Cliff's Blog

A feel-good morning microblog of 10-second takeaways offering advice, insights, and inspiration to brighten your outlook and give you a lift.

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Specialists & Generalists

Most employers want specialists.

Because of this, most people want to be specialists and yet, after years of interviews with professionals, I can tell you that most people are generalists (even the people that are seeking to hire specialists!).

The most specialized specialist out there usually ends up becoming a generalist because they end up doing way more than that special thing they were hired for. In fact, if they want to keep their job, they are REQUIRED to do more than that special thing.

There are 2 reasons for this.

First off, the worker who works within his job description is considered lazy, or at least not promotable. Second, if a worker does a single thing that is then repeated over and over again, sooner or later someone will find a way to automate that thing and then the worker’s value disappears.

But this isn’t just about keeping your job.

Humans aren’t designed to specialize. No one wants to do the same thing over and over again. We want to do a little of this and a little of that. We want to oversee many things. We want VARIETY, something different every day: new and unforeseen challenges, pregnant with possibilities. We want to grow and connect and that’s rarely a linear process.

Up isn’t always the most attractive direction.

Ironically, to specialize, we often have to give up the very things we do best because, as we discover new talents, we have to discard them.

To retain our value, we must do more of the same at the cost of our own self-expression. In work, as in high school, popularity has a price.

19 February 2019 | No Comments

The Gift of Confines

Resume-writing as a profession has taught me that you can distill anything down to 1-2 lines of text.

When you’re working within the confines of 1-2 pages, that’s all you have… to share a single achievement, to explain how a company was acquired and then divested, to convince someone that a sabbatical with a dying family member was pivotal in making a career transition into dog-training, to encapsulate the scrumptious fruit of uniqueness in one’s personality…

If you can’t factor a statement down to 1 or 2 sentences, it’s not that it’s too complicated or unique of a story to tell; it’s that you don’t yet have a full grasp of the point of the story. You haven’t captured the unicorn yet.

It’s worth your time to figure it out. After years of fitting big thoughts into pithy statements (single-spaced with .8-inch margins), it’s the short statement that will make the point and be remembered. Not the long story.

So, take the time and thought required for proper distillation. Work at condensing your story. It’s worth it, not just for the resume, but because the person for whom this painstakingly precision-crafted point will hit the hardest – the primary unwrapper of the gift, the one to get the first glimpse of the unicorn – is going to be you.

18 February 2019 | No Comments

Unfair Fight

When attacked by the ill feelings of another, be it anger, grumpiness, resentment, or whatever, we often attack back, which is certainly justified, but a silly war to wage.

If it helps, think of the battle as having 3 participants, not just 2. There is you, there is the person who just attacked you, and then there is the awful thing that is happening inside that person that orchestrated their attack.

It’s like when someone has a cold, you don’t fight the person, you fight the cold.

People who attack are sick with something, something wildly contagious that spreads like a germ through the molecules in the air. Don’t be fooled. That thing wins out most of the time, spreading and infecting the room, the house, the neighborhood…

But it’s weak. It hates its name and fears a fair fight. It can be taken down quick once recognized. And you already know how to take it down, because you’ve taken it down when it went into you. A small, soft gesture can break its neck, a generous word can dismantle its DNA. No matter how long the path of destruction, its reign can end in a moment.

And as the real foe falls, an unexpected ally may emerge.

17 February 2019 | No Comments

Chewbacca Farts

While meditating, I suppress my farts to keep the space quiet but the farts bubble back up into my stomach and growl out like a beast. It sounds like that noise Chewbacca makes when complaining to Han Solo. It ends up being distracting, which of course defeats the purpose of suppressing them in the first place.

But I’ve not changed my behavior. I still suppress my farts.

Can you blame me? I’ve figured out a way to summon Chewbacca into my morning meditation.

That can’t be a bad thing.

16 February 2019 | No Comments

Sick

I hate being sick because I love being in power. (…In power over my own self, that is.)

When I’m healthy, I can bop away bad emotions, I can summon energy when I need it, I can WILL myself to wherever I need to be.

Not true when I’m sick.

When I’m sick, I’m just sick. My body laughs at my need for power. My chemistry set is out of control. There’s no one in the room watching the test tubes. It’s painful to sit back and watch the room explode. I worked hard to put that thing together!

I realized the solution when my wife brought me chicken soup from Whole Foods.

The way home is ASKING FOR HELP.

But how would I know! I never asked. I was still stuck on stupid as my aunt used to say. The logic of chicken soup was out of my reach. I needed someone else’s ideas to lay over mine.

HELP comes once you acknowledge you need it, once you declare that you’re sick, any kind of sick: body-sick, heart-sick, mind-sick, dope-sick (they all have a way of merging together over time, anyway). But, shit, when you’re in it, you can’t see it, you can’t see anything, and so you forget to ask. Or don’t want to ask. Or you hate that you have to ask…

That’s why I’m calling on those of us who aren’t sick to look around, to make room for the white flags to wave, and to walk toward them when they do.

Thanks for the soup, babe.

15 February 2019 | No Comments

The Path of the Passionate

The most interesting clients I work with have such tangled, meandering work histories, they’re often misinterpreted as lost, noncommittal, or passion-less, when, indeed, it’s just the opposite.

It’s these folks who are so committed to their passions, to their industry, to leaving a mark and making real change that they pay little attention to their titles. They ignore the looping trail behind them, because, honestly, who gives a shit when you have such a beautiful, glowing dawn ahead.

Passion, curiosity, openness, ambition – these are the nonlinear guides that lead the bravest among us up and down mountains to the rarest of flowers, to the mystical spots on the map that flatlanders speak of, but never see.

And as these courageous deserters and adventurers descend from the mountain with their guides in tow, carousing and thirsty, they are always questioned about their path, and not of their discoveries.

14 February 2019 | No Comments

Boat Drinks

There is this thing I do during the day that I rarely tell anyone about, where I picture myself later that evening sitting in my favorite chair, drinking tea, and reading my book.

Seems harmless enough…

I got this idea from a movie: a bunch of mobsters when they’re about to do a job they shake hands and say “boat drinks” to each other signifying the victorious meetup after the score (on a boat presumably).

Boat Drinks.

Unfortunately for me, seeing as I’m not a mob boss in a movie, this exercise has a paradoxical effect. Instead of relief of what is to come, I usually just feel the burden of the present moment keeping me away from my elusive Boat Drinks. It doesn’t matter what the present moment is – whether I’m changing a diaper or driving home from Tahoe. There’s a longing that’s created the minute the Boat Drinks appear and, more often than not, those Boat Drinks (or tea, book, and chair in my case) never come anyway.

So I’ve turned Boat Drinks into something entirely different. When it comes, I enjoy the thought of my tea-book-chair power combo (oh what a beautiful image!), but then I allow it to live in its rightful place: the future, so I can get back to what I’m doing – diaper, drive, work, dinner, doodle. Because, as beautiful as sitting on a boat or in a blue-velour rocking swivel chair can be, it’s not sweet enough to rob me of more moments in my day.

13 February 2019 | No Comments

The Great Return

I’m generally a jolly guy so people will probably be surprised when they hear I think about being dead every once in a while. Not in a morbid way, if that’s possible, just as sort of an overreaction to difficult situations, sort of a quick way out of sudden pain or anxiety. Nothing intense like with a funeral and people crying. More like a quiet departure through an emergency exit, without the alarm.

And just as quickly as these thoughts come, they cycle out of me. The process looks something like this:

Aw man, this sucks. I’m never gonna get through this.
It would just be easier if I wasn’t here; then I wouldn’t have to deal with this shit (the death part)
Who really cares anyway?

(breath)

Well, if no one cares, I might as well do something.
Even a bad something is better than nothing.
I can surely do a bad something.
Maybe it won’t be so bad.

(some time later)

It’s good to be alive.

This little self-dialogue happens in a couple blinks of an eye. It’s not a daily thing, but it does come up every now and again. I’ve learned to laugh at it.

I’m pretty sure we all think about death, our own deaths that is. It doesn’t have to be grim. It doesn’t have to lead to depression or self-doubt. Like all experiences, it can be used for good, like when you go traveling somewhere foreign and it’s not as great a trip as you thought it would be, but then you get to have the experience of coming home for the first time in a while and that makes it worth it.

A few footsteps in the fountain. A walk in the dark to find the moon.

12 February 2019 | No Comments

A Contagious Glow

Ever run into someone who’s in love? When they talk about the one they love, they glow. It doesn’t matter what the subject is; you get a big smile and shining light, and it’s contagious that glow. You want to be around it.

You can use this experience in other situations, like first dates and business presentations. When you talk, tell stories about the people you like: speak of your friends, your colleagues, your favorite clients…

Without even trying, you’ll smile, you’ll relax, and you’ll light up. You’ll be great to be around.

And people will want to be part of that.

11 February 2019 | No Comments

Anxiety Has a Song

Moods are personified in babies. Babies don’t have filters. They don’t try to control their moods. We can learn something from this.

My youngest daughter freaked out after her mama hopped out of the car to go to a board meeting. She squealed as if someone had stabbed her with a pin. Oh, Dear Sadness! Anxiety! Mama! Mama! Mama!

My first thoughts were to console her to get her to stop so I could listen to my Jazz in the pouring rain. But then I realized, she is fine. She is safe. Let’s let the emotion play out.

I gave her a warm smile to throw some love at her and, perhaps, to cajole ANXIETY into showing up in all its fullness. C’mon out, ANXIETY, let’s see what you got!

My daughter’s squeals crescendoed instantly. My god, what a horrible sound! Tuning it out was impossible so I let the squeal ride over the Jazz like some atonal screeching lyricist sounding out her poetry. It worked. The squeal picked up and a cacophonous chorus showed itself: Waaaaahhhhh! Waaaaaahhhh! MA-ma! MA-ma!

Anxiety has a song! And it played for 5 full minutes — 5 ear-splitting, head-buzzing, headache-inducing, make-you-want-to-drive-off-the-side-of-the-road minutes.

And then it stopped.

Really?

In the rear-view, I could see my daughter’s head drooped down and bobbling with the bumps in the road. She’d crashed out.

The remaining 10 minutes in the car were a harmonious instrumental track, accompanied by the tap-tap of the perfect rain and the thump-scrape of the wipers. The gentle rhythm was back. The diva had left the building, seemingly satisfied to have had an audience and a space to sing her song.

It’s as if ANXIETY needed a witness, like a lost soul caught between worlds craving a sign that it’s time to move on.

Thump scrape, thump scrape.

She’ll be back.

10 February 2019 | No Comments

Me & Taylor Swift

I saw a Taylor Swift concert on TV the other night.

We didn’t mean to watch it; Amazon recommended it at the end of Mama Mia and then it just started playing. I’m not gonna lie. I loved it.

By the last song, my daughter was conked out, but I was wide awake, sitting in a bean bag chair 2 feet from the TV, clutching an oversized panda bear and singing the chorus to “All Too Well,” which I’d never heard before.

Ah, Taylor. Somehow, in a stadium of 10,000 screaming teenagers, you keep it real.

I went through a mix of emotions: nostalgic teenage loneliness, shameful parental concern, gushing love of life, tingly epiphanies popping up like goosebumps. It was wonderful.

As the credits rolled over footage of Taylor back stage drinking water bottles, I longed for the experience of all her sweaty, huggy fans — holding onto each other, discussing the best parts of the show with best friends, relishing the chill of the night air outside, and needing to touch someone the whole car ride home.

At 44, I had to settle for a bowl of pretzels, carbonated water, and staring at the streetlights. It was enough.

The exhilaration from a pop music concert was unexpected and undeniable, like a fortuitous message about the purpose of life delivered through a kid’s plastic 8-ball. I’m a fool not to follow it.

Inspiration, itself, is far more important than the source it comes from.

But in this case, the source was pretty damn cool, strutting down elevated runways over the people, flying across the arena in a giant cobra apparatus, speaking monosyllabic truths in between hits.

One by one the pretzels ran out and I had to put myself to bed, comforted by the promise of creating something honest the next day.

Thanks, Taylor.

9 February 2019 | No Comments

Escape Room

I went to an Escape Room the other day, which is essentially placing myself in a Heist Movie – a fantasy come true for me!

Upon going online to give this place 5 stars, I was disheartened by all the bad Yelp reviews: “Too easy, too hard, props need replacing, the layout is stupid, customer service is lacking, dumb storyline, bad location, lame special effects.

C’mon people. These are 2 guys who had a dream and who are pursuing their dream in earnest, with you and your delight in mind. Doesn’t that count for something?

These review sites and comment sections aren’t working. We’re collectively chipping away at our empathy, we’re underscoring the ‘us and them’ scenario, which isn’t good for us nor them. It doesn’t matter which side you think you’re on.

The fix is easy. Instead of delivering an impersonal critique to the masses, always give direct feedback to the maker. That way, the dreamers can improve upon their dreams, instead of having another sleepless night.

Oh, what great things we could create if people built each other up, instead of knocking each other down, if customers viewed themselves as co-architects and readers acted as sleuthing sidekicks committed to solving the same mystery as their oh-so-generous writer.

So many doors to discover, so many riddles to reveal, yet we choose to keep standing in the dark, back to back, taking turns criticizing the room we’re trapped in.

8 February 2019 | No Comments

People and Organizations

Comedian George Carlin said, “I love individuals. I hate groups of people.”

Hate is a strong word, George, but I get the sentiment.

The things individuals value most about each other – Compassion. Empathy, Accountability, Love, Vulnerability, Acceptance – ironically, tend to get lost in organized groups. Even if they’re written into the mission statement or posted on the wall in the break room, it’s hard to maintain these values once a group grows and commits.

Why?

The collective goal becomes more important than the individual ones. We begin to get rewarded for moving the organization forward – whatever we agree that means. As an organization expands, our responsibilities get greater, so we have to prioritize and we begin to internalize the notion that we don’t get as many points for making our colleagues feel loved as we do for making the group experience progress.

This is when the ‘difficult conversations’ begin to happen, how alliances form, and where politics bloom.

Love and all its derivatives take a back seat, even though the organization was originally planted in its soil.

It’s an inevitable paradox of nature, like the wind and the waves breaking down rocks to make a beach. Although no new matter is created and no one is to blame, something is lost and something is gained.

7 February 2019 | No Comments

Weekday Drinking

I’ve always loved drinking, so it was hard to give up my scotch on the rocks in the evening. No more beer with dinner. Now, it’s tea with honey and water water water. As the decades go by and death’s become more like a relative than a cartoon character, I’ve come to treasure consciousness more than anything else in the world, even more than a good buzz or a long, luscious nap.

The older we get, the sharper our senses in finding and living in these moments of consciousness. I see my dad living in them almost minute to minute, savoring each bite of dinner, looking at my daughter plugged into her iPhone, blinking less and holding gazes longer, saying things like “Here we are,” with a big silly smile on his face. I’m understanding it more and more each day. That kind of wisdom isn’t in the books. It’s an ancient elixir you’ll only find deep in the mountains, on the other side of the ocean, across a large expanse of desert.

It’s the gift of aging: an ever-deepening and well-earned appreciation for life, the unlocking of an alchemy that allows you to squeeze juice from the smallest of fruits, to rest comfortably and consciously in tiny units of time.

Here we are.

6 February 2019 | Comments Off on Weekday Drinking

Wearing Ties to Work

I work alone. That is, I have a talented team of editors and administrative staff but they work remotely which means it’s just me sitting here, at this desk, in this office.

I can wear boxer shorts, go barefoot, even have a little scotch on Friday afternoon while I tackle technical issues. No one’s watching. Carte blanche, baby!

So why do I sometimes wear a tie to work?

It’s not what you think…

It started with my daughter. She saw a tie in my closet so I threw it on to show her how it works. Then, I forgot to take it off and all of a sudden… I’m wearing a tie at work.

It’s not so bad. There are benefits.

Ties are great to fidget with while talking with clients and they get me respect points at lunch hour. But the best thing about ties as far as I’m concerned is back at the office, that moment after coming out of the work trance, when my eyes adjust from staring at the screen and I start to see what’s around me and I begin to remember I’m sitting in a little room in Oakland that no one knows about working on a resume that will be completely unnecessary in 6 months… It’s at that moment that I look down and see my tie flat on my chest, perfect and ridiculous, impressing the hell out of absolutely no one.

It never fails me. No matter what came before, I laugh every time.

5 February 2019 | No Comments

The Great Partisan Divide

One thing we can learn from The Great Partisan Divide is that we are all easily manipulated. But the puppeteers, we must realize, are not the media, rather our own emotions.

It’s gotten to the point that when we see a new headline or image, we try to figure out the perspective of the writer first and foremost, instead of focusing on what’s being written. We value the lens over the specimen.

This is why we often consume content from the same source: because we eliminate the need to deconstruct the angle. We already know the angle, and agree with the angle, so we can focus on that scrumptious absorption of the familiar.

Ironically, as we gobble up information, we’re not necessarily opening our minds, but instead closing them in, wrapping our sculls with another hardening layer of the same plaster so our sacred facts remain intact, no pieces lost, our map to our tried and true values always safe and never challenged.

It feels good to know we’re right, so good, indeed, that the feeling becomes more important than our own growth.

4 February 2019 | No Comments

Pedicures for the People

My wife’s favorite story about me, the one where she can’t help but laugh as she tells the punchline, is that day I was getting a pedicure in the salon. In noticing all the empty chairs around me, I innocently asked my esthetician:

“Why is it so dead in here?

To which she replied, “It’s Superbowl Sunday.” And then went back to my cuticles.

“Oh.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like watching sports, including football. In spite of the evidence revealed in Molly’s favorite story, I rarely miss a Superbowl. It’s practically a holiday in the states. We all have our reasons for watching: rooting for our favorite team, rooting against the Patriots, drinking beer, eating nachos, celebrating the best teams (or advertisements) of the year…

My reason for watching and attending is the same reason I paint my toenails, the same reason I became a recruiter, a career counselor, a dad, and an activist (in that order). The reason I get up at 5 am and write my thoughts down and then send them away in a bottle.

It’s for the PEOPLE, man.

The nacho dippers and beer drinkers, the jersey wearers, and play-by-players, the ad-watchers and the TV haters… I love ’em all. Every chance I get. Every interaction I have.

Superbowls, like protests and pedicures, get me pumped. But when I cheer, it’s not only for the athletes and advertisers; it’s for fans and the people on the same side of the screen as me.

3 February 2019 | No Comments

The Stories of Our Lives

Novelists get to choose their plot points, to weave efficient storylines without excess. At least that’s how it appears…

In reality, novelists know writing is mostly a reductive process: rounds and rounds of trimming out everything unnecessary. It’s these strategic cuts that put wonder and feeling into a story, that determine how wild the ride is for the characters and the reader. A nip here and a tuck there can change the color of a sunset and the depth of a dimple.

We are much the same, editing our stories as we remember them, inevitably turning history into fiction at the dinner table and in our diaries, simply by what we omit and include.

The mistake we make is that we refer to these edited, incomplete passages as truth rather than fiction. Holding tight to our beloved narratives, we no longer see the crumpled-up drafts at our feet, tattooed with redlines and cross-outs, rich with discarded endings.

These scraps and scrawlings can save you!

When your story is no longer working, bend down and flatten out one of those forgotten pages. If you look hard enough you will see through your cross-outs to the words underneath, words that become landmarks forming paragraphs plump with plot points, showing you things that really happened, offering a new angle and a new ending. What was of no use to you before may be just what you need right now.

Bring it back in.

Be comforted by the infallible notion that, just like a Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist, you always produce more than you publish. And you own all the rights.

2 February 2019 | No Comments

What The Future Can Do

Recognize the power of visualization.

It’s not just a woo-woo thing. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s out there and what’s inside, and with enough blasts of the same image, your brain will actually change, physically, which means your perspective will change. You’ll see your problems in a different light and you’ll notice nascent, curled-up possibilities hiding in the shadows.

But there’s a catch. The key is not to visualize the SOLUTION. The SOLUTION, by definition, is wrapped inextricably with the PROBLEM, and whatever you do, you don’t want to focus on the PROBLEM. You already know where that leads.

The key is to visualize the IMPACT of the SOLUTION. IMPACT is further down the road and around the corner from the PROBLEM. IMPACT is the spinning girl in the tutu. It is the discotheque, thumping and glowing in rhythm.

If you want to finish that painting you’ve been stuck on, don’t picture yourself painting; see yourself sipping tea and watching people contemplate your message. Hear their thoughts, experience the emotions of living in that future.

If you’re building a product, don’t imagine the amazing features that will blow people away. Instead, look for the faces of the people who are improving their lives because of what you created. You know they’re out there!

The metaphysical, woo-woo part of all this is that, with a forced shift in focus in submission to sleight-of-hand street magic, your problem(s) will begin to fade.

The hardest part for us is to allow our brains and our hearts to realize that the past doesn’t have a monopoly on our well-being. The future shapes the present just the same.

1 February 2019 | No Comments

The Kindness of Strangers

I love the kindness of strangers. I seek it out, as an observer and a participant. It’s my religion: when the security guard calls me “boss,” the headlight flicker from the car behind me, the man who gave up his seat so I could be next to my daughter, the free cookie at the toy store, an unexpected graffiti affirmation above the urinal.

Isn’t love at it’s greatest when the giver gets nothing in return? And how many great things in the world do we have in such abundance, that will really truly never run out?

There are churches in the streets. Mass is in session. Miracles and magic are among us, we the creators and the gifted.

31 January 2019 | No Comments