Saturday, April 5, 2014

Gap Year

It's official. My 17-year-old son, Daniel, decided to take a gap year because he doesn't think he's ready to attend college in the fall. For the past several weeks, I have gone through a whirlwind of spiraling emotions, and you can see anxiety etched all over my face (in the form of dark pockets under my eyes and prominent pimples that feel like pebbles stuck to my skin). My biggest fear is that Daniel's gap year will stretch into gap years and he may decide not to attend college at all. If his intelligence was below average, I wouldn't be as concerned, but Daniel is a gifted young man who scored over 2100 on the SAT without studying and he has an I.Q. of 123 (the I.Q. of the average college student is 115). Unfortunately, he only has a GPA of 3.4 because he didn't bother to take any AP (Advanced Placement) classes and he didn't take school that seriously.  

Daniel's plan is to take classes and try to find a job during his gap year. He wants to use his gap year to explore possible career paths, earn some money, and visit colleges outside of California. He expressed an interest in graphic design and art so we enrolled him in a Photoshop class that meets on Tuesdays and a drawing class that meets on Fridays. He also said he prefers to find a job rather than an internship because he wants to earn some money. We told him that if he decides to attend a private or out-of-state college, any money he earns must go towards paying for his tuition. If he attends a college in California, half of the money he earns must go towards paying for his tuition. Daniel plans to apply for part-time jobs at Safeway, Whole Foods, Barnes and Noble, CVS, and Office Max. Once he turns 18 at the end of June, he can apply for a job at Big Five Sporting Goods.

When I was in high school, I worked at my father's Chinese restaurant every day after school ended, and used the money I earned to pay for my tuition at Indiana University. I also had several part-time jobs while I was in college to help pay for my college expenses and took out a student loan. My parents are wealthy, but they didn't want to pay for the college education of their daughters. So my sister and I both worked part-time while we were in college and took out student loans. My parents paid for my brother's undergraduate and graduate school education so he didn't have to find a part-time job while he was in college and he didn't have to take out any student loans. 

In addition to taking classes and working, we expect Daniel to perform some volunteer work during his gap year. When he was ten years old, he used to volunteer with me every Sunday morning as a cat socializer at Pets Unlimited in San Francisco because he likes cats, but when he started middle school and was introduced to computer and video games, he decided he no longer wanted to volunteer with me every weekend. However, he has agreed to participate in the San Francisco AIDS Walk with me this year. 

We told Daniel that he will need to come up with a list of colleges he wants to visit during the summer. He told us he wasn't really excited about any of the colleges we visited last year.  He felt that they were too large for him and he's not sure if he wants to attend college in California. He's also worried about whether or not he'll be able to handle the tremendous academic and social demands of college. A friend's son found a college he fell in love with on the East Coast, but I wonder if there is a college out there that would be a good fit for Daniel. 

When I lived in Hawaii, I met a 17-year-old woman whose parents were both in jail. Fortunately, she became good friends with an older single woman who eventually adopted her. In Hawaii, there is a special program designed to help at-risk youth in underserved populations. Through this program, this young woman learned the skills necessary to succeed in college and beyond. After school, she received tutoring and leadership training. In our local community, she blossomed and became a leader among her peers. Shortly after I met her I found out that she had just received a full scholarship to University of Colorado in Boulder. There is no doubt in my mind that this woman will lead a successful and fulfilling life. 

I wish there was a program like this for Daniel. He needs something that will light a fire in his belly. He understands the importance of a college degree in terms of lifetime income and success, but his fears are holding him back. What do you do when fear overcomes your desire to succeed? When I was his age, I couldn't wait to go away for college and I knew I was ready because I have always been motivated to succeed. My college years were definitely among the best years of my life. Ever since I was a child, I loved to learn and I still do. That is why I returned to graduate school several years ago to earn a Master's degree in Marketing. 

If Daniel's life was a movie, I can fast forward it and see all kinds of challenges ahead of him because of his fears. If your life was a movie and you were able to rewrite some of the roles you played, would you have done anything differently? Like most people, there are a lot of things I wish I had done differently, but in the end, I believe life unfolds according to the most important lessons you need to learn.  

What worries me the most about Daniel is whether or not he'll be able to overcome his fear of college. I'm afraid that by the time Daniel reaches my age, he'll look back and regret all the mistakes he made when he was much younger, but by then, it might be too late for him to start over. In America, there really isn't a place for gifted underachievers like Daniel. If you're a parent, are you struggling with a child who is a gifted underachiever?  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Being Better is Overrated

Explaining your differences as ‘better’ than others seems logical. However, it’s not always effective. For instance, if someone asks you why s/he should do business with you as opposed to the firm across the street – you begin to give them the ‘betters.’ You may not say it by using the word ‘better,’ but it sounds like you will have:
  • Better communication
  • Better customer service
  • Better products
The problem with inferring ‘better’ is that the consumer doesn’t believe it. We don’t believe that something will actually be better! Imagine going to the grocery store and heading down the laundry detergent aisle. If you see a jug of Tide detergent with a big “NEW AND IMPROVED” on it – do you immediately buy it because you are sure that now, finally, your clothes will get cleaner? No, of course not! We don’t actually believe it will be that much better. And, it’s risky buying a different laundry detergent (certainly not as risky as switching financial advisors).

What we need is to be different. If we can, we need to share what is truly unique about what we do – not compare ourselves to others. So, what is unique about you? I would say there is one thing unique about your firm and it’s the people inside. These people can’t be found somewhere else. And, 80 percent of the reason someone chooses your firm is because of you – not your products. In fact, they may not even know specifically which products they want until long after they say yes to doing business with you. Are you talking about what’s most unique about your firm?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Beware of Time Wasters!

An important facet of social intelligence is having good awareness of time, which is related to, but not the same thing as time management skills. It's easy to spot someone with poor awareness of time. My ex-husband's cousin owns a modern art gallery and can talk for hours about modern art -- whether you want to learn about it or not. Before the Do Not Call list was implemented, I used to receive dozens of phone calls from robotic telemarketers who felt compelled to recite their entire sales pitch verbatim even though I was ready to hang up the phone after the first five minutes. I know a few people who think it's important to give you a very detailed prologue to the issue they're discussing instead of getting straight to the point. These people are time wasters. Of course, we all become time wasters every once in a while, but in order to improve your social intelligence, you need to develop better awareness of time. Good awareness of time requires focus, concern for others, and an activated internal clock.

Earlier this year, I hosted a 401(k) breakfast seminar with three other speakers. The day before the seminar, I instructed each speaker to talk for no more than 30 minutes in order to allow 20 minutes for Q & A. Unfortunately, the first two speakers ran long on their allotted time. I approached the third speaker and asked him if there was any way he could get the meeting back on time. Much to my surprise, he did his 30 minute presentation in 15 minutes without ever looking at his watch. It was, by the way, the highest rated presentation of the day. How is that possible?

Whether in a meeting, on the phone, or in delivery of a presentation, there are some key points to not only stay on time, but deliver compelling information.

1.    Determine what is the most important information. Then get to the point quickly.
2.    Be prepared. Know how long it should take you to describe certain elements of your business, products, or services. Practice, practice, practice.
3.    Time yourself. If you find yourself "going long" in meetings -- and even if you think you are always right on time -- check your watch. When you start talking during a business meeting, look at the time. Then check back when you're done. How much of the meeting did your conversation occupy? Was your percentage of the meeting justified with what you talked about?

In the business world, time is critical. It is one of our most precious commodities. Our business and lives could be different if we simply had more time. So, don't let time wasters get away with stealing your time!

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Increase Your Prospecting Performance

Yesterday, I arrived in New York for Morgan Stanley's week-long Performance Session 2 (PS 2) training. In order to qualify for PS 2, Financial Advisors must be in top first, second or third tier in terms of production during the first six months. I knew I would qualify for the training because I'm ranked in the first tier (top 20%) of my training class. One of my friends at Morgan Stanley completed her PS 2 training last month, and she shared with me the agenda from the program. While I wish there was more emphasis given to product knowledge and capital markets, I plan to view this week's training as a valuable learning opportunity, and I hope to come away from the experience with some new ideas about the business and myself. 

I know that a great deal of the training this week will be spent on prospecting. I believe prospecting is important even if you're not in sales. As with everything else, a successful prospecting campaign requires developing a strategy or plan of attack. Whether you're prospecting for new clients, a new job, or even a future spouse, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What kind of person (or company) do you prefer to interact with?
  2. What do you bring to the table? What is your competitive advantage or key differentiator? In other words, why should a person (or company) want to interact or do business with you? What makes you so special and unique? 
  3. Evaluate people or companies you have had successful interactions with in the past. What were some of the key qualities of this person or company? It's also important to analyze your past failures when it comes to prospecting. How can you change or tweak your approach in order to achieve a more successful outcome?  
  4. How many prospects do you need to have in your pipeline in order to achieve a successful outcome? If you don't have enough prospects in your pipeline, your odds of success are very low. Conversely, if you have too many prospects in your pipeline, you will have a hard time following up with each one of them in a meaningful way. However, it's far better to have too many prospects in your pipeline than too few.
  5. Are there people you know who could introduce you to the type of person or company you want to meet? Spread the word among everyone you know. Use social media to your advantage. For example, LinkedIn is a great way to build your network of professional connections. 
  6. What is your plan of action? What will you do first, second, third, etc. in order to execute your prospecting plan? Be as specific as possible by including "dates to be completed by" in your plan.
  7. Ask a friend to help you role play an initial meeting with a potential prospect. 
  8. Consult with an expert who has been successful at reaching the type of prospects you're targeting. 
  9. Create a list of questions to ask your prospect in order to find out if there's a good fit between the two of you. Not all prospects are a good fit for who you are and what you're looking for.
  10. Figure out a way to successfully overcome objections. You might meet the perfect prospect, but chances are, you will need to convince that person why s/he should develop a relationship with you. Prepare yourself to receive some resistance and learn how to overcome it. 
 After I complete my PS 2 training, I'll share with you any new ideas I pick up on prospecting in a future blog posting. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 12, 2013

99U Conference

At the 2013 99U Conference in New York City, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Associate Director, Columbia University Motivation Science Center, spoke about motivation. Here are some excerpts from her talk:

Upon reading story after story about geniuses, prodigies, and other successful people, Heidi Halvorson found herself noticing that people in the U.S. tend to attribute failure and success not to controllable factors such as work ethic, but rather to innate ability or talent.
  • Do you have a "Be Good" mentality or a "Get Better" mentality? First, there is the "Be Good" mindset: trying to prove yourself and validate your skills to look better (or smarter) than those around you. Alternatively, a person with a "Get Better" mindset focuses on constant improvement -- instead of focusing on perfection they focus on performing better than previous efforts, which gives them room to fail, learn, and grow. In study after study, Halvorson found that a Get Better mentality improved chances of success and happiness.
  • Don't visualize success. Visualize the steps you will take to make success happen. When you encounter challenges with a Be Good mindset, anxiety and depression set in and start to affect performance. Your skills and your intelligence can feel compromised and/or threatened. When faced with similar challenges, a Get Better allows you to focus on improving or refining your efforts -- as well as the external processes -- rather than feeling like your intrinsic skills or intelligence are at stake.
Back in 2000, I came across the concept of "kaizen," which is an approach to one’s personal or social life that focuses on continuous improvement. It's so easy to sit back and tell yourself, "I'll never be as successful as Steve Jobs because I'm not as talented as he is." But the truth is, Steve Jobs worked incredibly hard in order to become successful and he also had some failures along the way -- the Apple Lisa, Macintosh TV, the Apple III, the Powermac g4 cube. It took Jack Dorsey years of experimentation before he finally launched the Web site which ultimately became Twitter. And Howard Schultz failed at his first attempt at creating a communal coffee experience. In 1986, when his first store opened in Seattle, there was non-stop opera music, menus in Italian, and no chairs. Schultz admits he had to make many mistakes to discover what would become the Starbucks we know today. 

Currently, I work as a Financial Advisor for Morgan Stanley. Of course, there are people in my office who seem to be "natural born" salespeople, but not every successful advisor falls into that category. There are plenty of advisors in my firm who have managed to succeed simply by working harder than everyone else. Hard work doesn't necessarily mean you will become successful in financial sales, but it will greatly increase your chances of achieving success. 

All through my life, I have focused on getting better and better no matter what endeavor I pursue. Whether it's trying to earn good grades in school or a promotion at work, I have noticed that the harder I work, the more successful I become. For example, when I was in high school, I tried out for the tennis team and was placed in the #18 slot, the last slot on the team. I felt really embarrassed about being the lowest girl on the totem pole, so I spent the next several months practicing tennis. I practiced so much I developed calluses on my right hand. But all my hard work paid off. After a few weeks, I moved my way up from the #18 position to #9. A few months later, I eventually landed in the #4 position on the varsity tennis team, which is where I remained until I graduated from high school. I didn't set out with the goal of becoming the #1 person on the team. My goal was simply to work as hard as I could so I could become a better player and see where that took me. If I had set a goal of becoming the #1 player on the team, I would have felt really discouraged by failing to reach that goal. And discouragement is the enemy of motivation. 

Another trap that many of us fall into is visualizing success instead of visualizing the steps it takes to succeed. Let's face it. It's much more fun to fantasize about what it feels like to be successful -- the fancy mansion, the luxury sports car, the five-star vacations, etc. But fantasizing about the desired end result before you have achieved it doesn't give you the roadmap you need to succeed. I believe that is why so many people play the lottery. They fantasize about what they will do with all the money they might win because visualizing other things you can do to end up with a lot of money isn't as much fun. 

In addition to Halvorson's recommendations, I think it's also important to remain true to your personal brand if your goal is long-term success. Let's take searching for a job as an example. Most of us have some idea of what our dream job is. But then when we discover our dream job, we feel discouraged when we realize we don't meet the minimum qualifications. But think about the person who eventually wins your dream job offer. That person was not born with all those qualifications. He or she had to work at a number of different jobs in order to acquire those skills. You can do the same thing. Once you have your dream job in mind, write down all the skills your dream job requires. Identify skills or experiences you don't have yet. Then try to find jobs that will help you fill in those gaps. 

Think of your career trajectory as a series of horizontal or vertical steps. Ideally, each subsequent job you land should give you new skills you can add to your resume and increase your chances of landing your dream job. Sometimes, it's important to make a lateral shift in your career path in order to add a new suite of skills to your resume. But whatever you do, don't accept any job out of desperation. Every job you accept should build on your existing set of skills. Think of yourself as a personal brand. For example, if you were a five-star restaurant, you wouldn't add fast food to your menu just because it seems profitable. The jobs on your resume need to fit your personal brand.

Motivation and success are important values in the American culture. What we need to recognize is that lasting success can only be achieved through proper motivation. If you adopt a Get Better mindset, visualize the steps you need to take in order to succeed, and remain true to your personal brand, chances are you will achieve the success you desire. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


My 17-year-old son's favorite TV show is "Breaking Bad." By accident, I found this Breaking Bad promo on the Internet, and I was completely mesmerized by Bryan Cranston's reading of the poem, "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here are the words:


By Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said--"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Source: Shelley's Poetry and Prose (1977)

Here is a creative exercise you can try. Continue the story of Shelley's "traveller" by describing other sights he or she might have seen in the "antique land." Here is what I came up with: 

And in the distance, there stands a crown

Clinging to a fragment of bone
The mighty voice that once invoked fear
Died alone without a moan
No threads remain of the royal gown
And yet his spirit is lurking here
In the silence that feels like death
I can almost hear his ghostly breath:
"Where are my people, where is my Queen?
What is this place, what is this scene?"
His words haunt me and fill me with dread
As I walk upon the bones of the dead
The thousands of men he slayed in his life
In order to steal another king's wife. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Social Media: The Basics Part 6 (Instagram and Pinterest)

Instagram is a photo sharing app with more than 27 million users. You can use Instagram for capturing event and office culture photos. You can also leverage the application to run contests and scavenger hunts. Before you begin snapping photos and engaging viewers, create a plan to help you create fans. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does my target audience want to see?
  • How can I get them to engage with my photos?
  • What will get them talking about my company?
As you create your visual content, consider the following objectives:
  • Make it exclusive. Post images that can only be seen on Instagram.
  • Make it visually engaging. Instagram users are savvy, creative, and know a lackluster photo when they see one. Don't post a photo unless it has aesthetic appeal.
  • Make it personal. Viewers want to feel like they are part of something so provide an inside glimpse.
The Instagram hashtag is a powerful feature to engage your viewers. Hashtags act as keywords providing a way for people to find photos through a simple search. Hashtages are especially useful as you seek to establish your brand as an industry leader and get more followers. Implement hashtags that are unique to your brand and industry, as well as hashtags that are popular keywords. And remember to use hashtags on all of your posts. 

Pinterest is a virtual scrapbook or pinboard that allows users to share and organize visual imagery. A user can pin anything from around the web and other users can re-pin their images. Users organize their Pinterest pages by categorizing content on boards

For businesses, Pinterest can be a way to curate visual content like infographics, videos, company culture, and even blog posts. Pinterest can help promote creativity, but always make sure that your content is relative to your audience. Pinterest pages can also be used for a landing page for an email campaign, event, or presentation. The boards provide a unique way of organizing content to be visually appealing to your prospect. Make sure you are including a good content mix in your Pinterest boards. Followers will want to see a combination of business and culture content. When pinning, pin the most visually interesting aspect of what you are sharing, like a special banner, slide, or cover page to get the most engagement and to make your brand look like it belongs. Pinterest's search is mainly how people find you and your pins, and it is all about keywords. Load up relevant, popular keywords in the description of your pins. Just like any other social media platform,  Pinterest rewards those that bring fresh content. So while it's very easy to fill a board with re-pins, ultimately the fastest way to increase your followership is by pinning new and interesting items. 

So that wraps up my six-part Social Media series. I hope you found these tips useful. See you on the Net!