Sunday, December 19, 2010

Becoming The Trend

Above is the (great) video for "Icarus Lives!" by the band Periphery. I must admit that when my brother first turned me on to them I didn't necessarily know how to digest them. I dug their sound but looking back I definitely didn't appreciate just how unique their music really is. Judging by the 'e-chatter' floating around about these guys it is safe to say that they have made an impact on the metal community. Although I wouldn't say they are my favorite band of all time it does speak volumes that I have probably listened to their cd more in the last few months than I have any other cd I have. Why am I intrigued by this band? Because they don't sound like anybody else.

That got me thinking back to all the bands that I have really dug over the years. What do they have in common? They don't sound like anyone else. They have a distinct personality or dare I say it, brand. Of course there are copy bands that will follow in the footsteps of unique bands, but when a great band steps outside of what is common there is a period of time where they truly stand alone. I think those few drops of sand in the hourglass where a band is out ahead of the trends are really special moments. And it is those moments that generally shift the way a genre is headed. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Megadeth, Metallica, Pantera, In Flames, At The Gates, Killswitch Engage, The Black Dahlia Murder are a few that come to mind over the last few decades that have truly been unique and influential and that stand alone for a brief period of time before eventually shifting the direction of the genre (list is definitely up for debate). So what happens when a band bucks the trend and ventures out into aberrance? They become the trend.

Although established social norms often reward conformance and toeing the line so to speak, it is these trips off the beaten path that can be the most rewarding and defining in the long run. How can I seek opportunities to break free from the status quo, to truly grow as a person, yet still remain tangible and enjoyable to be around as a husband, a friend, a professional, and a member of society? Where can I go against the grain and become the trend for the betterment of myself and those around me? That is the challenge, and if it takes analyzing metal bands on my blog for me to recognize this transcendent life lesson so be it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Passion Barometer

"If I had all the money in the world, I would be doing exactly what I'm doing right now."

Can you say that about your job? Your life? Well that is exactly what Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan was quoted as saying in her interview with the CNN Small Business Blog. Simonetti-Bryan transitioned from a career in finance to achieve a coveted Master of Wine certification. Below are some details of her story with the full article available here.

Simonetti-Bryan had an existential crisis that many young professionals face: Working nights and weekends, staring at models on a computer screen, she felt bored and unsatisfied. Only 10 more years, a colleague told her, and she'd make managing director.

A few weeks after that, a fateful business lunch set the analyst on a new course. While giving a presentation in the corporate dining room of Citicorp's London office, Simonetti-Bryan was served an herb-crusted salmon paired with a Sancerre, a crisp white wine from France's Loire Valley. The way the acid in the wine cut right through the oil from the fish sparked her curiosity. She began taking classes in wine appreciation, and in the wake of Citi's merger with Smith Barney in 1998, she took the plunge, abandoning her six-figure salary for a wine shop job, then becoming brand manager for Cakebread Cellars and Domaine Carneros while collecting industry certifications.

One of those was the Master of Wine designation, the industry's highest honor. After passing a four-day exam that involves identifying 36 wines, applicants must write an original piece of research that furthers the industry. Simonetti-Bryan studied six hours daily on top of a full workday, sometimes suffering from "palate fatigue." "There were some days," she says, "where I was like, 'I don't want to look at a glass of wine. I don't even want to think about a glass of wine,' and then you get that one glass of wine and you go, 'Ah, this is why I'm doing this.'" In 2008 she became only the fourth woman in the U.S., and one of 289 people worldwide, to obtain the coveted title.

Although I enjoy a good glass of wine (or bad…..I must admit I cannot always tell the difference), wine is not what drew me to this article. What drew me in was someone going through a transition that is integrated in both their work and life. I am a big proponent of work life integration versus work life balance so stories like Jennifer's always appeal to me. Her quote above is a quote that serves as the barometer for how she is living her life. She loves what she does and wouldn’t change a thing about it. This wasn’t always the case for her which allowed her to recognize what she had once she got there.

I am going through a work/life change as I transition out of the Air Force this summer. Although I can’t say that I wouldn’t change anything if I had all the money in the world, I really do love my life. The only part of my life that wasn’t as fulfilling as it needs to be for successful work life integration is the work part. Although I am good at what I do and I enjoy it…sometimes, my heart is not fully invested in my current career path. Being a sports guy, I know what is possible when you are truly passionate about something. I need to find that something again.

Coming out of the service is tough because I don’t necessarily know what I want to be when I grow up yet. There are a few different avenues in business that interest me but as far as a specific job title goes I haven’t narrowed that down yet. I may just have to steal the quote from her to use it as my own passion barometer in determining what I want to do moving forward.

Perhaps I am an idealist. Perhaps I am just naïve. Who knows. All I know is that Simonetti-Bryan has what I want. She has a life and a career that are successfully integrated and she truly loves what she is doing. I am a little nervous but very excited to be breaking into the great wide open (hat tip Tom Petty), but I will trust my gut, work hard, and see if I can’t land my dream job too.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Full Circle - Lessons From One Sandbox To Another

Life is a funny thing. As you get a bit older and get some experience under your belt your perspective on things definitely changes. The older I get the more I believe that the majority of what has made me successful in dynamic team environments was learned at a very young age. This concept hit me pretty hard while I was deployed to Iraq.

Over the course of my time in Iraq I was in charge of a team of military, civilian, and contractor personnel. I have been in charge of different people, teams, and groups before but for some reason when I was deployed I was much more apprehensive about my capabilities as a manager and leader. Maybe it is because the military mission was smacking me square in the face. Stateside you do not necessarily always see the negative impact of your mistakes. On a deployment the stakes are high. My contracting team's failures directly impacted the war fighters and support troops in theater carrying out the mission. That reality was definitely something I took seriously. As my nerves and doubts got the better of me I was constantly trying to remember lessons learned from college business classes, from the numerous management and leadership books I have read over the years, and from the blogs I frequent. Due to the nature of my no notice deployment and the operational tempo in Iraq I was thrust right in without the convenience of being able to revisit and review leadership and management principles; I was forced to go with my gut and what I have internalized over the years.

Now that I have been back in the good US of A for a few weeks and have had time to reflect on the extremely positive management and leadership experiences I had in Iraq, I look back and my nervousness and insecurities and I almost laugh. I am amazed at how much of what made me successful as a leader over there weren't complex theories and cutting edge management formulas but lessons that I learned as a kid playing on the playground or in the sandbox. Here are a few lessons learned in the school sandbox that helped me immensely in the deployed sandbox:

Learn to Share: I tried to redirect all compliments and make sure that the credit went to my team. Careerists often struggle with this one. We all want to advance and be recognized but avoiding taking credit for the team's successes is crucial to continued team success. Your team will recognize your gratitude for their efforts and your superiors will, over time, see that you are a component of the team success as well even though you humbly redirect credit.

Quit Now Be A Quitter For Life: I distinctly remember my parents drilling this lesson into my head at a very young age and I am grateful they did. I think this simple but impactful lesson has been transformed into many clichéd life lessons. When the going gets tough the tough get going. Work hard and the rest will take care of itself. Quitters never win. The list goes on. Regardless of how its worded, the spirit of the lesson helped me immensely overseas. There were times where I just didn't think that I could do all the work that needed to be done. There were times that I didn't think that I had the stamina to make it through the remaining months. I was uncomfortable, tired, overworked, and most of all I missed my family and friends back home. Whenever I felt overwhelmed like that I just put my head down and worked through it. What other choice did I have? Not much to be honest but I think life is the same way. When you get dealt a bad hand you just have to keep working through it, because you can't quit life either.

TEAM = Together Everyone Achieves More: I still remember playing two hand touch in elementary school with my buddies. I can remember the exhilarating feeling I got when we put together a team that kept winning. That was my first taste of synergy in action. All throughout my hockey career and now into my Air Force career I have loved the feeling of being on close knit high performing teams. Those types of teams are not easy to come by but the feeling you get being a part of one of those teams is amazing. In Iraq being part of a team is a necessity. Deployments are not easy so you have to lean on people more than you are used to. But that vulnerability and shared experience creates strong bonds which was refreshing and reminded me of my old hockey playing days.

Cheaters Never Win: People always talk about integrity in the military. I often hear it described as doing the right thing even when no one is looking. That definition, although quite tangible and good to live by, does the spirit of integrity a bit of injustice. Having integrity in what you do and what you say makes you a precious commodity. Normally I am fairly non confrontational. Out there working with the Army things were a bit different than what I was used to working in an office setting in Boston. If you don't speak up and know what you are talking about in Iraq you will get stream rolled by higher ranking hard charging Army dudes! The stakes are high, the tempo is fast paced, and people are stressed out. It is definitely not the place to be timid. So saying what you mean and living by your principles and virtues is more important than ever. Over time I saw that the leaders above me recognized that I had an opinion. Generally that opinion was thought out, reflected my true feelings, and it was founded on a genuine concern for our task at hand and a desire to improve. Having that integrity to stand behind what I said and did made me a constant source of consultation for the senior leaders in our organization. It was a good feeling. It was refreshing to know that you don't have to be a "yes man" or a "brown-noser" to be recognized as valuable to the team. If you work hard and do in your heart what you know is right then you will be recognized for your contributions to the team.

I am sure I could think of a few more but these are the big lessons that come to mind. I would love to hear comments on other childhood lessons that have served people well in their lives. Thanks for reading and it is great to be back!