The value of personal BHAGs

As we wind down 2014, one of my favorite things is to reflect back on what took place the past eleven months and look forward on what I’m excited for in the coming year.

For the past few Decembers, I’ve created personal BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) inspired by organizations that follow Jim Collins’ philosophy.  From reading twenty books to getting to wheel pose in yoga to visiting a new country, the goals are meant to be a mix of ones I am certain I capn accomplish and others that are daunting and far-fetched.

As I begin to brainstorm new BHAGs, I always review my current BHAGs and see which ones I’ve accomplished and which ones I’ll miss.

This year, I had fifteen BHAGs and only managed to accomplish 2.  That’s a 13% success rate.  I shared this with a friend who then asked me what the point  was of making BHAGs if I was only going to miss most of them.  Her question stung although very valid.  I did ask myself… “well, what is the point?”

I took a look at my 2014 personal BHAGs:

  • Save an additional $X amount
  • Read 20 books
  • Go to a new country
  • Run a total of 300 miles
  • Be able to do a wheel in yoga class (check – hello upside down world!)
  • Finish one module in Rosetta Stone
  • Be able to swim five laps
  • Be in the 15lbs weight lifting in boot camp
  • Go to a new state or province (check – Greetings Atlanta!)
  • Take my mom on a holiday
  • Complete 10 hours of coding
  • Take a public speaking course
  • Be able to do forty pushups in a row
  • Trapeze lessons
  • Private (going to keep this last one to myself)

I didn’t end up doing most of them.  I didn’t even end up completing the one I thought would be the easiest – reading twenty books.  As of December 3rd, I’ve only read twelve.  But of the books I did read, one was Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices and several were Haruki Murakami.  I chose books that challenged me as a reader and a thinker.

Same with the run 300 miles BHAG.  In 2013, I had complete a running race as a BHAG and at the time I wrote that goal down, I hadn’t run more than ten minutes since tenth grade gym class.  In 2013, I ran my first 5k and then 10k and fell in love with the race.  In 2014, I set my eye on a half-marathon as part of my getting to 300 miles.  I ended up running three half-marathons from February to October but sadly those plus training did not equal 300 miles.

When I reflect back, the value of my personal BHAGs isn’t completing them and giving myself a gold star.  The BHAGs provided me with an opportunity to explore new hobbies, new interests, new passions.  I learned what I like (running and yoga) and what I hate (following cookbook recipes1).  It was in trying to accomplish my personal BHAGs that gave me most meaning.  The journey is the reward.

So here I am at the last month of the year and starting to think about 2015’s BHAGs.  Will I have many?  Chances are yes.  Will I complete them all?  Not a chance.  I’ll be surprised if I finish more than two but I’m excited to see what it will take to complete them.

Share with me some of your BHAGs or New Year’s resolutions.  I would love to take a peek and see what I can borrow.

1 I had this silly idea one year of cooking once a month from a recipe book. It failed miserably.  I tend to be more of an innovator and creator in the kitchen than a recipe follower for better or worse.

What my favorite childhood books taught me

I was recently invited to a baby gender revealing party where the guests were asked to bring a childhood book with a handwritten message in lieu of a traditional Hallmark card and gift.

It’s been awhile since I last bought a children’s book so I was a bit at loss of what book to get.  As a lifelong reader, I thought back on what books were my favorite to brainstorm for the expecting couple’s gift.  What came to mind were two books that I still love to this day.

Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman was first read to me in Kindergarten.  The story is about a baby boy who receives a blanket at birth.  As the boy grows up, he brings his blanket with him everywhere, eventually turning the beloved blanket into a raggedy fabric.  Unable to part with the blanket, the boy’s grandpa turns the blanket into a jacket which the boy lovingly wears until the jacket also becomes teared.  The boy’s grandpa turns the jacket into the vest, and the same activity occurs, and so the vest becomes a handkerchief, and eventually into a button, and over time the boy looses the button, leaving the book with a sad, unresolved ending.

As a child, the story resonated with me.  It taught me that just because something has been loved, used, and tired, it doesn’t mean that it automatically gets thrown out and forgotten.  With a different eye and a fresh perspective, a beloved but destroyed blanket can be reused and turned into many, many different items.  It’s like one of those Ikea hacks that we often see on Pinterest.  Missing a few bolts?  Turn that Ikea Malm desk into a bed frame!

The second book that came to mind was The Balloon Tree by Phoebe Gilman(1).  The Balloon Tree is about a young princess whose father, the King, leaves the kingdom for a few days.  The king leaves the princess’ uncle in charge and tells the princess that if she gets into any trouble to release a balloon and he will see it and rush home.  As soon as the king leaves, the uncle locks up the princess and orders for all the balloons in the kingdom to be destroyed.

Unknown to the uncle was that the princess knew a secret passage to get out of her imprisoned room.  The princess goes on a long search throughout the kingdom for one balloon to release and call for her father.  Unfortunately, all balloons seem to have been destroyed.  Through ongoing persistence and resilience, the princess eventually finds a balloon from a wizard and plants the balloon under a magical tree that grows multiple balloons.

I adored this book as a child because of the pictures, the idea of balloons everywhere, and because the princess’ name was so similar to mine.  I eventually chose The Balloon Tree as my gift over Something From Nothing because I loved the can-do, positive attitude of the princess and the resemblance of the story to Hamlet.  Princess stories often involve the princess being helpless and needing saving but The Balloon Tree princess took control of her own situation and came out the winner.

It was a pleasure to be able to provide a gift to the expecting couple during this exciting time in their lives but I think I got a bigger gift from this activity than they did.  Thinking about what book to get provided me with the opportunity to return to a time where reading was simply for enjoyment and entertainment and also allowed me to reflect back on what made my favorite childhood books so special and how they made me feel.  It reminds me of that Maya Angelou quote,

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I couldn’t remember much of the story of Something From Nothing and The Balloon Tree at first until I did a bit of googling but I did recall how they made me feel and how much I loved them.  What are some of your favorite childhood books?

(1) As I write this, I just realized my two favorite books as a child were from the same author! 

In response to HBR’s article on Lean In

If you follow me on Twitter or on LinkedIn, then it’s not a surprised I’m a huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In.  I came across this article from Harvard Business Review, It’s Not Women Who Should Lean In; It’s Men Who Should Step Back, which I highly disagree with.

Here’s a comment I left for the author:

As a woman in the early stages of my career, I very much disagree with this article and James’ analysis of Lean In.  The book isn’t telling us to copy men but rather guide women to overcome hesitation.  I’ve seen young women new to the workforce who are often time hesitant to speak up at a meeting for the fear of being wrong or going against the grain compared to young men in the workplace.  I, myself have experienced this, and it took a couple of years before I had the confidence to “lean-in” and speak up.  What Sandberg’s book does do is help guide women to gain confidence and a voice earlier on.  She’s bringing to the forefront what society is dictating and how to overcome societal and environmental norms that taught young women for the first 18 years of our lives to be quiet, play nice, and be agreeable.

And to address your question on “why is it the women who should be copying the men? Why can’t it be the
men who could be well served by taking a page out of an entirely different book: that of the very women Lean In is advising to change?”

As I mentioned previously, Lean In isn’t suggesting that women copy men.  But let’s say for argument sake that it was.  The book was written to guide women readers in their development and to provide insight for male readers into the challenges women face in the workplace.  And as much as I would be surprised and delighted if men stepped back, it’s much easier for me to take control of my actions then convince a whole gender to “lean back”.

What do you think? Is he right?  Am I way off the ball with my interpretation of the book?

A book recap: Basic Black

“It’s not about whether you can do it all, it’s about whether you can be happy whatever you’re doing”

– Cathie Black, former President of Hearst Magazines

Off of a book list recommended by Levo League, one of my favorite career development sites, I read Basic Black by Cathie Black, former President of Hearst Magazines.  If you ever read any Cosmo, Marie Claire, O: Oprah Magazine, or Seventeen between 1996 to 2010, then you in one way or another have been touched indirectly by Cathie Black.  My saving grace during high school was the now defunct CosmoGirl magazines. #rip

Black’s book was interesting.  For the past two years, I’ve had a growing interest in the career paths and struggles of success women and hers was one that I was only vaguely familiar with.6a0133ed1b1479970b0133ed6a4295970b

Black’s book touches on creating a 360 degree life which she defines as achieving balance in life and creating a life where you get deep satisfaction from all angles – personal life, work, and family.  Throughout the book, she goes through her experiences, her temperament during her early working days, and her strive for success, perfection, and achievement.  As someone equally as ambitious and as passionate about making an impact, I related to her drive and dedication.  When you’re in the middle of the action and all you can see is that ladder and each step you need to take, it’s hard to sometimes step back and look at the situation and appreciate what has been given to you and what you have earned.

I remember when I was in high school, I baby-sat these adorable kids whose parents shuffled them from one activity to the next.  Dance class, track, soccer, tennis lessons, music… it never stopped.  I would listen to the kids go on about their activities in exhaustion.  I barely had time to work part-time and study for chem class, let alone do all those activities on top of that.  Looking back now, it makes me wonder what we, as a society, gain from pushing kids into so many different activities.  While it is so important to let kids explore new and different interests to help them develop into interesting adults, I wonder if we’re raising a generation of overachieving, over-competitive individuals that will view adult life as a rat race.  My generation already feels the pains of constant competition.  We’re one of the first generations where discussions on can women have it all, work-life balance is ongoing.  At the pace we’re going. will the next generation need to have an actual class on this?  Is this the future society we want to create?

Cathie Black’s book dedicates a section on achieving balance.  She asks her readers to reflect on what’s important to them and what they are looking to achieve.  Her advice:  Have your all – not anyone else’s.  What worked for one person doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.

Overall, her book was a great read.  Easy layout so you can flip through to sections that appeals to you the most and it incorporates real examples of her time at Hearst and other publications she worked at.  A must read for anyone in the media industry.

Other interesting read on this topics:

Pursue a Lifestyle Not a Job – Lost Gen Y Girl

Why a Lifestyle Business Could Be a Better Fit For You Than a Startup – Sean Ogle

Shall we voice Exit, Voice, or be Loyal?

My most valuable university courses wasn’t a finance, accounting, or marketing strategy course although all three has helped in being able to understand contracts and budget better.  My most valuable course – the one that has integrated into me and has become part of my makeup – was a small seminar course that I initially signed up for because it was rumored to be a bird course and the professor leading it had this old-school, intimating style to him –  the kind of professor you would see in movie. You know the ones I’m talking about.  They are hard-skinned on the surface and all the students fear them but if you go a little beneath the surface, they are really a soft soul who becomes your life guide.  Think Sean Connery in Finding Forrester.

This course was an Organizational Behavior course – one where I expected to fully learn about different personas of workers and different political interactions in organizations.  Instead, the entire course became dedicated to the study of Albert O. Hirschman’s influential but rather dry book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.

The book focuses on Hirschman’s concept that there are three decisions that organizations and individuals in an organization face:

Exit – When to leave an organization, when to exit out of a market, etc.

Voice – When to voice dissent, communicate an opinion, etc.

Loyalty – When to stick with the status quo

We took the concepts in his book and read several articles ranging from Nazi Germany, IBM in the 1940s, small town community and applied his concepts to each scenario.

The teachings from the class and the discussions that we had stayed with me past university.  Reflecting back now, I can’t tell you what Black-Scholes does without googling it or spew off the 4Ps and 3Cs of marketing without guesstimating.  I do however remember Porter’s five forces… gotta love that model coming up year after year.  Rather Exit, Voice, and Loyalty has intrinsically became a part of me and a part of how I make decisions.  When I’m faced with a dilemma – professionally and personally – that I’m not sure what to do about, I immediately think “is it worth the fuss”, “should I just wait to blow it over”, “maybe they’ll be open to my idea”.  Ultimately, in any dilemma we are faced with three paths.  The path to leave the situation, express an opinion and hope for change, or stay quietly accept the situation as it is.  The actions aren’t siloed from one another.  Majority of the time, it begins with voice and leads to either exit or loyalty depending on the reaction and response of the other party.  Rarely do we see one action become the be all, end all.  You be surprised how useful Hirschman’s concept is within your own personal life as well.  Think of it in a crumbling relationship.  Should I stay with my SO?  Is it even worth talking about our problems anymore?  Urgh, I’m done and I’m out.  

The book is short and a quick read if you can get over the dryness of it.  Are there any courses, books, readings that you’ve done or read over the years that has impacted your daily life?

Want to learn more about Hirshman’s book?  Check out this great article from HBR.