Life is a Game of Inches

C1VOvQvW8AA5vZUApril 11, 2017 • 10 minute read • by Saeed


“Little strokes fell great oaks.”Benjamin Franklin

Life (insert success, innovation, change etc.) is not a moon shot. There are no silver bullets, overnight success stories, lottery bonanzas, and sudden epiphanies that lead to big bang solutions. You can’t leap frog your way into the CEO chair. You can’t just quit the job you hate to be your own boss tomorrow.

Sorry.

Does it ever happen? Yes, of course it does. But those are the one-offs. The aberrations. The deviations from the norm. Look beyond the gloss and the hype and you’ll discover that most overnight success stories were years in the making. If you want to be an overnight success, you have to be an everyday hustler.

In “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell famously posited that it takes 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to become world-class in any field. That’s about 10 years to you and me. Deliberate practice, in turn, requires patience and above all self-discipline. It is not a lack of luck but a lack of self-discipline that makes success elusive for so many.

To make matters worse, stress and chronic dissatisfaction with jobs (insert relationships, finances, fitness etc.)  become the flames of urgency that stoke your false belief that everything has to happen right now. With no concrete goal or system in place to move the ball forward, you are left frustrated and unhappy.

I’ve obsessed over and studied the back stories of hundreds of successful people. Here’s the deeper insight into how they level up that almost no one talks about: success is about doing the work. It is about action and action is about  implementation, follow-through, and completion. You get there, not in one giant leap of faith, but in one small step at a time. That is the difference between winning and losing.

Success is about inches not yards

In the movie Any Given Sunday, a once-great (American) football team that is now plagued with injuries and internal dissension, is struggling to make the playoffs. The coach, played by Al Pacino, has to give a speech (must watch) to his players that will motivate them to put aside their differences and work together as a team.

Pacino starts with expressing that he is overwhelmed by the situation. At first, he appears a broken man similar to his players. Then, he changes gradually to a sage who offers words of profound wisdom and a solution for how to win in life and in the game.

“You know when you get old in life things get taken from you.

That’s, that’s part of life.

But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.

You find out that life is just a game of inches.

So is football.

Because in either game life or football the margin for error is so small.

I mean one half step too late or to early you don’t quite make it.

One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it.

The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game
every minute, every second.”

Winston Churchill said that a speech is poetry without form or rhyme. This is one of the greatest inspirational speeches ever captured on celluloid. It is regularly used in courses about public speaking, rhetoric, coaching, and teamwork. Even if you don’t like American football, you will love this speech because it’s really about life. It is about how you execute on a plan. How you reach a goal. It is about how life battles aren’t won with a huge step or a big achievement. It is about how you progress and continually improve “inch by inch” with small steps and tasks done with full effort.

Kaizen – Cultivating a mindset of discipline

One approach to continuous and incremental improvement originated in Japan and is called kaizen. The word translates to mean change (kai) for the good (zen). Kaizen is more philosophy than tool, more mindset than mechanism. It is responsible for the success of lean Japanese manufacturing but you can gain the benefits of kaisen at the personal, team, and organizational level. Much of the focus of kaisen is on reducing waste while increasing efficiency. The genius of kaizen is that it recognizes that improvement is not a destination, it is a process. It is a 4-step circular process usually executed in a systematic manner with some variation of these elements: assess, plan, implement and evaluate (another version is plan, do, check, act). 

PDCA-white-board

Kaizen is about instilling discipline where previously there was none. It’s about showing up and doing the work in a systematic manner, one step, one hour, one task, and one improvement at a time. Like sunlight through a magnifying glass, laser focused discipline applied in a systematic manner towards an objective or a goal has magical power.

 

All achievement follows deliberate and disciplined action.

Kaizen strives to even out the uneven nature of improvement. It is an antidote to the adrenaline fueled panic that you get when you realize your life is passing you by, your business is failing, or your team is falling apart. It is the counterbalance to those moments where you decide that you are going to tackle xyz once and for all, forever and for good only to have your fiery ambition extinguished within a matter of days or at the first setback you experience.

Focusing on big goals far into the distant future may inspire awe and wonderment at first. It may even give you a boost of motivation. But inevitably it leads to stupefaction, paralysis and inaction. Motivation is easy to find but hard to maintain. You’ll soon start looking for shortcuts and excuses for why you can’t make it to the gym or start that new blog or fill in the blank. To find success, you have to find a permanent way to get off that rollercoaster. You have to embrace the philosophy of small, gradual, incremental, and disciplined continuous improvement. The path to change is through sustained action. By breaking down big, audacious goals into small, discrete tasks, kaizen encourages that action. Live for the small wins rather than the big windfalls.

As Pacino says:

“If I am going to have any life anymore, it is because I am still willing to fight and die for that inch. Because that’s  what LIVING is. The six inches in front of your face.”

The Wisdom of the Little Tramp

April 10, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Charlie Chaplin


In a career spanning more than 75 years, Charlie Chaplin is considered by many to be one of the greatest actors of all time. Beyond acting, Chaplin was a humanist who believed ardently in the power of laughter and tears as an antidote to hatred and terror. The iconic actor of the silent film era was also a deeply reflective man. Few people know just how insightful and intelligent the he really was was. Even though he passed away almost 50 years ago, he continues to inspire. His movies were great but one of his greatest works is as this poem he penned which offers his unique and perceptive understanding of life and self-love.

Charlie Chaplin – as I began to love myself

As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth. Today, I know, this is “AUTHENTICITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood how much it can offend somebody if I try to force my desires on this person, even though I knew the time was not right and the person was not ready for it, and even though this person was me. Today I call it “RESPECT”.

As I began to love myself I stopped craving for a different life, and I could see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow. Today I call it “MATURITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood that at any circumstance, I am in the right place at the right time, and everything happens at the exactly right moment. So I could be calm. Today I call it “SELF-CONFIDENCE”.

As I began to love myself I quit stealing my own time, and I stopped designing huge projects for the future. Today, I only do what brings me joy and happiness, things I love to do and that make my heart cheer, and I do them in my own way and in my own rhythm. Today I call it “SIMPLICITY”.

As I began to love myself I freed myself of anything that is no good for my health – food, people, things, situations, and everything that drew me down and away from myself. At first I called this attitude a healthy egoism. Today I know it is “LOVE OF ONESELF”.

As I began to love myself I quit trying to always be right, and ever since I was wrong less of the time. Today I discovered that is “MODESTY”.

As I began to love myself I refused to go on living in the past and worrying about the future. Now, I only live for the moment, where everything is happening. Today I live each day, day by day, and I call it “FULFILLMENT”.

As I began to love myself I recognized that my mind can disturb me and it can make me sick. But as I connected it to my heart, my mind became a valuable ally. Today I call this connection “WISDOM OF THE HEART”.

We no longer need to fear arguments, confrontations or any kind of problems with ourselves or others. Even stars collide, and out of their crashing new worlds are born. Today I know “THAT IS LIFE”!

Charlie Chaplin

Happiness is the Wrong Pursuit!

 

March 29, 2017 • 9 minute read • by Saeed


“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” — Mark Twain

When you wake up in the morning, do you throw the covers off raring to go or do you pull them over your head and hide from the day as long as you can?

Are you engaged in your work and life?

You know What you do and you know How you do it but do you know Why?

In his famous TED talk and book titled Start with Why, Simon Sinek defines the Why really well.

Most leaders and companies focus on What.

But inspired leaders think, act, and communicate with Why.

The Why is your purpose, your cause, your reason to exist.

  • Why does your organization exist?
  • Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
  • Why should anyone care?

Sinek says: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

To make his case, he points to Steve Jobs.

He says, “If Apple were like everyone else,” they would say,  “We make great computers, they’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Want to buy one?”

But instead Apple says: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

Jobs challenged the status quo. Jobs was a different kind of thinker. He also studied and was influenced by the principles of Zen aesthetics found in the art of the traditional Japanese garden and Japanese minimalism.

In Japanese, the term ikigai translates roughly to “a reason for being.”

Let’s break that down: iki, refers to life, and kai, roughly means “the realization of what one expects and hopes for.”

Ikigai is the singular force behind your life, and as seen in the image below, it combines four areas: 1) what you love, 2) what you’re good at, 3) what you can be paid for, and 4) what the world needs.

Ikigai

Your purpose is found in the space where these four elements meet. It is in this ‘sweet spot’ where you provide the most value to the world and where life gives the most meaning.

Though it can be illusive and hard to discover, everyone (and everything) has a purpose and “a reason for being.” But once you discover it, you can achieve the satisfaction and fulfillment that gives meaning to life. The pursuit of meaning, not happiness, is what makes life worth living.

Defining your ikigai does not have to be complicated but it is also not simply about following your passions. Getting there requires reflection, experimentation, and patience. Take a moment to contemplate it.

  • What do you love?
  • What are you great at doing?
  • What does the world need?
  • What can you make a living doing?

What is your ikigai? Why do you exist?

If you know the Why, you will figure out the What and the How.

Jobs used to say, “I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself if today were the last day of my life would I do what I am about to do today, and whenever the answer has been ‘No’ too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

The average person spends over 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime.

What are you doing today?

Why?

 Ikigai watercolor by the Paper Seahorse – for Creativity and Mindfulness. http://www.paperseahorse.com

I Crashed My Motorcycle and Learned 5 Profound Life Lessons

January 28, 2015 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“Every crisis offers you extra desired power.” ~ Unknown.

First off, I am okay. Thanks for asking. Every motorcycle rider expects to crash. What I don’t expect is to have my faith in humanity restored as a result of it.

Here is how it happened.

My crash set off a series of encounters with bystanders, the police, a tow truck driver, a motorcycle mechanic and the young father I met on the bus ride home that would each reinforce valuable and profound lessons.

My Kawasaki W650 (affectionately named Wilma by my son) is a rare and beautiful machine. You can see that in the picture above. I polish mine daily with unicorn fur. I was headed back from a business meeting volunteering for a nonprofit whose work I liked when the accident happened.

Three car lengths ahead someone slammed on their brakes causing a chain reaction to the rear. Because the W650 does not come equipped with anti-lock brakes, when I slammed on mine, I locked up the front wheel and laid down the bike. It helped me avoid hitting the car directly in front but I sacrificed my bike in the process. None of the vehicles in the accident made contact with each other but in an instant I was on the ground with a heap of metal on top of me.

Lesson #1: People are basically good…

I don’t know how many people rushed to my aid but it was many. Someone lifted the bike off of me and someone else pushed it to the side of the road. Everyone asked if I was okay. The best was an elderly man (Tom) and his wife who were in the car behind me when the accident happened. They pulled over to offer me a ride to the hospital and would not leave until they were 100% sure I was okay. I was basically okay. Road rash and limp but basically okay.

Thanks Tom. You and your wife are two of the kindest souls I’ve ever met.

Lesson #2: Judge people by their inside, not their outside…

Eventually a cop showed up as they often do to accident scenes where injuries are involved. I am weary of cops. Maybe it’s the cause-less rebel in me but I am. He talked to the lady driving the car in the front who slammed on her brakes. He found out she was on meds. What could I do? He eventually left and I was glad he did. I called AAA and waited feeling sullen about my beautiful machine that was now a mangled mess of metal. The scene started to clear out of other people too when I spotted the cop coming back. I thought, here we go. He’s going to hassle me. It turns out he was a motorcycle enthusiast and he just wanted to keep me company while I waited for my tow. We started talking about bikes and he told me about the Harley he rode to Mexico in his younger days. I loved his stories. The journalist trapped inside of me suddenly shifted the conversation.

“Officer,” I said, “may I ask you something?”

“Sure,” he replied.

“As a police officer, how do you feel about the police shootings and protests that have dominated the headlines this year?”

In the next few moments of conversation, Mark, an African American cop born and raised in Oakland, opened my eyes to race relations and the reality of community policing in the United States in a way I could not have imagined. It’s not a black and white issue.

Thank you Mark. Much respect to you and your profession.

Lesson #3: Optimism trumps adversity…

The tow truck driver was a surly and easy going man in his 30s but he looked much older. Another motorcycle enthusiast, at first he tried to fix my bike. Having failed, he mounted it on the truck with the help of the police officer. On the ride to the only mechanic shop I could find open, I learned he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told he had three months to live. Nearly 15 years later, he is healthy and vibrant. In asking what got him through the ordeal, he replied: “I’ve always had a positive outlook on life.” I asked about his personal life (journalist again). He told me about his agoraphobic girlfriend. I imagined adversity but I was wrong.

“We are very happy together,” he said. “We plan to move to Iceland.” That took me by surprise.

“Why Iceland,” I asked.

“Because there was only one murder there last year,” he replied.

“What will you do for a living?” I asked, to which he confidently replied: “I am a tow truck driver — cars are everywhere. Wherever I go, I can get a job.”

After dropping me off at the motorcycle shop he offered to wait to take me home but I declined out of consideration for his time. I reached into my pocket and took out what cash I had left to offer him a tip and he declined out of consideration for my loss.

“You’ll need it for the ride home,” he said.

Thanks Bobby. Your resilience and optimism still inspire me. I wonder where you are now.

Lesson #4: Do what you love, love what you do…

My regular mechanic shop was closed. I love my shop and I refuse to take my bike anywhere else. The X factor with the two gentlemen who own the shop is that one of them is a former economist and the other a physicist. They’re both PhDs.They traded their life in academia for doing what they love and for what makes them happy — turning wrenches on bikes. I’ve been taking my bike there for years and never thought I’d go anywhere else. But today, the only shop I could find open was in the middle of the crack infested neighborhood in San Francisco called the Tenderloin.

The shop owner greeted me when we arrived and he immediately recognized my bike with a sense of affection.

“I have two of these myself,” he said. I was delighted. He knows how to work on my bike, I thought.

After a quick inspection, we got into a conversation. He was a refugee from Vietnam. He spent his initial years in a refugee camp in the Philippines separated from his family. When he finally made it to the US, he started life as a janitor in a motorcycle dealership before learning how to work on bikes. He saved money, was reunited with his family and after 30 years of hard work, he retired as the head mechanic of the dealership. In 2008, when the global economy melted down, he was laid off. He decided to risk everything and put all his savings into the motorcycle repair shop.

“I am not rich,” he said, “but I am happy.”

Eventually, Adam fixed my bike with a part off his own bike because the part was too rare to find even online.

Thank you Adam. You are the best mechanic ever. And you don’t even have a PhD.

Lesson #5: Help others and you will help yourself…

I left the shop with the intention to Uber my way home but decided to take the bus instead because surge pricing was in effect.

My cell battery was drained by now from use so there was nothing to distract me except the view out the window. We came to the next station and the doors swung open. A young man and woman pushing a baby stroller boarded and sat next to me. Once again, my inner journalist emerged.

I discovered that Anton and his girlfriend were not married. Their daughter was ten months old and he had a two year old son from another relationship. His ex girlfriend would not let him see his son. Anton told me that he never saw his own father and he did not want this to happen to his son.

I told Anton about community resources available through nonprofits I had volunteered for that could give him support and put him on the track to re-establishing a relationship with his son. I gave him the names and numbers of a couple of attorneys I knew who did pro bono work for the community. I got to my station and before hopping off Anton said to me: “I know there is a reason why God put me on the bus with you today.”

I got off the bus feeling a sense of renewed purpose and fulfillment for having been able to help another human being, albeit in a small way.

Thank you Anton. I think there is a reason why we met too.

A final Word…

It may sound mushy but my day left me feeling that life is mysterious and wonderful. I was aghast at how my disaster could become so inspiring. It was a beautiful day. That I walked away from a motorcycle accident is something in and of itself. That my faith in humanity was restored as a result, feels like a small miracle. I am sure that these encounters have a deeper meaning than I even realize now. There are angels everywhere if you care to see them. It is good to be reminded that sometimes you need to slow down, embrace the kindness of strangers, suspend assumptions and judgments, do the work you love, and open your mind, heart and eyes to the everyday magic that is all around you.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post.

If you found the article helpful or if it helped you think a little more deeply about this topic, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or on Medium or to subscribe to read exclusive content on my Blog.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal, professional, and organizational development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By following, liking, commenting, and sharing, you are providing a direct feedback loop that tells me that what I am offering is of value.

I also just love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Best,

Saeed

©2017 — All Content and Photography by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

I Crashed My Motorcycle and Learned 6 Profound Lessons About Work and Life

January 28, 2015 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”

– Albert Einstein – 

First, I am okay. Thanks for asking. The occasional bruise and bump comes with the territory when you are a motrocycle enthusiast. I expect that.

What I do not expect is to become more enlightened about work and life. On this particular occasion, the crash set off a series of encounters with bystanders, the police, the tow truck driver, the motorcycle mechanic and the young father I met on the bus ride home that would each reinforce valuable and profound lessons about work and life.

Lesson #1: When you help others you help yourself.

I don’t like to be late so I left the house early. I had volunteered to help a local nonprofit that works on issues I care about. I did not know where it would all go. Maybe somewhere, maybe nowhere. What I absolutely did not expect was that I would end up volunteering to contribute not based on my knowledge but based on my passion. I can replicate what I plan to do for this organization for many other organizations struggling with similar issues. I can provide value based on my passion and I realized the truism that when you help others, you help yourself, is well…true.

Lesson #2: The universe is talking to you if you care to listen.

When we made the late afternoon appointment to meet, my counterpart was concerned that I would get caught in commuter traffic on the way home. I assured her that I would not since I would be riding my beloved Kawasaki W650 (pictured), which I polish daily with unicorn fur. This is my third motorcycle and I have owned this one for nearly three years. I consider myself a fairly experienced rider. I could sense her fear of motorcycles on the phone. She cautioned me to be cautious. She said: “Make sure you are wearing your helmet.” In California, it’s the law so I assured her that I would be but in a moment of misplaced bravado I also said that I probably wouldn’t be if it wasn’t the law. It was right after I left the meeting with her that I crashed the bike.

Thank you Deborah. Your concern was prescient.

Lesson #3: The human race isn’t defined by its worst elements.

None of the vehicles in the accident had made contact with each other. Three car lengths ahead someone slammed on their brakes causing a chain reaction to the rear. The Kawasaki W650 is a beautiful machine but it does not come equipped with anti-lock brakes. So when I slammed on mine, I locked up the front wheel and laid down the bike to avoid hitting the car in front of me. In an instant, I was on the ground with a heap of metal on top of me. I have since lost count of the multitude of people who rushed to my aid. The motorcycle was lifted off of me before I knew it; someone else pushed it to the side of the road and everyone that passed by expressed kindness and concern. The best was an elderly gentleman and his wife who were in the car behind me when the accident happened. They pulled over to offer me a ride to the hospital and would not leave until they were 100% sure I was okay.

Thank you Tom. Your kindness was moving.

Lesson #3: Judge individuals by their merit, not by their rank.

The cops usually show up to accident scenes when there are injuries or when someone requests a police report for insurance purposes. Before long, one showed up and I thought, here we go, this is more hassle than I need right now. But he soon left after making sure everyone was alright and determining no reports were needed. So did everyone else. The scene was suddenly devoid of the earlier clamor and I was left alone with a bike that wouldn’t start and my calculations of how much this little bang-up was going to cost me. I called AAA and waited by the side of the road sending work-related emails on my phone. Suddenly, I saw the officer coming back. It turns out he was a motorcycle enthusiast and he just wanted to keep me company while I waited for my tow. We started talking about motorcycles and he told me about the one he owned that he had ridden to Mexico a few years back. The journalist trapped inside of me suddenly shifted the conversation. “Officer,” I said, “may I ask you something?” “Sure,” he replied. “As an African-American police officer, how do you feel about the police shootings and protests that have dominated the headlines this year?” The next few moments of conversation were the most enlightening I have had about race relations and community policing in the United States.

Thank you Mark. Your candor was refreshing.

Lesson #4: Optimism trumps adversity.

The tow truck driver was a surly and easy going man in his 30s. Another motorcycle enthusiast, at first he tried to fix my bike. Having failed, he mounted it on the truck with the help of the police officer. On the ride to the only mechanic shop I could find open, I learned that in 2001 he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told he had three months to live. Nearly 15 years later, he is healthy and vibrant. In asking what got him through the ordeal, he replied: “I’ve always had a positive outlook on life.” I asked about his personal life and what his girlfriend does for a living. “She doesn’t work,” he said, “she is agoraphobic and can’t leave the house.” I imagined a life of burden but I was wrong. “We are very happy together,” he said. “We plan to move to Iceland,” he added. “Why Iceland,” I asked. “Because of global warming and because there was only one murder there in 2104 and also because my girlfriend has family there,” he replied. Of course, I wondered how they would survive. “What will you do for a living?” I asked, to which he confidently replied: “I am a tow truck driver. Wherever there are cars in the world, I can get a job.” After dropping me off at the motorcycle shop he offered to wait to take me home but I declined out of consideration. I reached into my pocket and took out what cash I had left to offer him a tip and he declined out of consideration: “You’ll need it for the ride home,” he said.

Thank you Bobby. Your resilience and optimism was inspiring.

Lesson #5: Do what you love, love what you do.

My regular mechanic shop was closed. I love this shop and I refuse to take my bike anywhere else. The X factor with the two gentlemen who own the shop is that one of them is a former economist and the other a physicist. They traded their life in academia for doing what they love and for what makes them happy – turning wrenches on bikes. I’ve been taking my bike there for years and never thought I’d go anywhere else. But today, the only shop I could find open was in the middle of the crack infested neighborhood in San Francisco called the Tenderloin.

The shop owner greeted me when we arrived and he immediately recognized my bike with a sense of affection. “I have two of these myself,” he said. I was delighted. He knows how to work on my bike, I thought. After a quick inspection and reassurance, we got into a conversation. He had come over as a refugee from Vietnam spending the initial years in a refugee camp in the Philippines separated from his family. When he finally made it to the US, he started life as a janitor in a motorcycle dealership before learning how to work on the bikes himself. He saved money, was reunited with his family and after 30 years of hard work, he retired as the head mechanic of the dealership. It wasn’t exactly retirement though. He told me that after the 2008 global economic crisis, the dealership was facing layoffs. With the support of his wife and children they decided to risk everything and put all their hard earned savings into buying the motorcycle repair shop. He was 53 at the time but he has never looked back. “We are not rich,” he said, “but we are happy.”

Thank you Adam. You are an example that perseverance pays off. You are also my new motorcycle mechanic.

Lesson #6: Strive to be of value.

I left the motorcycle shop with the intention to Uber my way home. No chance. First, I couldn’t use the damn app and second, when I did figure it out, the fare turned out to be three times the normal rate because it was rush hour. So much for new technology. I thought about calling friends but decided to take the bus instead. On the bus, I thought I’d make a few calls to pass the time but by now, my cell phone battery was drained. I was staring out the window thinking about my day when we came to the next station and the doors swung open. A young man and woman pushing a baby stroller boarded and sat next to me. Once again, the restless journalist in me reared its inquisitive head. I discovered that Anton and his girlfriend were not married. Their daughter was ten months old and he had a two year old son from another relationship. His ex girlfriend would not let him see his son. Anton told me that he never saw his own father and he did not want this to happen to his son.

I have been in the nonprofit sector for 20 years. I know the landscape well. I began to coach Anton on the community resources available that could give him support and put him on the track to re-establishing a relationship with his son. By the end of the journey, Anton said to me: “I know there is a reason why God put me on the bus with you today.” He took my name and number and I disembarked the bus with a feeling of fulfillment.

Thank you Anton. I think there is a reason why we met too.

It may be a cliché but life is mysterious and wonderful. Something that may seem like a catastrophe at first, could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Today was a beautiful day. I met people that inspired me and I walked away from a motorcycle accident with my faith in humanity (and my body) intact. I am sure that these encounters have a deeper meaning than I even realize now.

For the most part, I like many other people, am too busy with life, always rushing to get someplace, minding my own business along the way. It is good to be reminded that sometimes you need to slow down, look up, embrace the kindness of strangers, suspend assumptions and judgments, do the work you love, and open your mind, heart and eyes to the everyday magic that is all around you.

Good luck.

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.