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Marcus Buckingham

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Step 90: Contemplating Happiness

I’m working on a project that involves researching the female consumer’s changing behaviors during this latest economic downturn. As part of that research, I went back to Marcus Buckingham’s columns for the Huffington Post about the state of women’s happiness. In reading through the articles again, I found myself thinking about the 5 questions Buckingham considers when evaluating happiness:

1.) How often do you get to do things you really like to do?

2.) How often do you find yourself actively looking forward to the day ahead?

3.) How often do you get so involved in what you’re doing that you lose track of time?

4.) How often do you feel invigorated at the end of a long, busy day?

5.) How often do you feel an emotional high in your life?

I really wanted to answer ‘always’. I actually felt guilty about even contemplating any answer other than ‘always’. So how could I really evaluate my happiness? How could I ever make sure that I was being honest, and not answering the way I’m “supposed to”, so that I could really look at the areas of my life that need some extra work? “Don’t write it down,” I thought. “Just answer (silently) and observe.” And I did.

The answers to these questions are powerful cues if we give ourselves the permission and the space within our own hearts to be really, really honest with ourselves. Forget about the expectation of happiness that everyone else has. We have the power to transform our lives, to change and grow and become more aware. We can’t do that if we can’t ever let go of others’ expectations. Before we can improve our lot in life, we need to allow ourselves to just be however we are, wherever we are, and see what bubbles up.

My Year of Hopefulness – Your Strongest Life

“We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.” ~ Anais Nin, French writer and diarist

I’m a huge fan of Marcus Buckingham. If I had to make a short-list of the top 5 people I’m most interested in meeting, he’d be one of them because of his keen insight into human behavior. He knows what makes us tick, all of us, just upon meeting us. He looks at his role in life as a guide on the side who wants to help people reach their full potential happiness and satisfaction. That’s it. Simple, straight-forward, no nonsense, no voodoo, no magic. It takes dedication and hard work to reach our potential. He’s giving us tools to get there. He’s not here to make us feel better about the very bad choices we may have made in the past and our unfortunate habits (and we all have them). He’s here to help us realize and maximize our ability to effect positive change, in ourselves first and then in the world around us.

My friend, Lon, is also a fan and recently sent me a series of articles that Marcus Buckingham has been writing for the Huffington Post on the subject of women’s happiness. We’re in a tough spot: as a gender, half the world’s population, our happiness has been on a steady decline for 40 years. 40 years. That is a very long time to be unhappy. Marcus Buckingham offers up surprising observations and remedies for this trend. It’s important reading for all – men and women alike.

I clicked through the articles and eventually landed on a link to an on-line game that serves as life’s central casting office. Through a short list of questions, Marcus Buckingham shows us the lead role and supporting role that we were born to play, just as we are right now, and that also stretches us by revealing where we should focus our time and energy. It’s fun, insightful, and accurate. I hope you’ll take a couple of minutes to give it a whirl. While it’s geared toward women on the website, it’s equally applicable to men: http://www.wowowow.com/relationships/marcus-buckingham-find-your-strong-life-test-376609

Here’s what mine revealed: best lead role for me – Creator; best supporting role for me – Weaver. Hmmm….what does all of this mean?

Creators:
1.) “Begin by asking: ‘What do I understand?’ You aren’t immune to the feelings and perspectives of others, but your starting point is your own insight, your own understanding.”

Great – now I can stop feeling bad about my natural instinct to look internally first and then externally second!

2.) “Your best quality: Your ability to find patterns invisible to others.”

As a kid, hide-and-seek was my favorite game. I considered being an anthropologist, a paleontologist, an astronaut, and a psychiatrist. All searching professions. At heart, I am a Seeker, Explorer, Finder. I sometimes wonder if I missed my calling as a detective of some sort. I do like to find what’s special and unique in things, places, and people who do not immediately look special upon first glance. My favorite game as a kid was hide-and-seek. I love the idea of underground places, secret passageways, and buried treasure. I love the search. I want to get at what’s underneath the exterior, of people and situations.

3.) “Always: Find time to be by yourself.”

So true – and a goal of mine as of late. I do need some time on my own every day to re-group. I love people, and to make sure I always enjoy their company, I also need my time for me, too.

4.) “Be careful you: Don’t think so long that you never do anything.”

I am the quintessential list maker. I weigh pros and cons and consequences and upsides and downsides and comparison shop. These are important things, and I need to make sure to balance them with enough action. Sometimes, we just have to go for it, even if it seems that the odds are not stacked in our favor!

5.) Your smartest career move: Any job where you’re paid to produce new content.

What my life and writing is all about, and what I think I am just about ready to jump off the cliff and do full-time!

And my ideal supporting role – Weaver. Creator I understand inherently. Weaver? Does this mean I need to get myself a loom? As it turns out, no. Weaver is a synonym for connector. Of course!

Weavers:
1.) “You begin by asking: ‘Who can I connect?’ You see the world as a web of relationships, and you are always excited by the prospect of connecting two new people within your web.”

I love nothing better than linking two people whom I adore to one another when there can be a mutually-beneficial relationship. It’s a puzzle, and I love puzzles.

2.) “Your best quality: Your genuine curiosity.”

My favorite question has always been ‘Why?’ and I’m not shy so I asked it (and still ask it) A LOT. My poor mother. I was the ‘Why’ child in every class, at every moment. Now I’m the ‘Why’ adult. You can’t take the kid out of the classroom…

3.) “Always: Trust in your web of relationships.”

Done – they get me through the tough times and help me celebrate the great abundance in my life. My most valuable asset is my network, and I covet it.

4.) “Be careful you: Don’t push people together who shouldn’t be.”

I’ve had some failures on this front for sure. It’s not just about the experience and interests of people, but their personalities, too, that dictate if a connection is really worth making. I need to be more mindful of that

5.) “Your smartest career move: Any job where you’re paid to speed up the connection between people.”

That would be my obsession with on-line community-building. I love it. If I could, I’d spend every moment of my life working toward this end. Connect, connect, connect. As a kid, my favorite art activity was connect-the-dots. I loved to see what would emerge, how something would develop. It’s still true – my life and relationships are in a constant state of emergence and development.

I’ve printed out my lead role and supporting role descriptions and hung them up at my desk and on my fridge to remind me what’s important, and where and on whom I should spend my time, energy, and talents. Strongest life, here I come!

My Year of Hopefulness – Marcus Buckingham Workshop Session 3: What is Strengths Training?

Most companies have just completed their annual employee reviews. There are few other times of the year that cause more anxiety and induce more fear at work. Does my boss really like me? What have I screwed up? And what is going, in black and white, into my file, never to be undone?


It’s with good reason that many people feel this way. Historically, performance reviews focus on areas of improvement (aka – stuff we’re not good at) rather than areas of strength (aka – our greatest assets.) Very slowly, that’s beginning to change thanks to people like Marcus Buckingham who advocate for a focus on strengths. 

In session 3 of his on-line workshop, Marcus talks about his belief that focusing on strengths yields a far better outcome than focusing on areas of improvement. 72% of people feel an emotional high from their jobs once a month. Marcus pushes all of us to consider how we can go from once a month to all of the time. In order to get us there, he asks us to follow this plan:

1.) Bust the myths

2.) Get clear on what strengthens and weakens you, not on your strengths and weaknesses (though it’s possible that those things could overlap). Most people think that someone else is a better judge of their own strengths and weaknesses than they are. This conclusion is logical because of the current structure of performance reviews at most large companies. Because we report to a boss in a hierarchy, that boss is traditionally given the authority to tell us what we’re good at and what we’re bad at, and judge us based on that. (This is taken as gospel regardless of the fact that our boss may be less educated, less experiences, and not as talented.) Marcus thinks this is crazy – people with at least an average level of self-awareness (which is nearly everyone) is very conscious of what their strengths and weaknesses are and is the best judge of them. That’s why it’s often an interview question! In performance reviews, we too often hand over the power to define us to someone else. 

3.) Plan your strong week. Do things that invigorate you, not drain you, as often as you can. Almost every job has elements that we don’t like but are necessary. Tilt the floor to fill up as much of our time as possible with the activities that invigorate us. This is called strength training.    

My Year of Hopefulness – Marcus Buckingham Workshop Session 2: Where Are You Now?

A few weeks after we went through the introductory session of Marcus Buckingham’s on-line workshop, I finally sat down to go through session 2. Why such a gap right? Schedules, yes, but there was a larger reason to. Fear – fear of finding and discovering something new and different. Fear of change. 


Sometimes it’s easier, at least in the near-term, to bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything’s fine. That no improvements can or should be made. Change is painful, though it’s so necessary in the long-run. Progress requires giving up the familiar and that brings with it a certain amount of anxiety. No time for dallying now – we had to jump in and get on with it. Change is coming so we might as well greet it politely at the front door rather than waiting for it to huff and puff and blow our house down. 

Session 2: Most people believe that when we consider our performance in life that we will become better people if we focus on improving our weaknesses. Marcus has a fundamentally different view. His advice is to build on our strengths and manage around our weaknesses. A meager 12% of people spend the majority of their day playing to their strengths. He’s willing to give you from 8am – 11am, 25% of your day to play to things we aren’t good at. And then the rest of the day must be spent on strengths.

In our society, we believe that if we study and learn about negatives, we will glean some miraculous insight into the positives. We study disease to learn about health, depression to learn about happiness and joy. There have 40,000 studies done on the topic of depression and only 400 on joy. The equation and our focus on weakness and negativity is sadly and badly tipped in the wrong direction. “You study “bad” and invert it, you don’t get “good”. You get “not bad.” And “not bad” is not good enough. It won’t give us energy. It won’t make all our hard work worthwhile. And it certainly won’t make us happy. 

There are a lot of people out there right now who hate their jobs. Even though they’re grateful for the income with all the layoffs going on, they hate what they do. And that’s the key. The three questions to ask ourselves when examining our jobs are:

1.) Why is this job important to me?
2.) Who am I going to be working with?
3.) What am I actually going to be doing?

When the “what” goes wrong, it effects the “who” and the “why”. So in these times when we may be looking for a new job, the question to ask is the “what” question.  To help answer that, it’s best to take a look at what invigorates us and what drains us, and then go for what invigorates us.

My Year of Hopefulness – Marcus Buckingham Workshop Session 1: Introduction

I’ve previously written about Marcus Buckingham on this blog – his writing has been very influential on the way I live my life and build my career. He is a career guru and has dedicated his life to helping people live their best lives. Oprah recently featured him on one of her shows. He did a three-hour workshop with a group of women who want to improve their lives from a career standpoint. These women felt overwhelmed, anxious, off balance, and sometimes very unhappy with their jobs.


As a gift to viewers who want to live their best lives in 2009, Marcus Buckingham and Oprah filmed the entire three hours session, broke it down into 8 different classes, and put all of them on-line for free with resources and class materials. You can download them to your ipod, watch them, or listen to them on your computer. It’s as if you are sitting in a classroom with one of the most world-renowned thinkers on living a strengths-based life. And it’s incredible. 

I just completed session 1 – The Introduction with two of my friends, John and Ellen. Three basic question for everyone in the class: What is your name? What are you paid to do? Why are you here? As part of this blog, I will detail what I’m thinking, experiencing, and feeling in each one of these classes and John and Ellen have agreed to allow me to share the specifics of their situations on this blog. 

To take the class, please visit the link on Oprah’s website: http://www.oprah.com/package/money/career/pkgmarcus/20080401_orig_marcusbuckingham

Here is my own mini-class that will be featured on this blog:
Name: Christa
Paid to do?: Product Development
Here because?: My day is filled with lots of tasks I don’t want to do

Name: John
Paid to do?: Graphic Design
Here because?: Feels like he is wasting time with a company that has no advancement opportunities. Job is mostly executional, not strategic. Culture is siloed and not collaborative. A lot of in-fighting at his current firm. Many people don’t want the responsibility of making decisions, but want credit when something goes right. 

Name: Ellen
Paid to do?: Nonprofit fundraiser
Here because?: Doesn’t feel that her current company is creative, innovative, or motivated to improve. Decision-making processes in the organization are very slow and misguided. Her opinions are not listened to by her boss. She works with great people, though is not enjoying working for her boss as there is very little mentorship. 

Once a week, I will be sharing our stories as we continue through the remaining sessions of this class with Marcus Buckingham. If you decide to take it and would like to share your thoughts on the classes, I’d love to have you comment on this blog! Here’s to living our best lives in 2009!

Building the Mississippi

I’m a big fan of management books and I consider it a personal mission to help people I know do what they’re good at. I also would not deny that I generally advocate for ignoring rules, other than ones that would land you in jail or are necessary to protect people’s happiness and freedom. Wrap all these up and your have two books by Marcus Buckingham, First, Break all the Rules and Now Discover Your Strengths, both of which I love, admire, and hold up as examples of how to conduct my career and my life.


The most powerful statement I’ve heard him make in various speeches is simple, concise, and such good advice that I wish there was a way to telecast it to anyone in the working world. “Find a small stream in which your strengths can flow and then see if you can carve it into the Mississippi.” Incredible. This statement and adherence to it turns the whole notion of job performance, corporate culture, and career planning on its head. It puts the job seeker in total charge and in one short sentence gives you a complete action plan:


1.) Find what you’re good at
2.) Find a company that has a niche, however small, that can be filled well by your strengths
3.) Work like hell to blow out that niche that makes you a rock star


I’ve been continually thinking about Barry Schwartz and The Paradox of Choice almost to a point of obsession in my efforts to simplify anywhere and everywhere I can in my life. The three steps above eliminate all of the guess work and maneuvering that goes on when people try to climb the corporate ladder. Just know what you do well, find a place that wants you to do what you’re good at, and make it your duty to use those strengths to create value. Think of the richness, gratification, and satisfaction we can find at work with this mindset. It’s how people at Google must feel everyday…and entirely accessible to each of us.

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