Follow Your Heart, Follow Your Passion to Happiness

Today is special day for me as is every July 31st.  It’s a day that on two occasions changed my life.  I share a story that I wrote a few years ago that I hope gives you inspiration to pursue your passions and happiness.   Sometimes life’s great treasures are unplanned and it’s up to you to seize the moment.  As the ultimate “planner” this was an experience where it was my heart and gut that led me to pursue my passion.  It was not a career passion but someone who fuels my happiness each and every day.

The Day That Changed My Life

It was July 31, 1991 and as I got on a plane from San Francisco to Dallas I had no idea that this would be the day that changed my life forever. This would be the story that I told everyone or no one at all. Victory or defeat at the most personal level. Luckily this became “our story” and I share this with you and the life lessons from that day.

Early in July 1991 I accepted a job with Chevron in San Francisco after a 14 month assignment at Chevron in Baton Rouge, LA. It was the telephone call that would change my life when Dave, a Chevron colleague, asked me to come back to Baton Rouge given some problems that the plant was experiencing with an automation system we had recently commissioned. It was flight #462 that landed at DFW in the early afternoon of July 31st 1991. As I waited in the crowded gate area for the trip to BTR, I found myself standing next to a beautiful young woman. She was stunning and dressed to a tee in typical Southern style. As we stood there a man approached and asked us a question about someone who may have gone into the women’s bathroom. We looked at each other and made a short comment to the gentleman. We engaged in short conversation while in the gate area and I was mesmerized by her smile and beautiful blue eyes. As I looked at her, I said to myself “how old do you think she is” ? She did look young and I thought about how commonplace it was for 15 or 16-year-old girls in Baton Rouge to look at least 21.

On flight #909 to Baton Rouge I walked down to her row and talked for a little while as well. We arrived in small Baton Rouge airport and I proceeded to the Hertz counter to get my car. It appeared that her Mom was here to pick her up as they waited by the baggage claim area. I needed to kill a little time waiting for the bags to arrive so I used the phone to check my messages. While on the phone our eyes met across the baggage claim area as she waved to me. What do I do now I thought? Do I go over there with her mom? So here it goes. I walk over to the baggage claim area and we started talking again. This young woman mentioned that she was here for the week to visit her family. I am thinking she is here, I am here what about getting together? The thought did cross my mind but I could feel her mom in close proximity behind me as she and others listened to our conversation. In the end I did not have the heart to go down in flames in front of the audience. So after my luggage had arrived, we shared goodbyes and I proceeded to leave the airport terminal. As the sliding glass doors opened the hot humid air hit me and I felt a sudden sensation that I regretted leaving her. As I proceeded to drive to my hotel I was kicking myself for not asking her for her number or if she wanted to get together during the week. This feeling would propel me to explore my ultimate creativity.

How Do I Find This Woman?

As I arrived at the hotel that night I remember thinking that I need to see her again. I could not stop thinking about her. The following evening after work I decided to kick-start my mission. I did have one piece of information that would prove to be invaluable. During our chat in Dallas I observed her name printed on her ticket.  Just call information and I am home free.  I had never heard of the name “Morvant” so how common could it be?  As the operator answered and asked for the last name I stated “Morvant”. This is going to be great I thought. The operator stated, “first name”? I said, “well how many Morvant’s are there in Lafayette? She said “about 50”. That plan came crashing down in hurry. Time for plan B which would turn out to be one of my greatest feats of all time.

As I sat at the desk in my room, I looked over and saw the Delta system timetable book. What I did know was her name, and that she was staying a week which I calculated out to be one day after I was to depart back to San Francisco. I called Delta reservations and asked if they could confirm her was on a particular flight. They declined to provide this information. So I used my trusty timetable and looked at all of the flights going through DFW with connections to Denver and San Francisco. I figured she wanted to maximize her time at home so I picked the last flight of the day. It was just a guess. I called Delta reservations back and requested assistance to change my flight. I asked the ticket agent to change my flight to the following day and the last flight of the day. The Delta agent asked “is there anything else I can do for you?” I replied, “Yes, there is I have a friend on that flight and I was wondering if you could sit us together”. At this point, I had no idea if she was really on this flight but I just gave it a try. I gave the Delta agent her name and she replied “oh yes, I see her”. I had just hit the jackpot. The Delta agent stated “You are sitting in first class and she is sitting in coach do you want to upgrade her”? I declined as I did not want to go overboard here and scare this woman who I didn’t really know if she was at least 18 years old or anything else about her.

Airport Connection

As the week ends the final day arrives. I could barely contain my laughter as I sat behind a Wall Street Journal waiting for her to exit the escalator in the gate area. There she was. She was with her mom again as they entered one of the small shops in the 6 gate airport. What am I going to say to this woman? Finally she and her mom exit the shop and they are walking directly toward me. I put my paper down and she looks at me with astonishment as exclaims, “what are you doing here”. I asked her and her mom to sit down and talk. As the flight begins to board, I head on as she said her goodbyes to her mother. We arrive in DFW and this time I am not going to lose the opportunity to exchange information. We walked through the terminal together towards our connecting flights and I gave her my contact information.  At this point I did not know really anything about her. We conversed by phone over the next few months and then one day I decided to call her to wish her a happy birthday. A guy answers the phone. Stake through the heart. The call is short and it appears this great story is about to end here.

International Connection

A few months passed and in early February 1992 I headed off to live in Perth, Australia on assignment with Chevron. I often thought about her and assumed that she found someone else. One afternoon I was relaxing in the large green lawn areas of downtown Perth next to the river and opened the package of personal mail that I would receive every week from San Francisco. It was a card and beautiful picture of this long-lost girl. Wow this story is not over. Coincidently I had also sent her a postcard from Perth that she would never get.

Baton Rouge Re-Connection

My assignment ended in late April as I traveled back to the US for a commitment I made to support work that needed to be done during a plant shutdown in Baton Rouge. I was in my San Francisco office for a few days when the phone rang. It was her. I was surprised to hear from her and we caught up on life over the past six months. Ironically in the previous weeks she had returned to live in Lafayette. I said “you are not going to believe this but I am heading down to Baton Rouge in a few days, let’s get together”. It was a date for two strangers that met about 9 months earlier.

I traveled to Baton Rouge and date night arrived. She was nervous but it was a great night. A few days later I was invited for dinner with her family. The family would now meet that mystery guy from the airport. I still remember that evening where I was on display and answering questions. We dated one night for putt-putt golf with my matchmaker friend Dave prior to my two-week stay ending. I agreed to travel back down to Louisiana for the long July 4th holiday.  I would now be staying with a woman who I had a few dates with.

We spent the July 4th holiday in New Orleans and attended a family party. After a few days I knew this was the one. I traveled back to San Francisco and we spoke often for a few weeks. We even spoke about marriage. Yes over the phone. I returned to New Orleans in early August and that evening we greeted by exchanging our commitment to each other. I gave my future wife a roll of cherry lifesavers and she gave me a roll of butter rum. Just like the commercial where a little boy asks a girl to marry him using a lifesaver for the ring. We still have these lifesavers today. I had just made the biggest decision in my life to marry a woman I had spent less than two weeks with. This was not typical for someone who was schooled to analyze and dissect all of the views before making a decision. A few weeks later I returned to New Orleans and over lunch in the French Quarter I asked her father for permission to marry his daughter. What a great day.  Exactly two years later on the day we met, July 31, 1993, we married in Lafayette, LA.

Life Lessons

I love telling this story and the life lessons from this experience:

  1. Never say “I wonder what would have happened if….” I have always been one to go for it as I never wanted to be in a position questioning myself later in life of what may have been. Take a chance, at least you will know the outcome and never second guess yourself.
  2. Follow your gut and your heart There will be many occasions where you will not have all of the answers or even time to analyze the situation. Trust your gut and let your heart lead you to achieve new heights.
  3. Reward is not possible without taking risk – while this is obvious, sometimes it’s easier said than done. Take a chance and sometimes you will get a reward you did not quite expect.
  4. Be aware of the environment around you – I always tell my kids to be aware of your surroundings. It was something as basic as seeing and remembering a name on an airplane ticket that changed my life.
  5. Don’t act on assumptions – When I called my future wife in October 1991 for her birthday, I had assumed that she was living with a guy and had just moved on. Little did I know this was not the case. Don’t always assume you know everything and act upon assumptions that may be devastating.
  6. Ask the right questions to get the answers you need – I knew the airline would not tell me if a person was on a specific flight so I asked the right questions to eventually get the answers I needed. Be smart and sometimes you will get all the answers you need without actually ever asking the direct question!
  7. Be brave enough to be vulnerable – It turned out that I was not brave enough to ask someone out for fear of going down in flames in front of a number of people. Sometimes being vulnerable let’s others truly know who you are and what you want. Take a chance.
  8. Work the system – My family knows this is one of my favorite statements: “you need to work the system!” The system to me is just life and the need to be resourceful to make things happen and overcome challenges you experience in all aspects of your life. Overcome what others can’t.
  9. Tell your story to inspire othersWe all have life stories that are special and can act as special motivators for others. Tell your story.
  10. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it – This is my personal motto as it inspires a sense of creativity and aspiration in everything I do. The only thing that limits the future is our mind and will.

As we look into the distance after 19 years of marriage the future could not be any brighter for us and our five kids. I know that some of the best days of our life are still ahead. Sometimes even though we try to plan every aspect of our life there can be a day that can truly change it forever. For us that day was July 31, 1991 and July 31, 1993.

Destiny is not a silver bullet for success as it takes commitment to work through life’s challenges and enrich your marriage every day.  I am not quite sure where I would be right now if I did not pursue what I felt in my heart that day.  I do know I would have missed out in life’s greatest treasure and the happiest 21 years of my life.

We are all in – forever. Happy Anniversary sweetheart.

What Are You Selling To Who and Why?

James GrayChoosing where and how to compete is the essence of competitive strategy for any business.  These same decisions are required for your personal career strategy and yet many people do not take a market-driven approach to decide where to apply their assets.  This is probably the most important strategy decision you make that will impact your degree of career success and fulfillment.  How quickly can you communicate what you are selling to who and why?

Target With A Personal Value Proposition

The key to career targeting is crafting a compelling personal value proposition that delivers a promise to a customer with an unmet need.  You can listen to my short webcast below that provides an over of the Target process and how to build a personal value proposition.  You can also refer to the list of Target references that provide additional tools to assist with market segmentation and personal value proposition development.

Best of luck creating a compelling and exciting personal value proposition that only you can deliver!

Tell Your Career Strategy Story

Career Strategy FrameworkOver the years as a manager at Microsoft I have always told my team members that I could not support their career unless I knew their story.   While we all know that we need other people to help us achieve success most people have a hard time telling their story.  These are often the people who see others achieving success and growing in their careers.    They see transitions and wonder if management is looking after them.  What they don’t understand is that those people likely have a story that they have been executing against and sharing with others who can help the dream become reality. We have all heard the stories where someone rose to stardom while being at the right place at the right time with a compelling personal capability.  My experience is these are more the rare than the norm and the ability to tell your career story is needed more than ever in a world of hyper competition and real-time information.

Career Storytelling is an Untapped Potential

Within Microsoft I am often referred by fellow colleagues to people who are at a career crossroads and looking for assistance to craft their career strategy.  I don’t pretend to have any silver bullets given that designing a career strategy is personal and takes a lot of thoughtful time.  A few years ago I had a person visit my office looking for the simple answers.  We did not know each other and after I went through my spiel I recommended that he come back in about a month to “practice” telling his career strategy story.  Not surprising he never returned.   After years of observation I am not quite sure whether people just do not take the time to define their career strategy or they don’t know how to do it.  I am sure it’s a combination of both.  I then think about it from a company perspective and what could be more important than aligning business need for talent with the passions of employees?  The one thing I am convinced of is there is a remarkable untapped opportunity for businesses and employees to improve how career management is practiced that will result in competitive advantage for both.  Otherwise there is lost opportunity – the one life we lived could have been greater and more fulfilling.

Let’s be clear – employees need to be able to tell their story and drive broad awareness to what they have achieved, what they want and where they are going.  Again while this is quite obvious I think about the situations where I have been in talent management sessions with others managers and the instances when we could recall very little about a particular person let alone where they were going with their career.  I recommend never to be one of those people.

I am not willing to invest my valuable time with people who do not take managing career success seriously.  A year ago I was interviewing candidates for a position with my team and I met a young man over a video call. Within 15 minutes he told me his career strategy story and why this job aligned with that strategy.  He was the first person I interviewed and I was sold on the spot.  My management recommended that I evaluate many other candidates but nobody even came close.  I invested relocation funds and waited an additional four months for this person to join my team from half-way around the world.  This opportunity changed his life forever and he has been extremely successful in this new role.  I reflected on the other people who came  into my office with a typical resume’ and I would find myself trying to figure out why they were here.

“Those who can quickly tell their compelling story get the opportunity – no different from anything else in life.”

career strategy framework

Steps to Successful Career Strategy Storytelling

The steps below are in essence what the Career Strategy Framework processes are all about – creating, managing and executing a career strategy.  I encourage you to review the Career Strategy Framework overview including a reference deck. I typically tell my career strategy story with a short set of PowerPoint slides that align with the topics in the picture above.

Step One: Know What’s Important, Who You Are and Who You Want to Become – career strategy cannot start until you know what is important, gain a deep understanding of who you are as a person and define an inspiring future state of who you want to become.  These are questions that are answered within the “Know” process and I encourage you to refer to the deck and references in the Know overview.  I highly recommend two books that I recently read that will inspire you to reflect and help you answer many of life’s most important questions – How Will You Measure Your Life? and One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do.

Step Two: Define Your Personal Value Proposition – what are you selling to who and why is it so special? Summarize a value proposition that is inspiring but yet believable.  Refer to the Target overview for more information.

Step Three: Define Your Career Roadmap – summarize your current career goals (“Now”) and the potential pathways in front of you to learn and deepen the set of competencies that you will need to excel in your target market and deliver on your value proposition.  This deliverable will help you describe what you want to achieve in the short-term and explore “what’s next” during career discussions.

Step Four:  Define Your Development Plan – summarize the learning experiences that are required for your current role as well as the competencies that will be required for what’s next.  Your development plan should include both on-the-job learning experiences and knowledge you can gain by formal training.  It’s essential that you identify the stakeholders who will serve as mentors and sponsors to learn from and support your development plan.

Step Five: Summarize Market Evidence and Marketing Plan – we all like to know what we are buying so summarize the market evidence that gives your current value proposition and past accomplishments credibility.  It’s also helpful to summarize the channels you will be using to drive more awareness to your brand and value proposition.

Step Six: Practice, Practice, Practice – the key to selling your career strategy is exhibiting the confidence and passion when you tell your story to managers, sponsors and stakeholders.  The only way you will gain this confidence is to practice, practice and practice.  I tell people there is always time in a typical day to sell and influence – you just need to have your story ready.

Be Ready To Tell Your Story

This past week was very interesting and exciting for me at Microsoft.   All within a few days I had a new manager as result of a transformation and someone who I have never met knock on my door for a new opportunity within the company.  In both cases I was able to share my career strategy deck to quickly bring them up to speed on who I am, what I aspire to achieve and where I am going.   My new manager and I reviewed the deck during a 1:1 and this gave him an opportunity to learn more about me and I was able to share my passions.  As for the prospective hiring manager I was able to pinpoint the role on my career roadmap and the fact that it was a potential match for us both.   Time will tell what comes from these adventures but one thing is for sure – don’t be caught off guard not being able to tell your story when the environment quickly changes for either the good or bad.

Earlier this year during a conversation with a leader I told him that career management was one of my passions and I thought we could take it to a higher level at Microsoft.  A few weeks later he asked me to record a video on this topic and host a discussion with the broader organization.  Since then I have been even more energized by sharing this framework more broadly and leading monthly roundtables to help follow colleagues learn more about themselves and how they can align their passions with Microsoft’s business need.  A few months ago I won a thought leadership award and it was the extra motivation that I needed to create this website.   I am leading a movement to change lives and it’s the stories that always keep me coming back for more.

Everybody loves a good story – what is yours?

Start Your Career Strategy With “Know”

Architecting a career strategy can be overwhelming and knowing where to start is often a challenge.   The Career Strategy Framework “Know” process is generally where I recommend people start.  It forms the foundation for setting strategy by defining what is important, the attributes that describe you and your brand promise.  The output of the Know process use is used to define a target market and value proposition as described in the diagram below.

career strategy framework

The Know process attempts to answer the following questions:

  • What is important?
  • Who are you?
  • What is your life purpose?
  • What roles do you play in life?
  • What is happiness?
  • What identity are you positioning?
  • What is your brand promise?

The process challenges you to “Know” what’s important, who you are, and want to become.  There are three primary deliverables from the Know process including a definition of what is important, a personal profile and branding position. I recommend this part of the process be one of deep reflection outside of your normal day-to-day environment and routine. The deliverables from this process are foundational for the market analysis and targeting activities in the “Target” process. The definition of “what’s important” will also be used to allocate time, talent and treasure when you execute your career strategy.

I am leading a career strategy workshop within Microsoft and we are using the concepts from the book Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It to help colleagues clarify what brings them energy and who they want to become.  I highly recommend this book and the ongoing process to “measure” the Mojo to shape your career strategy.  Members of my workshop and colleagues who have applied this framework in the past confirm that the “Know” process is not easy but highly valuable to career strategy development.  It takes time and an iterative approach to feel “comfortable” with the your profile and an identity and brand that you want to position.  Share you draft with important people in your life for honest feedback and validation.

This presentation provides a deeper overview of the Know process including examples that may help you craft your definition of what is important, your profile and brand identity.  Today I held a roundtable discussion on the Know process and I was amazed by the creativity of my colleagues as they shared their content.  One learning for me was the recognition that introverts and extroverts have different ways of expressing their profile.  There are also cultural factors that influence how people define their profile and to what extend it is shared.

Take control of your career strategy and life by defining what is important, describing who you are and who you want to become.  What could more important to set your direction?