Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Let's Talk About Role Models

If I were to ask you to name your biggest role models in life, could you rattle them right off?  Most people can't.  Most people have never consciously chosen role models, although of course, we all are influenced by others throughout our lives. 

When it comes to living an extraordinary life, role models are a requirement.  They're necessary because odds are, few people in your day-to-day life are inspiring you to greatness.  And even if you do have some powerful women or men you especially look up to and strive to be like, I've found we need lots of role models to embody a variety of different qualities we want to develop in ourselves.

Role models are delicious.  They widen your world from what you personally have experienced, inspire you, motivate you, fill your head with ideas and best of all, their influence is available to you any time at no charge thanks to libraries, bookstores, movies and the Internet.  How do you find them?  It's so easy.  Just look around at people, lives and experiences that speak to you.  As you read books, websites and magazines, notice what jumps out at you and find a way to delve deeper into that in your free time.

Throughout my adult life I've had dozens of role models who embodied qualities I wanted to develop.  My list includes:
  • Cary Grant for his enduring friendships, financial frugality and foresightedness
  • Audrey Hepburn for her grace and huge heart
  • Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for her fierce privacy and immovable personal boundaries
  • Princess Diana for her raw humanitarianism
  • Marilyn Monroe for her constant striving to perfect her craft
  • Cindy Crawford for her entrepreneurialism and willingness to take professional risks
  • Hubert Keller for his tireless enthusiasm and incredible work ethic
  • Helen Gurley Brown for her generous career teachings to her own and future generations
  • Jim Rohn for his humor and unique way of speaking that conveyed important ideas so simply and clearly
  • Diana Vreeland for her boldness and elegant eccentricity
  • George Balanchine for his extraordinary creativity
This list is just a small sampling of extraordinary lives I've studied in detail.  Each of these people has provided me with valuable instruction in how I want to live my life, even if I have never met them.  As they entered my world and engaged me, I made it a point to read books and articles about them, so I could get a detailed picture of their uniqueness and how they came to develop those special qualities.

Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking their role models have to be perfect.  To me, that's a big error in thinking because, for one thing, no one is perfect.  Secondly, just because someone has messed up in one area of their life doesn't mean they can't inspire and teach incredible things in another part of their life.  I don't require my inspirations to be perfect.  Even their flaws can teach me something important.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fall In Love With The Process

Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure and don’t even know it.  For example, how many times have you changed your behavior to achieve a certain result like losing 10 pounds, only to backslide once you reached your goal and wind up back where you started?  Many of us seem to swing on a perpetual pendulum because our focus is on a short-term outcome rather than an ongoing change.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately given my new interest in fitness competitions.  In this sport there’s a lot of concentration on upcoming competitions.  There’s kind of this outward pressure that you should always be gearing up for the next one. But once the competition is over you don’t want to end up burnt out, crabby and miserable because you can’t sustain the herculean efforts you put in temporarily.

I’ve come to see it’s better to have a long-term mindset where you purposefully fall in love, not with the end outcome, but with the actual things you need to do on a regular basis.  Fall in love with the process of improving.

In my case this means working out hard, watching my diet and developing my stage presence.  Rather than see these things as nasty chores or sacrifices I must make for a little while, I am now seeing them as exceptional skills that benefit me and that I am lucky to get to do every day.  I’ve given up seeing the end state as the trophy or even fixating on the end state at all. 

This philosophy applies to any goal, for example a person who wants to be a top sales person can decide to fall in love with making lots of exceptional sales calls, getting better at it all the time.  Someone who is seeking a long term love relationship can start to consciously enjoy the activity of dating, becoming a better and better person to date with each outing, all with the knowledge that that special person is coming.

When you develop a passion for the process of improvement you develop positive habits.  Success then becomes a natural byproduct of what you’re doing.  Instead of riding that pendulum of frustration, you hop on a rocket ship of inevitable victory.  Your success becomes a foregone conclusion.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

It's Not Me, It's Them

As a professional PR person, I’ve had a chance to dive into social media. Twitter in particular I really like, because it’s fun to challenge yourself to say something pithy in 140 characters or less. The exchange of ideas and information there can be fast and furious as well as laser targeted, which makes the format a useful resource for all sorts of things. There is this one thing I’ve learned from my use of Twitter that I did not expect – to become unattached to what people think of you.

Students of self-improvement may be familiar with the phrase “What others think of me is none of my business.” This is a great philosophy because even if we twist ourselves into pretzels to people-please, we never can truly control how someone might choose to view us. And we burn ourselves out in the process. I believe that focusing on what I am creating and contributing is a healthier and more productive way to live. I have found that it is also important to let go of the need for others to like what I am writing/thinking, or to look for praise or agreement.

Easier said than done though. There’s this annoying ego that jumps in ascribing meaning to what others say and do about us, and sometimes those thoughts can become really destructive, causing great work to be abandoned, like when Stephen King threw his manuscript of Carrie into the trash. (It was rescued by his wife and became his first big success.)

As an early adopter of Twitter, my policy is to follow back everyone who follows me. I know this is not how everyone uses Twitter and I’m not saying it’s the right way. Maybe I am just old fashioned, but I feel like it is only polite to return a courtesy. To keep my Twitter feed from becoming unmanageable, I just use the Lists feature to pull out the updates I want to be sure to read. It’s no big deal really. But as a company, Twitter doesn’t want its follow/follower ratios to get too unbalanced, so if you follow folks back like I do, you kind of have to go in and unfollow them if they unfollow you so that your account can continue to grow naturally.

I use a website called JustUnfollow.com to accomplish this task. It is also very simple. I sign in with my Twitter account on the JustUnfollow website, it pulls up a list of everyone who has recently unfollowed me and I click unfollow by each one. (Twitter no longer allows bulk unfollows so you have to do it individually.) 

Now here’s the unexpected learning I’ve received: I have a lot of followers on Twitter so every week, oodles of people unfollow me. More new people follow me than old ones leave though, so my follower tribe has only ever moved in an upwards direction since I first tweeted back in 2009. And it’s not like the unfollowers are directly tied to what I am sharing either. I can have a day where I get the most retweets and favorites ever and still have plenty of folks say, “No thanks, your stuff is not for me.”

I find it kind of fascinating. It has forced me to adjust my previous belief that if I would just tweet amazing stuff all the time, everyone would always love it. And while it is true that the majority of people do seem to like it, I cannot control those who take offense, choose to weed down the number of people they follow, don’t appreciate my point of view or whatever. My personal Twitter policies have forced me to find a way to become comfortable with processing the steady unfollower stream without it impacting my desire and ability to continue to post what I believe is useful information. In essence, it has thickened my skin.

Thanks to Twitter and my ways of using it, I no longer see rejection as something that must be painful or unpleasant. For a variation on what Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.” That’s life. Accept it and move on. I am not suggesting to ignore all negative feedback or that I am absolute in my beliefs. Challenge and dialogue (brief that it may be) can be important. I am still interested in what others choose to share with me, and I am sure most others are too. But it feels very freeing to recognize that everyone has free will, your stuff is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that it’s totally okay. I appreciate people taking the time to check out my contributions and I am in agreement with whatever decisions they then make. Perhaps the next time I visit San Francisco, I will stop in the Twitter corporate headquarters to thank them for teaching me this valuable lesson.