Take the International Women’s Day Mentor Pledge

If you really want to help women have an equal voice in the world, mentor one. Be willing to become one woman’s biggest fan, her strongest advocate and active sponsor.  Invest your valuable knowledge to help her truly succeed.   So today, in honor of International Women’s Day, personally pledge to mentor at least one woman this year.

Are you willing to be a supportive catalyst, and mentor a woman this year?


Yes, women have made significant advances in the past 50 years, but there is so much more women could do.  Because at all levels of leadership – boardroom, school board, court house, state house – women remain underrepresented, and in some cases, absent altogether. Only when women are equally represented in all leadership roles with men, will our local communities and global economy maximize potential.

Why mentor a woman?  When you mentor a woman, you could vastly increase her potential to succeed.  Relationships make the difference.  Authentic mentoring goes much deeper than networking, trouble–shooting, or an occasional lunch.  It’s a relationship built on trust, which makes it possible to provide relevant insights.   Mentoring is more than merely access to someone’s contacts; it is person-to-person involvement  and investment in another person’s life.

A good mentor is a smart friend, one who is committed to helping a woman learn faster, take risks, and avoid mistakes — someone who is willing to share their experience, insights, and passion.  Just take what you already know and accelerate her growth. It’s that simple.

Whatever you’ve learned — from your success and failures or managing your career and personal life — someone out there can benefit from your know-how.  Be a catalyst for a woman to advance her career, take on a leadership role, run for office, or lead a better life.  Help her work through a business plan or career options, help navigate office politics, shore up technical skills, role model a balanced work/personal life, and much more.

Wondering who to mentor?  The opportunities are endless, so choose something you care about:

  • If you’re a change agent, mentor a change agent.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, mentor a start up.
  • If you’re an intrapreneur, find another in your company.
  • If you’re an accountant, mentor an accountant.
  • If you’re a consultant, mentor a new freelancer.
  • If you’re in political office, mentor a woman who wants to enter politics.
  • If you’ve survived a merger, mentor someone who’s in the middle of one.
  • If you’ve changed careers, mentor someone who’s considering doing the same thing.

(Need more proof that women need mentors to make real progress? Check out the links below.)

And let’s totally bust the myth that “women don’t help women!”  I know I’ve been mentoring women since I started my career more than 30 years ago.  Some women help other women, some don’t.  (And some men support women, some don’t.) Whether you have a sister, daughter, wife/partner, cousin, co-worker, or friend, you’re likely to know a woman who could benefit from having a mentor.

Looking for a woman to mentor?  Find one at MentorPlanet.com.  You’ll also find tips to start your mentoring relationship.

Still need inspiration to take the “Mentor a Woman Pledge”?  Check out the leaders and activists from around the globe at the 3rd annual Women in the World Summit  — from Hillary Clinton to Angelina Jolie.  

So today, take the International Women’s Day Mentor Pledge to mentor a woman in 2012 — and become her biggest fan, her source of support and courage.   Imagine how different our world would be if everyone decided to mentor just one woman in 2012.  Working together, we can create a tipping point to build momentum for women’s voices and leadership to reach equal representation.  Be a mentor and support women who are on the move, making a difference around the world.

Links:

On average, a Minnesota woman is shortchanged $11,000 annually or $1 million over the course of her professional career; women with advanced degrees (doctors, lawyers), it’s twice as much (a $2 million loss). Poverty, homelessness, and a lack of affordable quality childcare remain problems that disproportionately affect Minnesota’s female-headed households, women of color, and older women.

McKinsey Research: Changing companies’ minds about women The percentage of women on boards and senior-executive teams remains stuck at around 15 percent in many countries, and just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Women account for roughly 53 % of entry-level professional employees in the largest US industrial corporations, but only 37 % of middle-management positions, 28 percent of vice-president and senior-managerial roles, and 14 percent of seats on executive committees.  And nearly four times as many men as women at large companies make the jump from the executive committee to CEO.

The World Needs Female Entrepreneurs Now More Than Ever


What to Do With an Avalanche of Choices

We like having lots of choices.  Yet with each option, there is always the lurking possibility we’ll make the wrong choice.  And, we hate being wrong.

Which is the absolute right choice?

In her book, Being Wrong, author Kathryn Schultz points out that, “As a culture, we haven’t even mastered the basic skill of saying “I was wrong.” Instead, we justify our choices and actions with false apologies and rationalizations: “I was wrong, but” … or “mistakes were made.”  She explains that, we do it so that we can “distance ourselves from responsibility.” (Schultz references statements by Nixon and Reagan.)  Yet our choices continue to impact our lives.

What’s more, she says, “Our default attitude toward wrongness — our distaste for error and our appetite for being right — tends to be rough on relationships.”  (Here’s her intriguing Pop Tech video.)

Given our distaste for being wrong, what can we do to make better choices? 

What can we do to increase our success and happiness — at work, in our relationships, and maybe even improve the world a bit along the way?  

1.  Limit your choices.  Yes, it seems counter intuitive.  But Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, makes a good case. But it’s not easy to do in a world of seemingly endless choice where you’re faced with literally dozens of toothpaste options or hundreds of dating choices on Match.com. She says, “more choice leads to less satisfaction or happiness.”

Meaningless minutia” bogs us down so that every little difference matters way too much.  We end up constantly second-guessing our decision: “How do I know that there isn’t something better?”  Your enjoyment of this avalanche of choice, Ivengar contends, “will be diminished by your regret over what you had to give up and leaving you less satisfied than you would have been if you had had less choice.”

The perfect is the enemy of the good. — Voltaire

Fearing that you’ll make the wrong choice, your anxiety increases. “We exhaust ourselves in the search,” she warns us.  “Even the most unbiased source can’t promise that a new finding tomorrow won’t reverse recommendations. The more information we seek out, the more confused we become.”  In a study involving 401k investments, “more choice, had, in fact, lead to worse decisions.” Of course, there are times where we really need more choices and do our research, such as weighing job choices or considering surgery. (Check out Iyengar’s TED talk.)

In Acquired Tastes, author Peter Mayle takes you on a journey with the wealthy and their choice dilemma. He says, “I’m not at all sure that they enjoy themselves as much as we think they do.  And why?  Because, damn it, something is always not quite right.”  He explains, “expectations tend to increase in direct proportion to the amount of money being spent, and if you are spending a fortune, you expect perfection.  Alas, life being the badly organized shambles that it so often is…perfection is rare.  Details that we would consider trivial assume enormous significance: the breakfast egg is inedible because it is marginally under boiled…the list of maddening blots on the landscape just goes on and on.”

Regardless of our financial situation, this search for perfection infects most of us. Not only do we hope to find the perfect job, life partner, or doctor, we expect to find perfect all around us:  the perfect cell phone contract, romantic restaurant, or pair of shoes.

2.  Know who you are.  This sounds ridiculous at first.  It’s not the trivial choices that require you to know yourself; it’s the decisions without any easy answers.  Just think about the decisions you’ve had to make recently — about healthcare, a mortgage, a job change, or a relationship conflict.  All too often we don’t know what we want until a situation arises.  Ivengar says, “we don’t bother to mull over the tough questions until we’re caught between a rock and a hard place, and by that time, we’re in no shape to give the answers most beneficial to us.”  We’re so busy racing around that when the time comes to make a tough choice, we’re usually too overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed. 

Often there isn’t an obvious right or wrong choice. So “it becomes exponentially more difficult” to choose.  Paradoxically, she says, asking for more options proves that we don’t really know what we want.

For important decisions, Ivengar recommends that we do some honest soul searching — and be open to thinking and acting differently.  But that takes time and reflection.  Most of us aren’t willing to do that.  Then we only have time to react, and fall back into our “I was wrong, but” excuse.  While keeping the status quo seems easier, it’s unlikely to improve our choices — or our happiness. Habits acquired over the years don’t change easily. It is hard work! If we are truly interested into thinking better and improving our decisions, it’s worth it.

3.  Get your automatic brain under control. Ivengar reminds us that, “even when you know what you ought to be doing, what you would prefer in the long run, you can find yourself distracted and dazed by options that set off the automatic system.”  So you over-indulge at the dessert counter, or worse, sabotage a relationship and end up paying the price for a bad decision for years.

Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, refers to the automatic brain as “the elephant.”  It’s enormously helpful because it effortlessly, subconsciously, operates our bodily functions and more.  But for many key decisions, you need more — logic and reason — or what he calls “the monkey” brain.  Your logical brain is “completely absorbed in looking out for problems and opportunities.”

Unless you make an effort to control the elephant brain, your automatic thinking will kick in about 95% of the time according to Gerald Zaltman.  The elephant brain can get you into trouble — reacting instinctively to pleasure (over-indulgence) and danger (anger). Oscar Wilde said, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”   Imagine how much happier and successful you’d be if you could just engage your logic and reason a bit more often.

4. Learn to be an expert in the process of choosing. It sounds complicated, but it is easier than you might think. Ivengar recommends borrowing the knowledge of others because they can help you develop insights and expertise more rapidly than if you attempt it on your own.  Find a mentor to help you test your thinking.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust your judgment — but rather test your judgment where you know it needs improvement.

Ivengar says you need to “find reasons not to choose what you’re immediately drawn to. Have a heavy dose of skepticism about your own thinking.”  Work with your mentor to probe into how and why you make choices. Start by paying attention to your decisions (which is easier said than done!). Brainstorm about ways to reduce your reaction mode.

Having an outside expert doesn’t solve the problem of your having to choose, she warns. “Given how many ways one can go wrong when choosing, it’s tempting to pass off a choice I’m supposed to make as an opportunity for another person to express an opinion.  This way, I don’t have to take responsibility for the choice, and the person I ask often enjoys giving advice.  Your mentor can’t make decisions for you — or make perfect recommendations.  They can probe deeper, recommend alternatives, and share decision-making successes and failures.  Over time you “can learn to simplify, prioritize, and recognize patterns.”

Don’t start with your most complicated choices.  Instead, begin with something easier so you’re willing to take risks and it will be easier to see progress.  Simplify your decisions and decision process. Invengar and others recommend limiting your choices to 3 — or groups of 3s. (McKinsey consultants apparently use this with their clients.) In a New York Times article, Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, says, “When looking for a new camera, limit yourself to 3 Web sites.”  (That makes sense, unless you’re a photographer.) Or if you’re wrestling with something bigger, such as a career change, break down the decisions into groups of 3s.  Instead of thinking of all the possibilities at once, consider categorizing them into types of organizations:  nonprofits, government, or social enterprise.  Then repeat the process of creating job categories.

No one can make the right choice all the time.  But you can stop wasting time on meaningless minutia.  Instead, invest your thinking time in decisions where you feel that you’re making progress in your life.  Leverage them to your best interest — and best self.  Feel more in control and less on automatic pilot.  Get there faster with a supportive mentor who can accelerate your ability to learn and grow.

Why You Should Radically Raise the Bar

If you’re truly motivated to improve your life, incremental change won’t get you there — not fast enough. What we need is inspiration — something that sparks action, risk taking, and commitment. Often we have some vague notion of what we want in life, but we don’t allow ourselves to dream — let alone dream big.

What's your seemingly impossible dream? What will inspire you to radically raise the bar?

If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success. — James Cameron

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it.” — Michelangelo

And then we don’t raise the bar again.

Naturally if you’re living your passion, perhaps your biggest challenge is making it happen.  If you’re reading this, it is more likely that you’re not quite there. Maybe you haven’t given up, but you aren’t fully committed either. Raising the bar isn’t about pushing you to burnout. It’s about encouraging you to become more authentic — to fully apply your strengths to what matters to you.

Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die today. — James Dean

What’s stopping you? Thought leader Edward de Bono warns us about complacency:

1. Cozy complacency: You convince yourself that life is adequate as it is. This isn’t about endless second-guessing your life choices or wondering if your life is keeping up with the Joneses. Get out of your comfort zone but avoid rushing to a decision.  Overcome this urge with thoughtful analysis so you avoid looking back at this point in time — wishing you made better choices.

2. Lack-of-vision complacencyYou box yourself into your current situation. You can’t envision living any differently.  You see limitations: family role, financial situation, social class, career or age group.  It’s hard to imagine anything different.  You lack support or the courage to rock the boat. You shut yourself down well before the idea even leaves your head.  Allow time to fantasize; look for stories of lives or lifestyles that appeal to you.  Engage others in brainstorming too, so you’ll explore options you’d normally never consider.

3. Arrogant complacencyYou stubbornly cling to your opinions. This is a difficult one, which requires the toughest examination. Often we rationalize how we’re getting by with too little or we convince ourselves that we’re living the good life.  Only we don’t pay attention to the cracks.  We’re too busy selling our lives to ourselves. Pay close attention to your intuition and early warning signs: a nagging health issue, a quiet whisper that you’d rather get out of what you’re doing, or the years are ticking by.

These examples are overly simplified, yet perilously real. The mind is exceptional at rationalizing our behavior. In the words of Sigmund Freud: to be completely honest with oneself is the very best effort a human being can make.  Remember it’s your life you’re talking about.  Dare to think about what is really important. Live a life worth living — your own view of what that is, that is what matters most.

How do you overcome complacency? What you need is an idea so compelling, so inspiring that it will ignite you out of your comfort zone and into a better future.

Raise the bar by setting your own “big, hairy, audacious goal,” a term coined by business guru Jim Collins, in his book Built to Last.  According to Tom Peters, that isn’t quite enough.  You need a goal that is both clear and compelling.  Some business concepts don’t translate easily into our personal lives, but this idea of setting a big, hairy, audacious goal for yourself — one that you can actually visualize — is certainly worthy of consideration.

A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions. — Anonymous

President Kennedy inspired Americans to care and believe about space travel — in 1961!   He did it with a clear, concise, seemingly unrealistic challenge — to be the first country to land on the moon.  He said, I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

On a personal level, setting the bar that extreme might seem too grandiose or ridiculous. We muse about an idea, but we don’t make the commitment and set an urgent goal or marshal our resources to insure their fulfillment. 

These all started as a dream, but someone decided to make a commitment:

Mark Twain said it well: A man with a new idea is a crank — until he succeeds.

Anything that really inspires you is likely to be complicated.  So get comfortable making mistakes. Raising the bar not only requires rapid learning but getting comfortable making mistakes. We live in a world that seems to demand flawless perfection every time — a harsh critic of failure.  Coming in second is equivalent to “losing.”

We need to take Samuel Beckett’s advice:  Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

And of course, try again.

Naturally that’s easier said than done. As humans we have a built-in negativity bias! We are hard wired to pay much more attention to problems — dramatically more attention. Thanks to evolution, I guess it makes sense.  To stay alive we simply had to learn to adapt quickly to threats — it meant life or death.  According to author Jonathan Haidt, psychologists consistently find that the human mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly, and persistently than to equivalent good things. Positives just don’t carry the same weight. I didn’t want to believe this, but here is just one example, called marriage math by Psychology Today.  After just one negative experience with your spouse it takes at least five positive experiences to patch things up.

So manage your negativity bias and keep a close watch out for motivation killers. Dean Rieck’s blog, 8 Bad Habits that Crush Your Creativity and Stifle Your Success, has practical ideas to overcome your inner critic.  (Although written for the marketing world, Rieck’s ideas are universal.)

Still not convinced to radically raise the bar for yourself?  Take a look at Divine Caroline’s blog:  Ten Lies You’ll Hear Before Pursuing Your Dream. As she says, working hard on your dream will be very hard work, but at least you’ll be devoting your time, creativity, and energy on something that truly matters to you.  That’s positive in itself!  Here’s hoping you find inspiration to dream and do something that you wouldn’t dream of doing…without!

Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare. — Japanese Proverb


Going It Alone? Think Twice.

Guest Blog by John Schuerman

Want happiness or expert-level success or both?  The research shows that going it alone is not likely to get you there.

The American psyche is profoundly informed by mythologies of individual heroism — which unfortunately do not map to reality.

There is a great conflict between the mythical hero of Hollywood that rises against all odds and the real road to success. Our individual heroes simply don’t get to be heroic or expert without the guidance and support of caring teachers. The Harvard Business Review featured an article, The Making of an Expert, which reported that in almost every case the practicing of the expert was supervised by a personal teacher/mentor. Expert level success required personal guidance from a caring and qualified teacher.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, is a research-based and systematic dismantling of the notion that heroes rise simply on their own ingenuity. “People don’t rise from nothing… The people that stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allowed them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.”

And this conflict of myth and reality has a darker side still.

Above all, we are taught to be our own person. Our consumer culture, fueled by marketing, creates choices and hunger for evermore choice and personal control. The myth of the free market is that the individual is the center of the universe. According to Martin Seligman, renowned research psychologist at the Positive Psychology Center in Pennsylvania, “The society we live in exalts the self.” He links this “waxing of the self and the waning of the commons (higher purpose)” with the dramatic rise in depression over the last 60 years.

If we are suffering from our own self-absorbedness what is the antidote? Meaningful attachments to other individuals and to purposes larger than self seem like plausible answers. The research on happiness and life expectancy find that, above all, friends and family relationships matter (and “cholesterol doesn’t,” from the famous Harvard Study of Adult Development longitudinal study, begun in 1937).

Partners, by John Shuerman

Work, and in particular progress in work, also positively affect our experience of “a good life.” When it comes to progress in work, both the HBR study and the Malcolm Gladwell book state absolutely that there is no substitute for hard work. Without long hours — you simply won’t get there, but for true expertise, long hours won’t be enough. A caring teacher is essential to have in the equation.

My colleague Beth Parkhill, Founder of Mentor Planet, says that a mentor is a smart friend. It now strikes me how sharp that definition is, answering both the relationship and learning aspects of “a good life.”

If you are like me and have “gone it alone” more than was best, perhaps there is still time to think twice.

John Schuerman, artist and consultant

I’d Love to Change the World, But I Don’t Know What to Do

Cynicism and ambivalence are fueled as easily today as they were in the early ‘70s when the rock band Ten Years After wrote those lyrics. Forty years later, our endless media blitz spews out a dizzying array of global problems — yet another war, billions living in poverty, millions displaced by earthquakes, devastation from climate change — you name it.   Add that to what’s happening in your own neighborhood — high unemployment, gang violence, political corruption — and any effort to change the world seems nearly impossible.

And it’s not all bad news. Every day, every aspect of life is being explored. Billions and billions of possibilities exist — understanding how the mind works, extending life past 100, searching for other life in the universe, and more. The world is changing in astoundingly positive ways.  Through the internet, anyone can access all of MIT’s lecture notes, exams, and videos for free.  There have been vast improvements in economic and social development, as Dr. Hans Rosling shows us in his video: “the best stats you’ve ever seen.” Because more people want to make positive change, there are many more nonprofit start-ups. Even the U.S. Government is getting more involved; Obama created a new fund to invest $50 million in promising, results-oriented non-profits.

With all these problems and opportunities, it’s daunting.

Where to start? What can any one person do?

Help one other person. Help them directly, person-to-person. Be a mentor.

Anyone can be a mentor because all you need to do is be your authentic self. It’s as easy as sharing what you already know.  Share your real-world experience, knowledge you’ve acquired in your career, and personal insights you’ve gained at work or in your personal life.  Ask questions. Actively listen. Share your successes and your struggles. No one ever achieved anything without having to tackle roadblocks along the way. Give someone a window into your world, so they can better visualize their own way. You don’t need to be a celebrity, leading expert, or world-renown expert.

While we could argue about what is the most accurate definition of a mentor, in my opinion, a mentor is NOT someone…

  • That offers a few hours of her time over lunch.
  • Answers a chat room question.
  • Who knows “exactly” what someone “should” do.
  • That is selling something — a consultant, a life-coach, or a therapist.

Instead, I think of a mentor as a smart friend — a blend of head and heart. A good mentor cares; someone that is truly invested in another’s success. They are there for the long haul, supporting someone for six months or more.  They help someone sort though options, tackle tough problems — and make meaningful change in their lives.

A good mentor takes time to get to know the person they are mentoring, beyond the veneer. They know it’s essential to build trust in order to present one’s true self. Discussing strengths and successes is far easier than talking about the sensitive areas of inconsistencies and weaknesses. A good mentor offers more than objectivity. They go beyond the quick-fix and get on to the hard work of finding out what might actually help. That’s what it takes before you can ask questions with greater relevance — so you can provide insightful responses.

A mentor is someone that is there for the long-haul, supporting someone for six months or more.  A mentor helps someone sort though options, tackle tough problems, and make meaningful change in their lives.

That’s why I’m launching Mentor Planet.  I believe we all could use a smart friend, someone that cares about us — our struggles and helps with our success.

I believe we all could use a smart friend, someone that cares about us — and helps us lead happier, more authentic lives. Look for MentorPlanet.com, coming soon (before the end of 2010).

Imagine a world where everyone had a mentor.  Imagine how we could change the world.

So this Earth Day, be a changemaker. Start mentoring.

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