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I’ve thought it over Boss, and I Quit!

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That was the headline of my resignation letter in 1977. “I’ve thought it over and I quit!”

I was the Senior Program Manager of Individual Development programs for the 356,000 members of the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Jaycees. My role was to develop, promote, train and manage these programs through a volunteer field force of 250 young men in all 50 states. It was a thrilling job that included much travel and many speeches to hundreds or thousands of Jaycees at conventions nationwide.

My job allowed me to collaborate with my heroes like: W. Clement Stone, who had been partners with Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, the most popular success book of all time; and Og Mandino, author of The Greatest Salesman in the World, and president of Success Unlimited Magazine. I visited The White House and met President Gerald Ford in the Oval Office for a one-on-one photo. It was the most exciting time of my 30 year life up to that point.

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I will forever be grateful for the privilege of serving in this position, and for the profound lessons I learned while there.

And then I mastered my new job.

My boss was Don Varnadore and his boss, our Executive VP, was Al Simensen. Don was my mentor and my champion. He believed in what I could do. Al was skeptical. He thought I was “a bit much”, sort of a “Mister Motivation” and he questioned whether I was real or all show.

That was all the challenge I needed. For over a year, I worked long hours and gave way more to the job than was reasonable to expect. Many times I worked late into the night and occasionally fell asleep at my desk. My productivity was immense! I was producing high quality work (their opinion, not mine) and winning awards for my department. I wrote a new Leadership Dynamics program and Communication Dynamics that sold over 76,000 copies in the first couple of years. I worked with the Million Dollar Round Table to publish “Family Time, a Revolutionary Old Idea” for the Jaycees. I curated an audio album by W. Clement Stone called the “Personal Success Series.” These were just a few highlights of the many great projects I championed while there.

Try Try Again

But, despite my massive efforts and measurable results, I was never selected as “Staff Officer of the Month.” The reason that mattered to me was the awardees would have their name added to a permanent plaque that was displayed in the lunchroom at Jaycees Headquarters where we all worked. There were about 100 of us at the time. I had never been considered a true contributor in my life before.

I went to Don Varnadore and asked what I needed to do to be selected. He coached me, but still no acknowledgement came. So, I took on even more. I enrolled in night courses at the local community college. I joined a Toastmasters club. I volunteered to conduct before work and after work training programs for the HQ Staff for no pay. These were highly popular and focused on job related skills; public speaking, travel tips and strategies, speed reading, effective listening, and other topics. I also crafted a plan for merging the personnel management and training of our staff into the duties of the Individual Development programs office. I was not asking for a raise, just more opportunity to show my abilities. Still, no permanent acknowledgment. It mattered to me that I could achieve a lasting recognition for my contributions. Nada.

Miracles still exist

One day, as I was returning from a trip to Utah to study the Family Home Evening program developed by the Mormon Church, I said a prayer. “Lord, I’ve done all I know to do. Please take the wheel and guide me as to what to do next. And, please be bold, don’t hint. I want to know it was you.”

The following day I had an appointment to meet with Joe Willard, the general agent for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company’s Tulsa, Oklahoma office. He offered me a full time job as his confidant and advisor, plus trainer for his 19 insurance agents. He also offered me a penthouse suite corner office and use of the secretarial staff for my professional speaking career. Gasp! This happened on the very next day!

I thanked God and wrote a letter to Al Simensen. The headline said, “I’ve thought it over Boss, and I quit!”

My departure was amicable and I still have friends from those days long ago. My new life with Mass Mutual led to six years of training, consulting and speaking for them nationwide and in their home office in Massachusetts. I went on to speak to most of the world’s leading insurance companies and was once the opening keynote speaker for the Million Dollar Round Table! My life was, is and has been blessed on so many levels. As of today I have delivered more than 3,300 paid speaking engagements in all 50 states, most of Canada and literally around the world. Joe Willard became one of my lifelong closest friends and my career has blossomed beyond my greatest dreams. I’m grateful, deeply grateful.

What this means to you is:

Sometimes your best efforts, even with great measurable results, are not going to generate the kind of acknowledgment you may desire. My goal was to leave my mark, to be counted among the people who mattered. I wanted to be able to see my name on the wall along with my predecessors. But it was not meant to be…at least not there.

Upon leaving the Jaycees, I commenced a career that has taken me around the world three times, having 20 books I’ve written published by the nation’s leading publishing houses, inducted into the Sales and Marketing Hall of Fame and I’ve served as President of the National Speakers Association. All of the great awards, certificates and acknowledgments that are bestowed upon professional speakers have been provided to me and my feelings of incompleteness from the Jaycees experience have long since been wiped away by rewards of  “good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, poured into my lap.” Luke 6:38 

The same principle applies to you.

What have you been pining for, dreaming about, and hoping to earn? Have you been giving more than enough but not receiving the outcomes you targeted? Maybe it’s time to give up…control. Just as the song says, “Put your hand in the hand of The Man who stilled the water…calmed the sea…”  Pray for guidance and then look and listen. God doesn’t need to hint. You will know if it is right and from Him.

When people say to me, “I think God is trying to tell me something”, I say, “Really, you think the Creator just drops subtle clues and expects you to pick up on them?” Maybe your prayers have been more like pleading rather than placing yourself in His hands. Just pause, take a different look, get a broader perspective. It may well be that a slight change in direction could put you a path that will make all your dreams come true.

Do your best where you are, grow where you are planted. When you outgrow your current place, branch out and look for a new direction, but don’t stop doing more than you are required to do. Overfill your place. Give full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. Those who do this will be noticed and rewarded even if not from the direction they’ve been seeking. Be the best bargain of a worker that anyone could ask for, give your employer and your customers a raise through your performance and your compensation will surely come.

 

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Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE is an Executive MBA Professor, Author of 21 books, Hall of Fame Professional Speaker, Top 1% TEDx video (2.4 million views), US Army veteran, Singer/Songwriter, and Lifelong Motorcyclist. He is known as "Your Virtual VP" for his Advisory/Mentor work with organizations worldwide. Based in Texas...and proud of it!



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Business

Common ‘Wisdom’ that Just Ain’t So

Much of what we read, think, and repeat is not accurate, at all…

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Much of what we read, think, and repeat is not exactly so. For example have you encountered the phrase, “Those who give up liberty for security deserve neither”? Often incorrectly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the phrase is nonsensical. With no national security, soon enough you’ll have no liberty.

With complete security, you’ll have no liberty as well. A trade-off is always needed. For the record, Benjamin Franklin actually said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to pursue a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” That makes more sense.

‘A penny saved is a penny earned’? Once again, Ben Franklin is in the mix. A penny saved is not a penny earned. A penny earned is a penny earned and even then it might not be a full penny depending on taxes, inflation, and other hidden costs and expenses. If you save your money in a long-term CD, you can’t have access to it months. If funds are tied up when you need them that is not a pretty penny.

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Not Actually

Consider the phrase, “Experience is the best teacher.” Perhaps, this is so, but not as a given. Generally, an excellent teacher is the best teacher. Experience might teach us the wrong lessons or send us down another blind alley. If we don’t fully comprehend the meaning of our experiences,we’re as likely to make bad decisions in the future and have unfortunate experiences as a result.

Closely related is, ‘practice makes perfect.’ Practice does not make perfect. If your practices are off the mark, then you will continue to be imperfect and you might be reinforcing a bad habit. As they say in Tae Kwon Do, “Practice makes permanent.”

On my daughter’s softball team, a young girl named Whitney was regarded as the star pitcher. Yet during the pregame warm-ups, time after time, she could barely throw a strike. With luck, she averaged 20% strikes out of all her pitches thrown. Sure enough, when the game started, she was no better. Why would anybody expect the outcome to be different?

The best chance for you to excel is to have perfect practices. An array of imperfect practices leads failure.

Lemons and Life

‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ This sounds like good advice, but to actually make and sell lemonade, you’d also need to have clean water, a good lemon press, some type of sweetener, a paring knife, a pitcher, an implement for stirring, and cups. Such bromides leave out 90% of what else you’d need.

Periodically, I encounter authors and speakers who write or say ‘to live life more fully’ by pretending that “you have six months to live.” If you had six months to live you’d engage in behaviors different than now.

You might sell your house. You might go on world travel, or at least travel more than you’ve been doing. You might dissipate your assets. You might spend your money down to nothing, or give it all away. Then, when you undoubtedly live beyond six months, you’re likely to be penniless!

Thank You For Sharing (!)

‘Think outside the box.’ What does the “box” even mean? The phrase has been so overused that it is now rendered meaningless. Would it be better simply to say “expand your thinking,” or “brainstorm,” or “reach beyond the norm”?

‘There is no ‘I’ in team.’ Michael Jordan once remarked that while there is no “I” in team, there certainly is a “me.” Acronyms and creative word use might have their place in a corporate pep rally, otherwise let them be.

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Business

Ten Ways to Overcome Information Overload

How do we narrow down thousands of journals, magazines, newsletters, emails and blog posts at our disposal?

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We are confronted by staggering amounts of new information every day; some of it valid, some of it contrived. Career professionals in particular can be easily overwhelmed by the wealth of information related to competitor data, new product and service launches, market changes, and industry trends and wind up with information anxiety.

Although we have access to a variety of information and communication tools, how do we narrow down tens of thousands of journals, magazines, newsletters, and blog posts at our disposal and manage information coming in? How do we flourish amidst thousands of printed pages, not to mention millions of pages on the web, and hundreds of emails, phone calls and text messages?

More Information, More Confusion

While we enjoy a growing capability to extract relevant information that supports our careers and our lives, most of what we encounter is of marginal value, at best, and often stands in the way of our goals and objectives.  We don’t have hours on end to contend with everything that competes for our attention; most days, it feels as if we don’t have sufficient time at all.

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Fortunately, we can employ 10 strategies in a manner that will be productive and even enjoyable and fight that information overload:

  • Contemplate in advance the kind of information you seek.
  • Identify the vital information carriers.
  • Streamline your intake capability.
  • Beware of information crutches.
  • Establish a distribution system.
  • Be thoughtful when sending information.
  • Design responses.
  • Do away with paper.
  • Constantly review and update.
  • Acknowledge the benefits of remaining organized.

Contemplate in Advance the Kind of Information You Seek 

Have a reasonable idea of the type of information you want and need to gather. Such information encompasses news about your industry or profession; notable product and service developments; significant regulations and new legislation; client, customer, or consumer-related information; special applications; intelligence on competitors; and emerging trends and prospects.

Identify the Vital Information Carriers 

Identify the small number of key information sources, including publications, websites, blogs, and hard news sources, that cover what’s occurring in the field. You’ll really only need three to four sources; you’d be surprised at the amount of coverage overlap you’ll see.

Streamline Your Intake Capacity 

Once you recognize the kind of information you require and a handful of the best sources, you need to establish a methodical way of receiving, synthesizing, and applying such information that will benefit you, your team, and your organization.

Staying attuned to your goals and objectives and focusing on the kind of information that supports your efforts gives you the best chance to accomplish what you want. You might consider reducing social networking, depending on your job. Your quest is to maintain a constant inflow of relevant information in as simple a manner as possible. Yes, on occasion you can give attention to peripheral issues. In general, however, focus on the information that will make a difference in your effectiveness.

Beware of Information Crutches 

Many people have a predisposition to collect and retain information that confirms what they already believe or know to be true. They don’t need to save such information; the practice is more like a reflex action. With the vast amounts of information on the Internet today and the power of search engines, it’s not necessary to hang on to much.

More vital is the ability to find what you need in a hurry, which often requires only a few keystrokes. Retaining piles and files of hard copy information is of diminishing value and can impede your effectiveness. Moreover, files and information that you retain for more than 18 months often can be deleted with no detrimental effects.

Establish a Distribution System 

As you rise in your career, don’t spend inordinate amounts of time gathering information. Much of what you seek can be identified, collected, and disseminated to you by junior staff. You can use them as information scouts and as a clipping service of sorts to pre-read for you.

Once freed from the constant task of identifying and assembling information, you’re better able to think conceptually in ways that will help to propel your team, division, or department forward. This is especially true when introducing a new product, service, or delivery system.

Be Thoughtful When Sending Information

Sometimes the staggering amounts of information is due to our lack of organizing guidelines. Such guidelines could otherwise spare us from unnecessary, excessive exposure to information that does not support our current challenges.

Learn to be more discriminating when exchanging information. Eliminate acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon that can lead to misunderstandings, and limit the length of your correspondence with others by including only what is necessary to know. Overwhelming our recipients with information is no more welcome to them than when they overwhelm us. We also must encourage one another to stop CCing and BCCing when it is not necessary, and avoid submitting “FYI” kinds of messages.

Design Responses

Throughout the workweek, you’ll receive many different types of requests. Many are routine, so you can automate your responses by using your email’s signature function. Most email software programs today support at least 20 different signatures. You can create and save signatures by category that enable you to respond promptly and effectively to customers and clients. The signatures that you’ve developed can also be personalized to address the particulars of a specific inquiry.

What kinds of signatures might you create in advance? Rosters, standard letters, product and service descriptions, price lists, team or organizational descriptions, credentials, etc. The more signatures you establish, the quicker and more productively you can answer questions from inquirers.

Do Away With Paper (When Practical) 

A variety of hard copy files and documents will need to be retained. Nevertheless, you can undertake a campaign to reduce the volume of paper you’re retaining, whether it’s in filing cabinets, desk drawers, or storage bins.

Evaluating each document you receive and consider whether it merits saving. Will a scanned version of said document suffice? If so, scan it and recycle the hard copy. Yes, scanning requires extra time and effort, but in the long run the payoff is more than worth it. When you effectively label each of the documents you’ve scanned, you enhance your ability to quickly locate them on your hard drive or online. Finding such e-documents is generally easier than finding the hard copy.

Constantly Review and Update 

Periodically review your documents. Is the information still relevant? Does it need to be combined with something else? Should it be reclassified? Your goal is to keep your holdings to a minimum.

Tackle only a handful of file folders at a time, so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Ask yourself, “What can be deleted? What should be merged? What can be extracted so that the few gems of wisdom crucial to my success can be applied as needed?” Think of this task with a project management hat on and take it step-by-step.

Acknowledge the Benefits of Remaining Organized 

Staying organized might make you anxious. Organizing is certainly not a glamorous task. Yet, in a world that overwhelms us with the volume of information and communication, becoming the master of your files, and maintaining them so they serve you, is more important than ever before. Information overload occurs when we let things pile up. The people who become adept at recognizing, gathering, retrieving, and applying the right information at the right time are valuable to their organizations and their teams.

The future belongs to ultra-productive people who understand the importance of information and communication management. Regardless of the obstacles they face, these adept information managers are capable of pointing their team or organization in the appropriate direction. Why? They have a well-developed ability to identify, assemble, and impart knowledge that they extract from information.

Ultimately they can draw upon their knowledge to lead with wisdom.

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