Here is a pretty inspiring story of Gregg Breinberg who took – what could have been – an ordinary teaching job and instilled imagination and passion, transforming it into something far greater for himself and his students.
Like many people, I became aware of them a couple of years ago when their videos went viral on YouTube. Along the way Breinberg and the P.S.22 Chorus have become somewhat like rockstars. Their videos have received over 40 million views, they have performed at the Oscars, on Oprah, in a television commercial, and many other high-profile events. Many of the performers whose songs they have performed Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Common, Crowded House, Tori Amos, and Matisyahu, have taken an interest and showed up at the school, or elsewhere to perform with the students. Even other celebrities like Tyra Banks, Marcia Gay Harden, Matt Damon, and Anne Hathaway have also shown their support.
A while back I interviewed Barton Brooks, the founder of a non-profit Global Colors who called himself “the luckiest man.” It was easy to see why, he traveled the world and had these amazing adventures. On first glance, I wouldn’t necessarily expect a public school music teacher to also refer to himself as “the luckiest man,” and go on to say “most people look forward to vacation time, I look forward to getting back to work.” However, after watching this video, it is easy to see why?
You can catch all of their performance on their blog http://ps22chorus.blogspot.com/
There are a lot of people walking around with the weight of fear on their shoulders, fear of job security, financial insecurity, and what seems like a world in constant crisis. Even in the best of times, there seems to be a prevalence of fear, some people’s lives are ruled by fear, others it is based on circumstances. In contrast, Buddhism teaches about fearlessness. In this context, fearlessness does not suggest being without fear, but the idea is to actually open up to our fear and experience it fully.
Before I get deeper into fearlessness, I think it’s important to note that the human body reacts the same to a threat to the ego as it does to a physical threat. If a screeching car is coming towards you, or someone just stole your idea at work, the same parts of the nervous system are activated, albeit maybe to different degrees depending on the circumstances. Most people spend more time concerned with ego threats rather than potential physical threats, even though the former are often imagined.
When you feel fear in response to an ego threat, there are a number of common habitual responses; to resist it, go on the offense, entitlement, blame, gossip, and attack the other parties. Having tried many of these solutions myself, they tend to either prolong the feeling of fear, or lead to a whole slew of other undesirable experiences.
Recently, I was running late to an appointment to interview someone for this blog. As I was leaving I was already mildly stressed, as I knew his time was limited and didn’t want to lose this opportunity. Thoughts started to run through my mind about being late and him thinking I was a flake and unreliable, which would ruin my reputation. In my mind, the future success of my business was dependent on the blog, and the blog was dependent on this one interview. I had a really good story going in my head. As I headed out of my building there were no taxis on my corner, and my anxiety increased even more. Walking down Sixth Avenue against traffic towards my destination, I spotted an oncoming taxi in the center lane. I walked straight towards the cab as it stopped at a red light and pretended not to see the woman who was already hailing a cab on the corner. I thought she’ll is just have to understand, this was important, my whole future was dependent on it. The taxi door was locked, so I tapped on the door lightly and the driver ignored me. I double- checked to make sure that the “on duty” sign was lit, and realized the driver was on to me, and had no intention of participating in my hijack. I chuckled realized what I was doing and moved on. This was definitely not my most shining moment. I was rationalizing and justifying, because I was afraid of the repercussions. In this case not even real fear, because I was making up a story that just wasn’t grounded in reality.
The threat I felt here was minor to those many people feel in the business world. People see the world, especially their work environment as a constant threat and believe there is a potential landmine around any corner. Even if there were consequences to my being late, I basically lost consciousness, I was determined to commandeer that taxi . With a little assistance from the driver, I woke up in the middle of a dream. There was a time I would have acted with a greater sense of entitlement, knocked harder on the window and try to get in the taxi. What if I had just noticed my fear, both the fiction I was creating in my mind, and the physical sensations in my body. I certainly would not have continue to build the story that was causing me so much stress and anxiety.
As Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron teaches, you can actually get comfortable with fear, even become intimate with it. People tend to run away from all of their negative emotions and experiences and seek more of the positive ones. Fearlessness is about showing up for your life, your experience exactly as they are, good or bad. It is about staying present and being in acceptance of whatever comes up moment to moment.
The good news is that you don’ have to go and find fearlessness. It is already within you, can you can allow it to emerge by just supporting it and cultivating it.
The tools I have found most helpful are grounded in mindfulness meditation. A process whereby you train in being completely open to your experience, staying present to whatever comes up. You sit down and you use your breath as the object of meditation. You keep your awareness on your breath and when your mind wanders off – and it will – you just keep bringing your attention back to your breath. When the feelings and thoughts associated with fear arise, you can notice the thoughts and let them drop away. What are the physical sensations, where are they in the body. Learn to separate the physical sensations from the storyline you are creating.
It’s a myth that you are not supposed to have fears, anxiety, doubt, and other negative experiences. It takes far more courage to show up for your life as it is happening, than to try and check out of it. It is by showing up for it time and time again without judging yourself, or your experience that you cultivate fearlessness. By practicing meditation regularly, you are developing the muscle that gives you the stability and clarity to be present for your life as it unfolds.
I find that the two most obvious places many people stop being themselves are on dates and in job interviews. Rather than focusing on who we are, and being transparent, it is tempting to spend time thinking what the other person wants to hear. What will seem most impressive to them? What is the right answer? There is no right answer, only being yourself. Brazen Careerist Penelope Trunk does a great job of how to Be Your Real Self In An Interview and in life on her blog. Check it out here.
I am not big on books or articles that espouse numerical requirements to be or succeed at something. The 7 habits,5Rules, etc. They often suggest inadequacy, and especially as of late it is a tool to suggest “we” belong to a club you are not qualified for. In reading this adaptation from The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons From CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed,” The author, NY Time columnist Adam Bryant seems to take a somewhat different tact by stating “The good news: these traits are not genetic. It’s not as if you have to be tall or left-handed. These qualities are developed through attitude, habit and discipline — factors that are within your control.”
Based on interviews with over 70 CEO’s the book proposes five essentials for success, based on the CEO’s interviewed and what they look for when hiring.
They ask big-picture questions. They wonder why things work the way they do and whether those things can be improved upon. They want to know people’s stories, and what they do.
The C.E.O.’s are not necessarily the smartest people in the room, but they are the best students
You want somebody who is just alert and very awake and engaged with the world and wanting to know more.”
Do they tend to blame failures on factors they cannot control, or do they believe they have the ability to shape events and circumstances by making the most of what they can control.
They understand how teams work and how to get the most out of the group.
The people who truly succeed in business are the ones who actually have figured out how to mobilize people who are not their direct reports.”
A Simple Mind-Set
Yet few people can deliver the simplicity that many bosses want. Instead, they mistakenly assume that the bosses will be impressed by a long PowerPoint presentation….
Even Steve Ballmer CEO of Microsoft, the owners of PowerpPoint says “he understood the impulse in presentations to share all the underlying research that led to a conclusion. But he changed the way he runs meetings to get to the conclusion first.”
They want to know if somebody is the kind of person who takes ownership of challenges or starts looking for excuses.
As they moved up in organizations, the attitude remained the same — this is my job, and I’m going to own it.
Are you comfortable being uncomfortable?
Many executives said fearlessness was one of the top qualities they’re looking for when they were interviewing job candidates.
Chief executives advise that you will be rewarded for fearlessness, because so few people live that way and bring this attitude to work.
Creator of The Office Ricky Gervais talks to the Harvard Business Review on Not Having A Real Job
Some of the key points from the interview include:
Reminding himself, “It is not real work compared to my dad who was a laborer.”
“I feel I am a workaholic because of the privileged position I found myself in.”
“Fame is the worst of it. Better to want to be rich that is real freedom. I haven’t done anything for a million pounds I wouldn’t have done for free.”
“Fairness is the most important thing in managing a team.”
“If you start to water it down or second guess people you will end up with something a lot of people will like, but they will not love it. I have always wanted to do something that really moves 1 million people than washes over 10 million.”
Listen to the full interview here. Ricky Gervais Interview
Ethan Nichtern, a meditation teacher at the Shambhala Center where I learn and practice is kind of young. I approached our first interaction with a degree of skepticism about learning an ancient tradition from someone so young. However, I quickly became a fan of his down to earth style and uncanny ability to integrate the challenges of modern living, pop culture, and technology with the ancient wisdom of Buddhism. His dharma talk this week had a few key points I thought worth sharing with readers.
Comfort is way overrated. Happiness is way underrated.
He told a story about when he started to come around the Shambhala Center where his father is a meditation teacher. They were listening to another teacher when Ethan looks to his father and asked; “Dad, this guy has been meditating thirty years, he seems a little nuts?” and with a chuckle his father responds “Yeah, you should have seen him before he started.” The lesson being that some of us go to our grave being a little less nuts, others go a little more nuts. All of a sudden a little doesn’t look so bad.
Another point that resonated a great deal; After you spend a weekend at a meditation or spiritual retreat, one often finds you are still the same confused person. However, that is not the kind of talk that gets you on Oprah. That is reserved for the people who promise transformation in an hour, day, or weekend.
There was a lot more to the talk, but that’s for another time. Working on an interview with him for the The Blog.
Highlights from NY Times Interview on careers with Former Hearst Magazines Chairwoman, Cathleen Black. Recently appointed Chancellor NYC Schools.
“..be careful about believing that the grass is always greener somewhere else. On the other hand, if it’s going to be a life-changer or a career-changer move, with some reasonable amount of security or success, then I think it’s worth a shot.”
“We have to learn to take chances on people who are a little bit younger than we would have hired in the past. You’re always weighing experience versus enthusiasm. Are you willing to take a chance on someone who has all of the enthusiasm going for them, but perhaps they don’t have much experience? I think that’s particularly relevant in the digital space today.”
“I always say to people: “Ask for the job. It’s not my job to get you excited. It’s my job to hear from you what you really want to do here and how excited you are to come to this company or to this position.”Read the full interview
The Harvard Business Review published an insightful article likening entrepreneurship to a disease. The the articles author Jeff Stibel says “I liken entrepreneurism to a disease. Having it myself, I am not always sure it is a good thing. That so many people wish to suffer from it just tells me they don’t understand it.”
Not unlike people who are passionate about music, art, or science, he points out “Entrepreneurs are all in, all the time. Entrepreneurs love what they do and obsess over it. It is a predisposition; a path that has already been laid for you. It is a character trait, a labor of love, a zeal that cannot be trained, a condition that cannot be treated, an illness that cannot be caught. You’ve either got it or you don’t.”
Here are some questions to see if you have it:
- Do you wake up before your alarm goes off, hop out of bed excited to go to work? (good)
- Do you race to the car, forgetting breakfast, your morning coffee, and the paper? (better)
- Halfway to work, do you look down, realize you forgot to shower, shave, or get dressed? (great)
- Do you pause for a second, and then decide–what the hell–and head to work anyways? (diagnosis: entrepreneurialism; cure unknown)
In my opinion, these questions provide more of a context than a clue as to whether you are going to have success. If you take a shower and shave before you leave, it will not disqualify you from success. On the other hand there are many people who can answer yes to the above questions, and have not had, nor never will have the kind of success they seek.
Most people I meet want to be able to answer yes to these questions about something in their life. If it is not human nature, it is certainly a common yearning here in the U.S. to want to feel this engaged and committed to something. For some it is business, religion, painting, music, helping others. – how nice it would be if we got paid for it as well.
You really want to question whether it is in alignment with who you are? Are you wired this way? For me to announce that I am going to become a calculus professor, and to put all of my energy and resources into becoming one; while might be possible, would be a misuse of my talent, skills, and energy. Math has never been and never will be my subject. On the other hand, business, ideas, mindfulness, personal development, strategy, engage my heart and soul. I have stayed up all night, and days on end, and not answered phones when working on these projects. But so does a future rockstar willing to travel from city to city, club to club, for days on end to play in front of live audiences, as does an author at work on their next book. It is this sort of engagement that makes us feel most alive.
These are good questions for anyone considering undertaking something that requires the amount psychic and physical energy it takes to start a business, or be successful at most things. However, some times you will just need to try it and see how much committed you really are.
You can work for a fat wallet, you can try to impress others, you can play it safe, you can become a hostage to what your friends, neighbors, and peers think, and you can fulfill our parents dreams. If this describes you, this blog is not for you.
I am on a mission to meet the world’s most authentic people. My intention is that by sharing their stories and wisdom, you will find inspiration, practices, tools, and advice, which will support you in unleashing your own one-of-a-kind nature.
I think a majority of people imagine what it would be like to own a business, or at least be self-employed at some point in their life. The rewards include freedom, prosperity and being your own boss. There are also some real and imagined obstacles, including risk, viability, age, timing, money, and the list goes on.
Here are some facts from the Kauffmann Foundation that may cause you to reconsider just what a typical entrepreneur looks like, and when would be the best time to start a business.
Is now the right time to start a business?
Well-over half of the companies on the 2009 Fortune 500 list, and just under half of the 2008 Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Companies list, began during a recession or bear market.
Companies started during recessions or bear markets include Hyatt, FedEx, Microsoft, The Jim Henson Company, CNN, Trader Joe’s, and Wikipedia.
Is the risk as great as you think it is?
I genuinely wonder which is the greater risk; putting all of your energy in the direction of looking for a job, or to build a business? I often hear that people can’t afford to start their own business, kids, bills, etc. Who says that a job search will bring a faster, or more certain return on your time and effort? I don’t even think they need to be mutually exclusive, and one can certainly lead to the other.
“Hundreds of thousands of individuals do not wait for others to ease their economic pain—they create jobs for themselves and others.”
As Dan Pallotta states in his Harvard Business Review article Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur, “We have to re-shuffle our notions about security. The danger isn’t where we think it is. The danger is in not being entrepreneurial. If you’re not creating the future, then someone else is, and that someone else will change the face of the world as you know it. But that’s not the greatest danger. The greatest danger is arriving at the end of our lives and feeling like we haven’t really lived. Risk is the currency of life. Without risk, there is no life. We have to be willing to risk failure in return for a sense that we are living. And it’s when we’re really living that we really have a shot at changing the world.”
Maybe it’s not as challenging as you think.
In Making of A Successful Entrepreneur, The Kauffmann Foundation asked company founders to rank the challenges they faced in starting their businesses. The factors that a majority considered a challenge were the “time and effort required, capital/financing, and experience.”
What is perhaps most interesting, the entrepreneurs questioned perceive the challenges to be much greater for others than what they personally faced. This would imply, either the majority of them were coincidentally lucky, or that in fact the anticipated challenges are not as great as the actual challenges. In other words, it is somewhat easier than anticipated, or it looks harder for others than it actually is.
Do you have what it takes?
The four most important factors for entrepreneurial success, according to our respondents, are prior work experience, learning from successes and failures, management teams, and luck. Do you create the luck by becoming an entrepreneur, or does it just happen?
Think you are too old to start a business?
Contrary to popularly held assumptions, Kauffmann Research reports; over the past decade or so, the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity belongs to the 55-64 age group; nearly 5,000 companies that began in 2004, two-thirds of firm founders are between the ages of 35 and 54.3; the average age of the founders of technology companies in the United States is a surprisingly high 39 — with twice as many over age 50 as under age 25.4. Too young maybe, but not too old.
Barriers to entry
It doesn’t look like there are large sources of external financing for first time entrepreneurs. Only 11 percent received venture capital, and 9 percent received angel financing for their first startups. However, given the fact technology and the internet reduce many costs and barriers to entry, financing may not be as big of an issue, at least for some businesses.
Entrepreneurs are spiritual
What struck me the most was the answer that entrepreneurs were allowed to write in. I think it points to the fact that we think we are somehow different than other people in our field, position, or role. I might be spiritual but most other entrepreneurs are not. They are harder, colder, etc…
“We allowed entrepreneurs to write in factors that they considered important but were not included in our list. The most commonly mentioned factor was the importance of faith and God. Many considered this extremely important to their success. That’s it Entrepreneurs are spiritual.”
Think you might have The Entrepreneurial Bug. Join us for a free teleclass on May 3rd 2010 @ 7 PM EST
For more details on the research mentioned visit www.kauffmann.org