Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Why Getting an Agent is Like Losing the Superbowl

164-pack13-021514-tmI now have an agent to represent my forthcoming book about Mussar, the 1000-year-old Jewish Spiritual practice of personal ethics. As I write, he is pitching it to publishers. Should I celebrate now?
On the one hand, it is an important milestone. I was unable to find an agent for my first book, and having an agent makes it possible that a traditional publisher will purchase the rights to the book. On the flip side, having an agent in and of itself doesn’t mean anything. What counts is having a publisher. So perhaps I should save the celebration until a publisher makes an offer. Then again, having a publisher is but a step in the book publishing process. Perhaps I should wait until the book is published? Or perhaps I should wait until the first sale, or appearing on the best seller lists, Fresh Air…
It is so easy to get caught up in what hasn’t happened yet. If only we have a promotion,  a managerial position, a raise, a new house… The list of things that we don’t have is infinite, and if we need something to happen in order to celebrate, we are missing out. As an alternative, we can cultivate Gratitude as a means to appreciate what we have right now. In that spirit, it is super cool to have an agent. I am grateful to have such a seasoned professional see something in my work. What happens next is out of my hands.
I fear that Seattle fans were celebrating a little too early in the Superbowl. Amazed that the vitriol that is going towards Pete Carol, the Seattle head coach for the last call. Second guessing is one thing, but calling for his job? Really? Even if he made the wrong call, do we really want to make it so that no one can make a mistake without getting fired? He has an amazing track record of success, and the fans would do well to cultivate Gratitude for making it to the Superbowl. The hard part is finding a way for being Grateful about losing in such a painful fashion. Maybe the loss has humanized Seattle fans, and prevented them from becoming arrogant jerks. I admit it – I don’t like Seattle. Now however, I can relate to the Seattle fan. I still feel the pain from the loss Syracuse basketball suffered at the hands of Keith Smart in the the 1987 basketball championship.
The Gratitude practice I suggest is hard, and we can’t start the day we suffer a loss. We need to start practicing Gratitude now. A gratitude journal is a great way to start. Every night, write down three things that you are grateful for. Be sure to include being grateful for the bad and the ordinary.  Then, when life takes a turn for the worse, we’ll have a healthy practice to help us get through.

Sales Training and Spiritual Transformation

On Wednesday night, I saw my Mussar* teacher, Alan Morinis, give a talk. He was amazing as always. He said something that really hit me – Learning is not transformational. Experience is transformational. His latest book explores the 48 ways of internalizing Jewish Values. What strikes me is that one way is book learning, and the other 47 are behaviors, like serving a master, carrying the burden of another, and Joy. Alan argues that we need to book learning to know what our predecessors discovered, but it not until we put it into practice that it really counts.
I am reminded of feedback I used to get after giving a sales training. I would share the benefits and features of the products, objection handling etc. Sales people would say that is ok, but it doesn’t really tell me how to act and what to say when I’m in front of the decision maker. Training needs to incorporate the real life, and should provide models on how to act.
By analogy, it doesn’t help to have the ten commandments memorized when we’ve made a terrible mistake. “How am I supposed to tell the truth when I’ve messed up so badly?” We need to know how to act! Mussar teaches us that often we are untruthful because of fear, and the antidote to fear if Faith. It can be Faith in something greater, or faith in ourselves that we will be able to handle and manage whatever situation comes up. Often, the fear magnified the mistake into something far bigger than it really is.
That act of coming clean, the experience of coming clean, is transformational. However it comes out, we will be changed. Similarly, a training that only gives book knowledge leaves the hard work, of making it happen, to the student.
What is the best training you have every experienced? Is it even fair to put a training in the same essay as spiritual transformation?

Why I Didn’t Alter My Resume, and Why Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson Should Be Fired For Altering His

James, I think your cover's blown! from laverrue via Flickr

On May 3, 2012, a dissident investor accused Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson of falsifying his resume on the company web site and in financial disclosures by claiming a computer science degree that he didn’t earn.  One part of the ensuing debate just reeks of corporate idolatry – it is more about what is best for Yahoo as a company, and not about the underlying values.  For example, Dan Lyons at The Daily Beast argues “Who cares? … He’s qualified to run Yahoo.”  Lyons also (rightly) point out that Dan Loeb, the investor who blew the whistle, certainly doesn’t care about the resume.  Mr. Loeb wants Thompson out because of disagreements over business strategy.

To me, however, values are paramount, and this seems like a cut-and-dried issue.  The CEO sets the moral tone of a company, and you cannot have someone lying about their resume at the head.  Thompson has to go.

But sometimes I am quick to judge, so I called Pam Fox Rollin, leadership coach and author of 42 Rules for Your New Leadership Role for a second opinion. As usual, Pam had something thoughtful and level-headed to say.  “I agree, the CEO does set the moral tone of the company, and if he lied about his resume he has to go, with the following proviso: did he know? I say this because in my experience, other people have padded my resume for me, calling my book a best seller. It was number one in certain [Amazon] categories, but never a best seller.  I correct it immediately whenever I see it, but publicity materials have gone out where I haven’t caught it in time.”

A few days later Pam sent me a link to an audio clip from 2009 in which Thompson is asked how his dual computer science and accounting degree prepared him for his role at Yahoo today.  Not only did Thomson fail to correct the interviewer, he launched into a platitude-laden speech about how important it is to prepare and inspire young people.  Personally, I don’t buy Thompson’s latest explanation, that in fact it was PR people who made the error, and he didn’t correct the interviewer in 2009 out of politeness. I understand the temptation to pad the resume, especially when it comes to a college degree decades ago.  I almost did it less than a year ago.

Not a Minor Issue

Here I was, writing pitch letters to agents and publishers.  My background in science and marketing wasn’t directly applicable to my new career writing about Corporate Idolatry, and I was in a bind for how to describe myself.  Well, I was close to earning a Minor in Philosophy. Relevant, yes,  but it’s kind of awkward to write “AB in Biology with lots of classes in philosophy.”  Why not just say that I have a Minor in Philosophy?  I hate to admit it, but the idea had serious consideration.  The more I thought about it, the more real that minor seemed to become.  And I made all kinds of arguments to myself, rationalizing the imagined benefits to my career against the small risk that anyone would notice.  But it also didn’t feel right to lie, even if no one ever knew.

In the end, when I remembered my identity and my values, the decision became easy. I see myself as a modern-day Abraham, who smashes corporate idols.  Idolatry is about adopting an inappropriate value system, and then crafting illusions to rationalize it.  My values put people first, and lying isn’t part of the equation. I still haven’t found an agent or publisher, but hell, does anyone out there think I have one today if I had airbrushed my philosophy cred?  (If you do, I’ll send you a list of the agents who rejected me.)

Two Impulses, One Choice

This week I started reading a book about Mussar, the ancient Jewish practice of everyday ethics, and found my inner turmoil described in the third chapter.  Inside of everyone, the argument goes, there is a conflict between the good impulse and the evil impulse. We all feel the evil impulse, but can choose whether and how we obey it. And, evil really isnt’ a good descriptor – there is a story that once the rabis  managed to trap the evil impulse, but everyone in the village stopped working and “even the chickens stopped laying eggs.”  The so-called evil impulse is what gives us drive and ambition, which are good things when guided by compassion and values.  (For a more in-depth treatment of this issue, see The Enemy Within, when a transporter accident splits Captain Kirk into his good and evil halves.  The good half couldn’t lead his way out of a paper bag.  Watch it here.)

I made the choice not to pad my education in my cover letter, and I set a precedent for myself such that I have not been tempted to pad since then.  But if I had chosen to pad the cover letter, maybe next time I would have padded my actual resume.  And after that, maybe I pad my LinkedIn profile.

I suspect Thompson went down a path like this.  Maybe not, but he certainly had ample opportunity between the 2009 interview and now to set the record straight.

Yahoo has enough problems.  The last thing they need is someone with questionable ethics at the helm.  In this case, the right thing and the right thing for the company, are both pointing in the same direction.