-to-swallow number 1.

But you’ve spent numerous hours hiding behind your computer and polishing your resume and cover letter because sitting at your computer and applying for jobs makes you feel productive. Which means you haven’t been talking to real people who can give you a real job. You’ve only managed to give yourself a false sense of security. The truth is that while you feel productive, your bank account is draining and the lack of response from employers is making you feel more insecure. That’s pill number 2.

Listen up. The problem is that what you have is a set of practices that amount to nothing more than a crapshoot. You don’t have a real strategy. You might as well go to Vegas and take your chances there. And that’s pill number 3.

So, what are you are doing wrong and how can you do it better?

1. You’ve adopted the shotgun approach

You believe that if you apply to enough jobs, you’ll eventually beat the odds and land one. You aim at your target like a shotgun, not a rifle. The problem is that when you adopt the shotgun approach, you often show up as over – or under qualified. Stop shooting in the dark and start doing some real field research. Ween yourself off your job board dependence. Imagine the job search process before computers. You had to hit the pavement and talk to real people instead of their avatars. Those were good days. Get out of your cave and into the light of day and press some flesh. That’s called being strategic. Which brings me to my second point.

2. You don’t like to network

Get over it – and I mean like yesterday get over it. How can you even survive in the workplace and advance your career if you don’t like networking? Networking is your number one avenue to work. Start identifying companies that you would like to work for and begin networking even before their jobs are posted. Yeah, I said it. Networking after a job is posted isn’t networking – it’s fly fishing (whatever that is). Also, forget HR. They’re too busy anyway. Invest your time reaching out to peer-level employees instead. Learn how they landed their jobs. Many employers don’t even know what they are looking for until they see it. Meet with actual people who have actual pain points. Then demonstrate how your skills, qualifications and background can solve their problems for them. That’s called writing your own job description. It takes time, skill and credibility, and it takes confidence. But trust me it’s totally doable.

3. You haven’t done your homework

I can’t stress this one enough. Why are you even applying for the job (besides the fact that you need one) if you don’t know anything about the company or the people? Why would they hire you if you showcase zero understanding of their work – their charitable nature? I don’t think so. And I don’t mean a rudimentary understanding either. Anybody can get on a website and read the About tab. Big deal. What you need to do is go deep. Find out about the industry, the competition, the customers – their past and future challenges and so on. Read their annual report. Look up their YouTube Channel, Facebook Page and LinkedIn page. Find out about the people in the organization by checking out their profiles on their website or on LinkedIn (I know, there is a fine line between stalking and research). Who did they work for before? Are their experiences similar to yours? Without exception, hiring managers are turned off by people who show up woefully ignorant of the company. So why should they hire you? That’s called, being smart. You know they’ll be checking up on you, so check up on them (wait till you get to the end of this post to find out how they are checking up on you right now – scary!)

4. You haven’t reached out to recruiters

Did you know that some jobs are only filled by recruiters? That’s right. They are not even advertised. Did you also know that temp-agency jobs often lead to regular employment? In fact, many employers use this as a try-before-you-buy strategy. So take advantage of it. It’s a good way to see and be seen. You still need to have a targeted strategy by reaching out to recruiters in your particular industry. But going through a recruiter or temp agency is a good way to get moving again and regain your motivation. That’s called being employed while you look for your real dream job.

5. You make lots of assumptions

You purposely submit a vague resume because you assume casting your net wide will catch you the most fish. Wrong! You’ll only get a call if you are a good match. Period. You also assume that every job posting you see is real. Wrong again. Some postings are just to see what kind of response is received and then the posting is modified based on the response. They are just testing the waters. Yes, surprise – employers sometimes don’t know what they are doing. Some job posting – no, actually many job postings are just filling the mandated requirement to post a job publicly when all along they have had an internal candidate in mind. Ouch! I know, it sucks. But this is the real world and it’s not pretty. That’s pill number 4. Finally, you assume that if you follow up with a prospective employer about your application, they’ll be annoyed with you and it’ll hurt your chances of landing the job. This is only true if you are annoying. Otherwise, a professional follow up call or email (and I do mean professional) to see if they have in fact received your materials and to see if there is any more information you can provide, is perfectly acceptable. That’s called showing interest.

6. You haven’t cleaned up your act

If you think they won’t ‘Google’ you, think again. When they do, what will they find? Is your Facebook profile full of photos of you stumbling over in a drunken stupor or mooning your BFF? Buh- bye. Want to hear something even more insidious? Social Intelligence, an online company that claims to be the leading provider of social media screening, uses “social media background checks” to dig up dirt on your social Self and provides the detailed ‘intel’ they’ve trolled up to employers. I don’t know how pervasive this practice is but it’s surely a wave of the future (if anyone does know, please comment below). And that’s difficult-pill-to-swallow number 5. It’s a brave new world and you have to learn how to navigate it. So use social media to your advantage and clean up your act. That’s called beating them at their own game. You should know by now that a well-constructed LinkedIn profile can be a boost to your job search. Consider your profile your virtual resume. Make sure it lines up with your paper one. But also know that that is only a limited use of your profile. There is much more you can do to boost your ratings. LinkedIn claims more than 250 million + users in more than 200 countries. That’s a lot of eyeballs (by my calculation, it’s 500 million stares). So what do they see when they see you? If your LinkedIn profile picture is of you lying in a hammock with a cocktail in your hand, well…

I know all this feels a little deflating. But please don’t feel defeated by your initial failure to land a job. Successful job seekers use a variety of tactics during their job search. If you’ve turned your home office into your own personal sweat shop churning out job application after job application and that’s all you do, realize you have become a one-trick pony. If you are waiting for the phone to ring only to be disappointed, don’t assume the world is against you and fall into a pit of despair and desperation. Realize instead that you are simply not using the right set of strategies. Pick up the phone, reach out to contacts and friends and generate new leads for yourself. Be proactive. They may not all land you a job but they’ll help you feel more hopeful and confident and take the edge off your desperation.

Above all, hold your head up high, know your worth and maintain a positive attitude. Your time will come.

Good luck.

5 Ways To Reboot Your Motivation

December 19, 2014 • 8 minute read • by Saeed


“Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”

– Bruce Lee –

Your manager’s job is not to motivate you. If anything, your manager’s job is to maintain the motivation you started with.

Remember? You, like everyone else who starts a new job, came on board with excitement and enthusiasm. You grinned from ear to ear when you met your new colleagues. You liked the view outside of your window. You liked your new desk. Your cubicle. You liked it all.

But along the way, your managers slowly sucked the motivation out of you. Dysfunctional systems, lack of clarity, kooky policies, late nights, wacky performance reviews and, well you know the rest. That’s why people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their managers.

Even if your manager’s job was to motivate you, they wouldn’t know how. To be fair, some do. But most don’t. If they did, a recent Gallup Poll would not have found that worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged at work! Listen carefully. These extrinsic factors can be demotivating, but research shows that even if managed brilliantly, fixing these factors won’t motivate you to work harder or smarter.

Most managers are still stuck on the carrot-and-stick approach of the industrial age. The secret to high performance isn’t reward and punishment. Far from it. True motivation is intrinsic. It is the drive to do something because it is meaningful and fulfilling. Most managers think you are motivated by money. But you and I know that you are not. Countless surveys on employee motivation have shown that money is much farther down the list for you.

In his book, Drive, former Al Gore speech writer Daniel Pink says true motivation boils down to three elements: Autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives; mastery, the desire to continually improve at something that matters to us, and purpose, the desire to do things in service of something larger than ourselves.

Motivation that is sustained is based on meaningful work, challenge, learning, growth, increasing responsibility and feeling good about what you do. You may or may not be able to attain this on your current job. You may have to find another one or even switch careers. You may have to stop doing meaningless work and finally go after that thing that has always stirred your passion. You may have to start mainlining frappuccinos.

But in the meantime, there are a few things you can do to reboot your motivation where you are now. At least, you owe it to yourself to try.

1. Take responsibility for your own motivation

What if you were in control of your own outcomes and learning objectives at work? Talk to your manager. They may have assigned you a goal but they probably did not assign how you are supposed to reach that goal. Trust in your abilities. If you lack skills, learn new ones by taking a class. Talk to your colleagues and ask for help. There is no shame in that. Learn to take initiative and be proactive on a daily basis. Become more self-directed. Take responsibility for your own growth.

2. Get inspired

Inspiration is one of the best motivators around and your best source for inspiration is your own sense of creativity. Do you like photography? Take a class. Do you like to write? Start a blog. Do you like art? Go to a museum. Are you inspired by ideas? Listen to a TED talk. Think back to your childhood. What did you love to do? When did you feel so lost in an activity that you lost track of time? Do more of that. Join a community of people who are doing more of that. Meetup is a great source for this. Reach in – reach out. Don’t be afraid. It’s medicine for your soul.

3. Find your purpose

It may be stating the obvious, but your purpose is entirely unique to you. To find your purpose, you need perspective. You have to see the dance floor from the balcony view. Ask yourself: what am I really good at doing? What do I love to do? How would either of those things add value to the world? What would I be happy to do even if I wasn’t paid for doing it? If you are not sure yet, volunteer your skills at a non-profit or a community group. Giving to others selflessly, will help you feel fulfilled and purposeful. The greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others (hint: that includes your teammates and your boss). Finally, try this: imagine yourself on your deathbed looking back at your life. What kind of life would you have had to lead in order to feel it was a life filled with purpose? Write the answer down. This is your manifesto from now on.

4. Write stuff down

Your deepest thoughts in a leather bound journal is great. But even for mundane daily things, write stuff down. When you make your own schedule and write your own to-do list, you will recognize what needs to be done and the best way to do it. You’ll become more efficient, focused and more effective at your daily life. You’ll feel more empowered and in control. You’ll get more stuff done. You’ll feel better and more motivated. Writing is also cathartic. We move so quickly from day to day that we barely have time to process what happened to us on Monday before it’s Friday again. Journaling, even for a few minutes a day, will help you understand your own feelings and motivations. Then, you can strengthen the things that motivate you and abandon those that don’t. Try it, it works.

5. Get a coach (or at least a cheerleader)

This may be one of the more expensive ways to motivate yourself, but the investment is worthwhile. We can all use a thought partner in the journey of life. That person is not always our relationship partner. A professional coach will work with you in a structured framework with the aim of achieving tangible results. Professional coaches know about motivation. If you struggle with communication, they can help you be more assertive. If you struggle with stress, they can help you combat it. If you struggle with your boss, they can help you find ways to manage up. They can help you face your fear of success or your fear of failure.

I know a lot of this is easier said than done. But give it time, be patient. Results won’t come overnight but they will come. Work towards creating new habits and abandoning old ones that no longer serve you. Monitor your thoughts to keep them positive. If you hear negative thoughts, stop them. If you are unable to achieve your goals, it may only be because they are too big not because you are incapable. So break them down and create mini goals. Take smaller bites off the apple and take responsibility for your own success. Ultimately, you may even shape the organization you are in and have a positive impact and legacy. You may even begin to like your job again.

Good luck.

©2014 – All Images and Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

The Gift of Failure

December 17, 2014 • 10 minute read • by Saeed


“The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word ‘success’ – is our national disease.”

– William James –

He did not speak a word until he was 4 years old. When he did speak, he muttered incomprehensibly to himself causing his parents great alarm. He was visual. He tended to think in pictures rather than words. He had great difficulty memorizing words, texts and names. Compounding his poor performance in school, he routinely showed his disdain for authority. He was eventually expelled and told he would never amount to much. He flunked his college entrance exam. When he did finally get in, he skipped classes that didn’t interest him and he antagonized his teachers. By today’s standards, he would have been said to have had observable learning disabilities. He would have been labeled dyslexic, autistic or suffering from a personality disorder. Socially, he was inept. He was awkward, aloof, self-isolating and emotionally detached. His hair was long and unkempt and his clothes were old and drabby. He didn’t like public speaking or socializing. He was a philanderer, who had multiple affairs and a child out of wedlock.

By all measures, he would have been considered a failure before it was discovered he was a genius and before he radically changed our understanding of the universe. His name was Albert Einstein. And he is but one example out of many social outcasts and underperformers, who were considered failures but ended up achieving greatness.

In our modern culture, we stigmatize and try to avoid failure (and people we consider to be failures) at all costs. We worship at the altar of success. New York Times columnist David Brooks sees the American fixation on productivity and professional success as an epidemic that is contributing to our cultural demise. This is more or less the same sentiment expressed in the quote above by William James– one of the most influential philosophers the United States has ever produced – more than a century ago.

So what is the opportunity cost for our societal obsession and hunger for success and what is the price we pay for our fear of failure?

Failure builds strength

While Wikipedia and Webster would like you to believe differently, success and failure are not polar opposites. “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor,” said Truman Capote. You often need to endure heart wrenching failure before you achieve success. Entrepreneurs have always understood this. Risk and failure are inherent to the process of innovation and success. The learning organization is not only the one that learns from its successes, but the one that is most willing to speak openly about its failures. But organizational egos get in the way. I noticed this first hand in my own work in philanthropy. Funders go out of their way to demonstrate that a project they have invested in is working. They never produce reports that demonstrate why a project failed – and they never admit their own role in the failure. Instead, they abandon grantees and move on to new projects rather than address the challenges within the existing ones. Of course, we should not throw additional resources at a losing proposition. But without a post mortem of our failures, we bury our heads in the proverbial sand and limit our chances for learning and innovation. We lose the opportunity to strengthen our knowledge base.

Failure builds knowledge

We fear failure. We fear jeopardizing our jobs and our careers if something fails on our watch. The reality is that in organizational life, failure, if managed well, can be enormously beneficial. Companies need to learn how to manage failure and mine the wisdom contained within it. Of course, blindly stumbling from one failure to another is fool-hearted. But a culture of continuous innovation requires organizational leaders to build psychologically safe environments so that the lessons of failure can be reaped without shame or blame. Leaders should provide the organizational structures that allow people to fail and to capitalize on the lessons learned and opportunities gained for improvement. Leaders need to create organizational environments where thoughtful experimentation, or what Duke University professor of management Sim Sitkin calls intelligent failures, are considered the norm and are used to advance knowledge and develop organizational resilience.

Failure builds resilience

“Through failure we learn how to cope,” says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. Experimentation is the true mother of innovation (and success). It also naturally spawns failure. But today’s parents go to great lengths to remove failure from the equation in a misguided effort to sanitize childhood. In our education system, we give primacy to testing over learning. As Elkind puts it, “Parents and schools are no longer geared toward child development, they’re geared to academic achievement.” What we learn in childhood about failure is the lesson of shame and blame. Even without meaning to, we carry the guilt, shame, disappointment, and pain we associate with failure from our childhood into our adulthood and into our professional lives. This hyper-vigilance and over-protectiveness in childhood has the net effect of making us more fragile and less resilient in adulthood. It means that we never develop the fortitude and strength of character to bounce back from difficult experiences – to get up after a fall and go at it again. We never learn, for example, to master stress effectively. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that resilient people choose the way they think. Resilience is born out of repeated experience, that may in many instances, be perceived as negative. Resilient organizations need resilient people.

Failure builds experience

It never ceases to amaze me how closed minded some people can be. I recently spoke to an entrepreneur who was trying to get back into the workforce after she had been away for nearly 5 years. She had rolled her sleeves up to her elbows and had dug knee deep in her own startup venture. Like many first time entrepreneurs, she had experienced initial success but had ultimately been crushed by the competition. Trying to get back into the workforce, she described to me her experience of reluctant hiring managers who were denying her re-entry as if she had neglected to get her hand stamped when she had walked out of that club. Personally, I would favor hiring an entrepreneur who had risked but failed than a “lifer” who has never stepped outside of their comfort zone. Her experience, fortitude and persistence would be a major asset to any organization. Indeed, many venture capitalists won’t invest in a new enterprise if the founder has never undergone failure. Such experience not only builds character but it also feeds our emotional intelligence.

Failure builds intuition

A 2004 Nobel Prize winning discovery of how we recognize the smell of an orange suggests that intuition is a form of highly developed pattern recognition. In other words, it is an algorithm used by the nervous system to extract information and experience from the vast database of the mind. That database requires data entry. If you have never faced a negative outcome you have a critical gap in the body of experience that intuition is based on. Unfortunately, the demand for creating an organizational culture that can effectively capitalize on failure is in short supply in most companies. Fear, embarrassment, intolerance, lack of commitment to learning and a culture where experimentation and learning from failure is not supported, exacerbates the problem. Organizational hierarchies stifle the conversation about failure and with it, our potential for flexing our intuitive muscles. The main alternative to the intuition-based approach is rational thinking. Yet, we have all faced business situations where the rational decision making process becomes impractical. Throughout my own personal and professional life, intuition has been an invaluable tool when decision making and rapid response have been required. Howard Raiffa, professor of managerial economics and a pioneer in the field of decision analysis says that formal techniques and procedures used in today’s business environment actually inhibit our intuitive capacity from operating effectively. To use only logic and quantitative analysis in business, is to deny our own emotional intelligence – one of the most important traits of leadership.

Rather than surfacing the lessons that come from our failures, we drive our potential for innovation underground. It cannot be disputed that within our personal and professional failures is a gold mine of wisdom waiting to be tapped. But to access that wisdom, we have to work towards a collective consciousness that is free of blame and free of the stigma associated with failure. We must also learn to fail with intelligence and know when to declare defeat. Obviously, not all failures are useful, and even some that we could learn from we should avoid. We must recognize that the failures that harm us the most are only the ones we repeat. We must be-friend failure and stop fetishizing success. We must fail often but we must fail forward in order to build resilience in the face of failure. As one of my favorite Japanese proverbs says: we must fall seven times but stand up eight.

Good luck.

©2014 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

On The Right Track: 5 Strategies To Build Your Career Capital

December 14, 2014 • 9 minute read • by Saeed


“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

– Warren Buffett –

You are not in Kansas anymore. The idea that you can show up to work on time every day, do your job and get ahead is a relic of a bygone era. In the past, employers focused significantly on professional development to support employees advancement. Those days are gone – or at least fleeting fast. Much to our collective chagrin, the Darwinian principle is alive and well in today’s hyper-competitive workplace culture.

Earlier this month, when I wrote about The One Trait You Must Demonstrate In Any Job Interview one of the concepts that intrigued a number of readers was the notion of career capital. Jobseekers know that to advance, they must invest in the appropriate education, training, and skills. But they also know that that is not nearly enough. Today’s worker has to dig deeper, much deeper to find his or her underlying value and make daily deposits in his or her career bank account.

Most would agree that Warren Buffett is one of the greatest investors of all time. It is also widely known that he largely credits Benjamin Graham, a scholar and financial analyst who is widely recognized as the father of value investing, for his success. One of the key principles that Graham advanced was the notion of buying stocks based on the underlying value and fidelity of a business enterprise. If we apply this bedrock investment principle to career advancement, our task becomes one where the building of our own underlying value and fidelity as a professional becomes paramount and one of strategic consideration.

As with any business enterprise, a series of strategies must be adopted and applied with focus and discipline to achieve our desired outcomes. We must pilot our work life using an instrument panel similar to the one we might use for our investments. We must be willing to risk, to learn, to grow and to adapt ourselves and we must be willing to monitor and improve our own performance in accordance with a set of underlying principles in order to advance accordingly.

A recently conducted Accenture Survey found that more than 89 percent of professionals believe building their career capital is the key to success in the workplace. The following strategies draw upon the results of this survey and other workplace research that supports the notion that career advancement is a matter of intentional and systematic planning and execution.

1. Build your Efficiency in Completing Tasks

Get organized, get focused, get disciplined and lose distractions. The key here is structure. Use agendas to drive meeting outcomes. Use “To Do” lists and planners to manage your time effectively. Use the countless (free) available apps out there to help you organize your life. Learn to use them and get ahead of the pack.

2. Build Mastery and Competency

Competencies are the combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors. You are hired for your competencies so use and enhance them to achieve higher levels of performance. Knowledge is information developed or learned through experience, study or inquiry. So learn, learn, learn. Skill is the result of repeatedly applying knowledge or ability. So practice, practice, practice. Ability is an innate potential to perform mental and physical actions or tasks. Highlight these whenever possible. Behavior is the observable reaction of an individual to a certain situation. Ensure that yours is always positive. Mastery is the ability to blend skills and knowledge in a specific area of practice. Cultivate it.

3. Build Your Networking Skills

Your network is one of the most important career assets you have. If investment in real estate is all about location, location, location, then investment in your career is all about relationships, relationships, relationships. Nurture them and they will nurture you. The surest way to burn career capital is to burn bridges. Having said that, some bridges lead to nowhere and they should be burned. Just know which ones to burn, when, where, how and why.

4. Build Longevity in Your Career

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wage and salary workers have been with their current employer for a median of 4.6 years. That doesn’t include the 14 million Americans who are self-employed free agents. Building longevity is no longer about staying with one company and holding out for the gold watch. Rather, it’s about staying fresh and building career equity: developing a set of skills, contacts and relationships as well as behaviors that value self improvement and the kind of adaptability that will allow you to be seen as a change maker, not someone who wants to cling to the status quo.

5. Build Your Personal Brand

If you watch a Nike commercial, the last thing you’ll see is a reference to shoe laces and leather. Apple commercials never boast about their monitors or keyboards. Rather, what you see is an association: great athletes in the case of Nike and great thinkers in the case of Apple. To develop your personal brand, you must ask yourself what you wish for people to associate with you when they think of your name. A strong personal brand is reliant upon a strong narrative. As an exercise, sit down and write your own story (your past and your future) and then align everything you do with that story.

As you travel the highways and byways on the new map of your work life, you’ll find that the foremost rule of the road is that career tracks are no longer linear. If there was ever a yellow brick road, it has been replaced by interconnected webs of opportunity, exposure and experience where a willingness to learn, to grow and to adapt to a brave and yet uncharted new world gain the greatest returns on investment.

Good luck.

©2014 – All Images and Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

5 Strategies to Deal with The Pain of Divorce

December 14, 2014 • 8 minute read • by Saeed


“I don’t see divorce as a failure. I see it as the end to a story. In a story, everything has an end and a beginning. “

– Olga Kurylenko –

Let go. That’s the advice we often receive when dealing with difficult break-ups. Easier said than done. This advice does not usually come with any strategies to support the process of letting go. Unlike fine wine, divorce does not get better with age. The Holmes and Rahe Stress Inventory is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness. Number one on the list is Death of a Spouse. Number two? Divorce.

Getting over a divorce involves two overlapping processes—recovery from grief and restructuring your life. Experts say most people should give themselves a good two years to recover from an emotional trauma. In addition to the financial and emotional upheaval of an acrimonious divorce, the time that it takes to drudge the misery of your relationship through the courts can take a serious toll on your health, job and even social status. To counterbalance that effect and help you deal with the pain, you need a survival plan based on daily routines and strategies that establish a foundation for your new future. You need to implement that plan and pace yourself so you can sustain it for the life of the divorce, and thereafter. While only you can design the specifics of your plan, there are 5 key areas that it should encompass:

 

  1. The Social Strategy: Humans are social animals – there is no way around it and time and again researchers have found this to be the single most effective strategy to cope with divorce and the accompanying effects of isolation and loneliness that go with it. So tap into your social network and if you don’t have one, prioritize developing one. This strategy is particularly important for men to adopt since men are more prone to socially isolate themselves.
  1. The Physical Strategy: You need the right nutrition, sleep, and exercise to look and feel your best. Period. All three are common stress busters but the secret is to routinize them in your life. If you are a parent, you know the importance of routines in children’s lives. Routines give a sense of stability, continuity, reliance, and consistency. This is counter to the realities of divorce: change, instability, fear, and uncertainty. So develop personal self-care routines and stick to them – no matter what.
  1. The Mental Strategy: Therapy works but only if you visit the right kind of therapist with the right kind of therapy. Shop around and find the right fit for you and then invest in this strategy wholeheartedly. To get the most out of it, be honest and do the work it takes to heal. The process itself will help keep your depression at bay and give you perspective when you need it. Whether male or female, make sure you find someone who is going to be in your corner: non-judgmental and compassionate. Most importantly, remember: therapy is not just an intellectual exercise. You have to feel your own pain. You have to go to war with it to overcome it. One stress reducer common across all history and every culture is the simple mechanism of releasing salt water from our tear ducts.
  1. The Spiritual Strategy: This is about getting in touch with your core self and whatever method you use to do it, be it prayer, meditation, yoga or trimming your Bonsai tree, just do it. Develop a routine and stick to it. Hard core Yogis devote a minimum of three hours a day to their yoga and meditation practice. You may not have that kind of time, but it’s the routine that matters most. It’s the routine that will ultimately anchor you and give you a platform from which to start your life anew.
  1. The Financial Strategy: The longer your divorce takes the deeper the financial ditch you will find yourself in so it’s imperative that you stay on top of your finances, which include vigilance over your credit score, assets and debts. If you can afford a financial planner, hire one. If not, see if you can tap into free community services, get help on-line or just talk to your bank.

There will be times when it will all feel insurmountable and you will feel like giving up. It is at those times when it’s important to fall back on these strategies and on your own specific plan. And remember, never ever lose hope. In the words of the great Albert Einstein: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”

Good luck.

©2014 – All Images and Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

The One Trait You Must Demonstrate In Any Job Interview

December 12, 2014 • 12 minute read • by Saeed


“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

– William Shakespeare –

Blink, and you might miss her. At 5-foot-11 and 130 pounds, Wilma Rudolph was a sight to behold. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Rudolph became “the fastest woman in the world” and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics.

You might think that she was born with innate athleticism. You would be wrong. Perhaps even more incredible than her achievement as an athlete is her resilience as a human being.

Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely weighing only 4 1/2 pounds and the bulk of her childhood was spent in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia, scarlet fever and later she contracted polio. After losing the use of her left leg, she was fitted with metal leg braces. She was only six years of age. As number 20th out of 22 children (yes you read that correctly), her family was poor and could not afford good medical care. The doctors had predicted that she would not walk again. But Wilma was determined to lead a “normal” life. Despite whooping cough, measles and chicken pox, she was out of her leg braces by age nine. Three years later, her mother came home to find her playing basketball by herself bare-footed. Later, she was encouraged by a track coach who recognized her talent on the court. The rest, as they say, is history.

It is clear that Wilma Rudolph faced great adversity, both internal and external. Despite that adversity, she became a great athlete and an inspiration to many. But perhaps even more impressive than her physical accomplishments, is her sheer will, determination, and resiliency. It is her mental fitness, more than her physical feats, and her dogged belief in her Self that ultimately drove her success.

From my coaching experience, I find that many people who fail to achieve their objectives, do not fail because of a lack of knowledge, skill or ability. These, after all, can always be acquired. With thoughtful planning and execution any objective is achievable. However, some, even when they have the ability to achieve an objective, still fall short of meeting their goals. Some, even when they know they can do the job, still fail to impress at the interview.

Why?

Research shows that, on average, interviewers reach final decisions about applicants in only four minutes after meeting them. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, the decisions may occur even faster – instantaneously or in under two seconds. What he calls ‘thin-slicing’ has serious implications for job interview applicants. It means decisions are being made before the actual exchange of content.

That may seem unfair. Everyone, after all, deserves the same treatment and the same attention to factors such as experience, credentials and skills. And as with any job interview, a series of questions will be asked to assess the type of candidate you are. In truth, however, interviewers are less concerned with your technical abilities and more concerned with your personality type. They want to know if they can work with you. Hence the rise of personality testing in job interviews.

But beyond your personality type, the impression you leave behind of your Self has far more to do with your job interview success.

Agency and esteem are central to the construction of a concept of Self. A study of more than 500 students, academics and workers, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, showed that those who appeared more confident achieved a higher social status than their peers. The conclusions drawn from this study have significant implications for professionals. The key to career success, in other words, is confidence, not talent. Despite your credentials, experience and expertise, a lack of self-belief will reduce your chances of success. Henry Ford once said, ‘Whether you think that you can or you think you can’t – you’re right’.

Self belief is that powerful. To succeed, you must first cultivate the mental posture and mindset for success.

In her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck argues that individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where ability comes from. Those that believe their success is based on innate ability are said to have a “fixed” mindset. Others, who believe their success is based on hard work and continuous learning, are said to have a “growth” mindset. The distinction is crucial and can mean the difference between a life unfulfilled and one, like Wilma Rudolph, of extraordinary achievement.

That is because individuals with a “growth” mindset have higher intrinsic motivation to achieve. They are more likely to set higher goals and to persevere despite setbacks. Their underlying belief system tells them that if they really want to achieve something, they will find a way to make it happen. On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset give up more readily when faced with problems. They are uncertain and doubtful about their ability and they more quickly lose interest and motivation.

Unfortunately, many people wait for their self belief to increase before they take action. That, however, is not how it works. You can’t sit around waiting for a sense of self belief to kick in when all your stars are aligned. You have to start developing your own self belief. The world will largely accept you at your own estimation. It is yourself that you have to convince of your self-worth, before you can convince anyone else. But once you are absolutely sure that you have what it takes to master any situation, you will act in such a way that your beliefs will become your reality. Mastery is made up of intention, concentration, and attention. To develop it, you must be willing to take risks and to face the inevitable rejections that come with putting yourself out there. You must practice, fail, learn and repeat until you succeed.

And if the interview doesn’t go your way, remember the words of Wilma Rudolph:“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

Good luck.

©2014 – All Images and Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

You Can Change The World. If You Think You Can’t, Then You Won’t.

December 10, 2014 • 6 minute read • by Saeed


“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

– Mark Twain –

Thought to self: if you think you can’t, then you won’t.

It was July 1989 and this was the thought that came into my head as I was cycling up National Highway 1D, also known as the Srinagar-Leh Highway, in the state of Jammu & Kashmir in Northern India. This 262 mile (422 km) stretch of road connects Srinigar, the capital city of Kashmir (locally regarded as the Switzerland of India), to Leh, the capital city of Ladakh (“land of high passes”), where the people are predominantly Tibetan and where, except in prayer, they do not have the concept of the wheel in their lives (evidence of wheeled vehicles appears from the second half of the 4th millennium BC).

The Srinagar-Leh Highway is one of only two roads that connect the highly remote and forbidding region of Ladakh with the rest of India. The highest pass on the road is at 13,478 ft (4,108 m) elevation, which is approximately half the height of Earth’s tallest mountain, at 29,029 ft (8,848 m) elevation. The road generally remains open for traffic from early June to mid-November but heavy snowfall blocks traffic, cutting the region off from the rest of the world for some six months each year.

I was young and inexperienced. My cycling shoes were a pair of flip flops purchased in a New Delhi night market (BTW: best pair of footwear I have ever owned – seriously). My panniers were filled, not with rations for survival, but with philosophy and anthropology books, a Sony Walkman and music cassette tapes (Steve Jobs: where were you then?).

My fuel was an unreasonably large-sized bag of dried apricots (they have been cultivated in Central Asia since antiquity and the dried ones were an important commodity on the Silk Road). I had purchased them in the town of Kargil, an important transit hub, which sits at about the half-way point (and when you’re there please try the restaurant on the third floor of the building in the main street near the mosque, which offers pleasant and inexpensive Tibetan dishes – and tell Lobsang I said hello!).

The day I set off from Kargil, was the day I planned to cycle to the highest pass on the road.

That day was all climb. And as I did, I naturally began to wonder what in the world had possessed me to torture myself in this cruel way. The more negatively I thought, the more I felt my brain, not my body, giving up. There were certainly plenty of physiological considerations. The air was thin, but I had acclimated. Physical conditioning was required, but I had been on the road for more than six months. My body sponged up water, but I was hydrated and my gut was full of; well dried apricots (one serving cup delivers 81 grams of total carbohydrate).

It was not my body but my brain that was telling me that I can’t do it.

You may have heard the old adage that sport is 10% physical and 90% mental. Psychologists began studying sports in the nineteen thirties and forties. Research conducted in the 60’s and 70’s concluded that mental practice facilitated motor performance in about fifty percent of the studies. More recent control group studies of performance athletes have validated the earlier findings and gone further concluding that the brain gives up and subsequently sends signals to the body to also cease, even though the body is not showing physical signs of complete exhaustion. Not only do the new studies emphasize the idea of mind over matter, but they also demonstrate that the brain can be trained to allow the body to physically handle more. It is the brain that holds us back from pushing past a certain point and allows or limits our endurance performance rather than the body. But we often confuse mental fatigue with physical fatigue.

So, brain is boss and by that logic we must manage up.

The brain comes conveniently equipped with a control mechanism to make sure that the marathon runner reaches the finishing line not in a completely shattered state. There is always a little reserve. You may be the next Usain Bolt or you may be a nonprofit program manager or a social entrepreneur in the process of pursuing a new innovative solution to solve a vexing social problem. Whatever your goal, be it conquering a hill or a mountain or changing the world, you will have to be persistent in the face of challenges, adversities and failures in order to ultimately succeed.

When your brain throws un-motivating messages at you, it may just be that same control mechanism that exerts its influence over athletes, holding you back from pushing past a certain point. As with athletes, the secret to success comes with structure, discipline and focus.

Most of the time, success does not happen overnight or on the first try. There will be times when you will want to give up and when you will feel you have nothing left. You will ponder the challenges and you will wonder what possessed you to do this in the first place. You will run out of money, fans and friends. There will be times when you will simply think you can’t. The same way you train your body for endurance, you must also train (or trick) your mind for perseverance. It is your mind that will push you that final step, or hold you back from realizing your dream. If you succumb to the trickery of your mind and think you can’t, then you won’t.

I made it that day and I can tell you unequivocally, it wasn’t the apricots.

©2014 – All images and content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

To Find Your Passion, You Have To Face Your Fears

December 10, 2014 • 15 minute read • by Saeed


“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” 

– Joseph Campbell –

When he famously uttered the phrase “follow your bliss,” Campbell meant it as a sort of sacred call to action for the soul to pursue whatever makes it happy on the path to ultimate fulfillment and success.

Since this concept now occupies a more and more central role in my own research and work with clients, and since the idea of following your bliss (or passion) has been adopted and incorporated into our zeitgeist by such business luminaries as Steve Jobs (most famously at his 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech), I felt it deserved closer examination.

As the conventional wisdom goes, follow your bliss and success will follow you. So let’s see what’s at the end of this yellow brick road.

Is Passion a Pink Unicorn?

Passion is defined by Merriam Webster as ‘a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.’ It is also associated with anger that ‘causes you to act in a dangerous way’ as well as a strong ‘romantic feeling.’

Thanks for nothing Webster.

Bliss is defined as ‘perfect happiness’ and ‘great joy.’ When blissful, you are thought to be ‘oblivious of everything else.’

Again, gracias por nada.

Interestingly though, this concept is akin to the concept of ‘Flow’ as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – one of the godfathers of the positive psychology movement. In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi defines the concept as: a mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is so fully immersed that they become oblivious to their surroundings and singularly focused on that task.

If you don’t know what that looks like, just watch a five year old at play. For adults, it is the state of optimal mental performance.

While the formal definitions of bliss and passion are differentiated and nuanced, it’s safe to assume that Jobs and Campbell likely used these terms interchangeably (as will I) to denote that you should pursue whatever rocks your boat. In truth, passion has an infinite variety of meanings, and for many, it simply means strong emotions of any kind. And while, it’s difficult to nail passion with a satisfying definition, it’s easier to ponder what it is not:

Passion is not passive.

Passion is not a quitter.

Passion is not disengaged.

Passion is not a bystander.

Passion is not love.

Passion is not happiness.

That last one should have given you cause for pause. It is clear that, whatever passion is, it emanates from inside and compels us to engage the worldoutside.

Regardless of the actual word chosen (or even its specific meaning), implicit in this idea is that each of us has a pre-determined journey, at the heart (or end) of which lies our passion and/or bliss. Therefore in life, we are being called to ‘discover’ that passion, and once discovered, to follow it. Then, and only then, will we be met with synchronicities and seemingly “lucky” moments that are guiding our path towards eventual (and inevitable) fulfillment and success.

That’s all good. Theoretically.

The problem is that it’s pretty hard to pursue something you are unsure about. The whole idea that you come pre-equipped with a passion for some particular thing and that it’s only a matter of finding it through introspection, is pre-deterministic at worst, assumptious at best and potentially highly damaging. It leads people to believe that one day an apple (no pun intended Mr. Jobs) will fall on their heads and they will have a moment of epiphany and know what their passion is.

And therefore they wait listless for that magic day to arrive.

If you can’t seem to find something you’d love doing, you’re not alone. Many of my coaching clients struggle with this question either because there is nothing they feel passionate about or there are multiple things they feel passionate about each competing for their attention. Here, it becomes not a problem of passion, but one of focus. I have known many others still who have become successful entrepreneurs in their own right but weren’t necessarily following their passion. It was after their foray into whatever venture, that their passion (s) became clear. Often, they had to face a central fear to move ahead. So to find your passion, you have to face your fears.

You Have To Fail In Order To Find Your Passion

Even on Campbell’s utopist journey, he reminds us that we will have tests, trials and “dragons” to face on our quest and that these dragons are really our inner fears working against us.

Fear, however, gets a very bad rap.

We are taught to fight, resist, avoid, suppress, deny, and medicate our fear away (or for that matter fear’s live-in relatives: anger, insecurity, and anxiety). We are taught that “there is nothing to fear but fear itself” and that fear is “False Evidence Appearing Real.”

That’s a pretty catchy backronym with one problem: the appearing evidence is not always false.

Anthropologically speaking, fear is a primal response to danger. Fear is adaptive, functional and necessary for our protection. When we lived on the savanna and the threat we faced was becoming lunch for a lion, fear was the self-protection mechanism that shut down our prefrontal cortex and allowed the limbic system (which regulates emotion) to take over and protect us from these legitimate threats. The evidence of one hungry lion, was real enough and prompted a physiological response that we now know as “fight or flight.”

The result was that we lived to see another day. That’s a super-sweet beneficial byproduct of fear.

Lynne Isbell, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis goes further. In her theory she suggests that fear of snakes drove pre-human evolution. She posits that (because) snakes and primates share a long and intimate history, both groups were forced to evolve new strategies to survive. Primates developed improved vision and larger brains to detect and avoid the reptiles before they could strike. In other words, without fear our species may have never survived or, in turn, ever evolved.

Be it fear of snakes or fear of success, experts advocate exposure to, rather than avoidance of, fears. Exposure involves gradually and repeatedly going into feared situations until the fear begins to subside. Exposure involves not avoiding the fear that comes with uncertainty which often underpins the search for a great career.

At the height of his fame, Steve Mcqueen was the highest paid actor of his time (and the King of Cool). He pursued acting because that’s where he found women and money (not passion – that he found on motorcycles) and it is reported that he lived in constant fear that one day the public would find out that he was a fraud and that it would all be taken away from him. The anxiety felt by many successful people suggests that early in their lives they were not sure they had found their passion, they had many failures and even when they had found success, they continued to struggle with insecurity, anxiety and fear. In other words, they had to fail many times over, before they found their success or their passion. Passion, like success, was something they pursued and worked towards. They had drive.

By turning towards rather than away from our fears, we create the opportunity to transform them from a stagnating force to one that is single-minded and transformative. Exposing ourselves to our personal demons is the best way to move past them. It’s a pre-requisite to removing the clutter that keeps our passion from remaining undiscovered. Perhaps the reason you haven’t done xyz is because you haven’t faced your fear about it.

At the end of the day, it becomes like the fabled Cherokee story of the Two Wolves. And the question to be pondered becomes: which wolf do you want to feed?

Know Thyself

Today, our quotidian threats are less life threatening than those our ancestors met on the African Savanna. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of loss. Nonetheless, they still prompt our fight-or-flight response. Fortunately, we have evolved enough as a species to better understand the complexity of our emotions, and know that reacting without thinking, doesn’t serve us well. Instead, combining cognition with strategy, we take the time to reflect which gives us the opportunity to make a more considered choice about how to respond. In other words, it’s in the course of evolution that we have learned to ‘check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.’

How do we learn to learn?

The term meta-cognition – defined as “thinking about thinking”- has become de rigueur in educational psychology over the last couple of decades. Most of us think our thoughts are accurate. We trust our own thinking so much that we do not think to question our own thoughts or thought process. When acquiring knowledge, you’ve pushed the play button on your cognitive abilities. When actively using the knowledge you’ve acquired in a strategic manner to ensure that a goal is met, you are in full meta-cognition mode. That is to say, the process of learning how you learn, leads not only to acquiring knowledge but also to how to use that knowledge.

Bobby Fischer was insanely passionate about chess. However, he was very ‘objective’ about evaluating his position while playing. As a matter of fact, that objectivity, or the ability to step outside of himself and observe himself playing, was one of his greatest virtues as a chess player.

Integrating Passion with Profession

Campbell and Jobs seem to assign ‘bliss’ and ‘passion’ to a realm of esoteric romanticism. Passion, however, is less esoteric and more pragmatic than that. In truth, passion comes from the Latin word ‘pati,’ meaning to suffer or endure. Passion requires us to forego, to sacrifice, and to endure in the face of failure and rejection.

Passion is diligence.

Passion is mastery.

Passion is perseverance.

Passion is pursuit.

Passion is intention.

Passion is curiosity.

Passion is action.

Passion is focus.

Passion is rigor.

Passion is discipline.

Passion is drive.

Passion is the third pig in the famed children’s story, the one who built the brick house. Passion is about how sharp you keep your tools, how well you recognize your worth, and how you work systematically to make yourself (or your product) invaluable.

In identifying flow, Csikszentmihalyi hypothesized that flow is possible in any circumstance as long as three conditions are met: clear goals, feedback loops, and self-confidence. He went further to posit that people with very specific personality traits such as curiosity, persistence, and intrinsic motivation may be better able to achieve flow. Some of the challenges to staying in flow include states of apathy, boredom, and anxiety. Being in a state of apathy is characterized when challenges are low and one’s skill level is low producing a general lack of interest in the task at hand.

So being challenged and developing the skills to meet the challenge is a prerequisite for flow. But importantly, with practice, mindset and the right circumstances, flow can be achieved anywhere, anytime. Even at work!

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell, argues that to be really good at something, to be great at something requires significant investment of time. He uses The Beatles and Bill Gates as examples for what he calls the “10,000-Hour Rule”. The Beatles performed in seedy clubs in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times between 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time (therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule), before making a big splash on the music scene of the time. Microsoft founder Bill Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it. That is mastery. That is passion at work.

In other words, passion equals hard work and perseverance because that’s what allows you to be good at something. In turn, this allows you to create environments of trust and open communication; synergizing people; supporting and nurturing teams and colleagues; creating operational efficiencies and effectiveness; positively impacting growth, productivity, innovation, and profitability.

It may be that passion and bliss await us at the end of the yellow brick road of our careers after a long journey of discovery. But overnight successes, free rides and apples falling off trees belong to the realm of fantasy and mythology. The real journey of passion is replete with determination, hard work, self-knowledge and self-confrontation.To find your passion, you have to face your fears and work your tail off. Passion is ‘discoverable.’ But this journey is marked by focus, discipline, and rigor; not happenstance. It is the journey of the Jedi Warrior. It is the journey of the wisest pig and the one that builds the strongest house. I would argue that passion is not inherent to be discovered but emergent to be explored.

To find your passion, you have to stop chasing unicorns and start slaying dragons.

Oh yeah, and put a sign on the door: No Wolves Allowed!

Good luck.

©2014 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A