Thursday, April 25, 2013

Success Lesson: The Power of Transparency

Success Lesson: The Power of Transparency

What I learned about success from break dancing

The year was 1984. The top movie in my life that year was Beat Street starring Rae Dawn Chong and Guy Davis. This movie represented a cultural shift of urban influence onto mainstream America. It pulled to the forefront as a relatively new style of music called rap or hip hop. Normally relegated to the ghetto, this form of culture expression was gaining momentum and this movie was more than that, it was a movement. With performances from pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa, Soul Sonic Force and Kool Moe Dee, Beat Street was seen as an opportunity for those without a voice, to finally have their say.

Right in the middle of this movie was a new form of dance taking shape called ‘Breaking’. Break dancing seemed to be just as vital of an expression as rap. And from 1983 to 1986 I was swept away with the fad. I was a regular ‘breaker’ with my track suits, baseball caps and sneakers with the big fat laces. In my room was a stash of cardboard from the local grocery store. Every chance we found, we were practicing. This was perfect timing because our favorite radio station announced a break dance contest at the mall. We were all in! We practiced and decided to enter the individual portion. Well, my turn came and I totally choked. In fact, I never stepped foot on the stage. I just stood there in the background paralyzed.

I had forgotten all about this until the other day as I shared with a client the importance of stepping up and stepping into your ‘time’. As I spoke I remembered how difficult it was for me. I instantly shared the story and it seemed to give a refreshing to their situation as well. I want to share a few principles from this experience I am embracing now:

■No matter how much you practice, nothing takes the place of execution: I had practiced and performed for my friends for days. I knew my little routine and was sure I could deliver. There was just one thing I never factored in, the people in the audience. When we reach a certain ‘stage’ in our lives, what we know and what we do becomes vital. Legends are made not from what they say they will do, but what they actually do. You were made to perform on the greatest of stages and all that stands in your way is the will to just do it!

■A team is great, but you are still accountable for ‘you’: Here’s where it got sticky. We practiced together, we hung out together and even dreamed together. But we were going to be judged individually. A team is not the place to hide from responsibility. In the end, your life is your business and you’d better get busy thinking for yourself. I have seen dozens of people left in the dust because of their efforts to hide in a crowd. Animals live in herds but graze for themselves.

■Your dream has to speak louder than your fears: As I look back from the perspective of a forty year old, of course I realize that break dancing wasn’t my life’s passion. In fact, shortly after the contest I gave it up for skateboarding. Fads come and go, but you will learn to pay close attention to those things that seem to latch onto your heart. You can’t shake it no matter what else you do. It almost becomes your obsession. The key is to spend more time pursuing those than the fads that come to distract you.

That cloudy day in 1984 taught me a valuable lesson. It taught me that you can get hyped, get dressed and show up looking like you belong. But until something becomes a passion you cannot live without doing, you will easily walk away from it. There are some of us in this life that will find our cause, our passion and refuse to die without living it. Here’s to us all!

, Norfolk Business Examiner

Monday, April 15, 2013

What Stephen Covey Taught Us About Staying Sharp!

Some lessons in life just seemed to stick with you long after you learned them. They become an undercurrent to the way you think, live and do business. It’s beyond knowing, it’s an understanding. Two plus two will always be four. No matter the day, the climate or your mood. It just is. That’s how I felt after a two day business seminar sponsored by the organization I worked for in Philadelphia.
The seminar was the budding philosophy of Stephen Covey who recently passed away. His best seller book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” was sweeping the business and self help community. Everyone wanted to make the shift from quantity to quality. And it all seemed to rest upon the character of their staff.

Tucked away in an airport hotel conference room, I gathered with staff members from a diverse background of organizations. That first morning was the toughest. We were uncomfortable, and of course we were all sizing each other up and comparing. By mid day we were split into teams and began breaking the ice. When we got to the seventh principal, “Sharpen The Saw” it finally began to sink in. Our lives are a direct reflection of the preparation we make to live; we have to sharpen our saw!

Sun Tzu, author of the famed “Art of War” said, “Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.” We all are born with an innate ability, quality or gift. But what separates the average and ordinary from those who make history and leave legacies is the time invested to hone those skills. If you’ve ever worked with a dull tool you know exactly what I am talking about. Try carving meat with a blunt knife or cutting down a tree branch with a dull axe. The duller the tool, the more strength is wasted. By staying sharp, we keep an edge that makes us better individuals. We perform tasks with a certain pride that speaks from the place of our noble purpose.
Here are a few ways to make sure you are staying sharp:
  • Staying sharp starts with a mindset that is active: In a society encumbered with 24 hour access to everything in the world via the internet, it is very easy to get home and simply want to ‘veg’ out on the couch. But a mind in motion tends to stay in motion. What increases our success is when we active mentally. Reading, family interaction and listening to audio books are a great way to stay mentally limber.
  • Staying sharp gets easier with the right company: Essentially we are who we connect with. Whether for good or bad, our environment plays a major role in our daily behavior. If you want to get sloppy and dull, hang with people who have no drive or goals. They will influence you to slow down and smell life’s roses. At their pace, you soon find you are behind in pursuit of your dreams. That’s why we must be around those that challenge us, provoke us to excellence to do and be our very best.
  • Staying sharp won’t always be comfortable: If you think about it, sharpening a kitchen knife involved a clashing. It is the friction that does the sharpening. So we need to understand that sometimes to grow, a mentor, a friend or co worker may need to brush against us to create the friction. This friction is what causes our growth. We are better because others held us to a higher standard and expectation. We can’t conceive development without it.
It’s been a few years and jobs ago since that eye opening session. But through the years of working with customers ranging from patients at a hospital, brides needing wedding consultations to clients needing interior design suggestions I have held onto Mr. Covey’s principles. In particular sharpen the saw. It’s helped me embrace some tough situations because I knew the friction was only making me better. With this truth, I hope your perspective get’s a good sharpening.

© 2013, Early L. Jackson. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

When to Quit Your Job

Last year’s politics, like many Americans, has left me on overload.

Of course I made an effort during the election season to be fully aware of both sides of the agenda, Democratic and Republican.

But it amazes me just how many hours of political banter is aired on multiple networks daily.

It’s enough to leave even the most informed person overwhelmed.

One subject seems to be a recurring theme and is still echoing throughout our country - jobs.

People are concerned not only with stabilizing the employment rate, but also creating more jobs.

With this concern looming over most of the working class, it is more important than ever to address the debate on when to quit your job and pursue your dreams.

Many think you would have to be crazy to leave a position with benefits to take a risk on a new startup venture. Others feel the economic climate couldn't be riper to launch out into the deep unknown. After all, our great country was built on the innovative spirit.

Regardless of your way of thinking, I want to share the basic principles that will help in the transition.
In 1981, an English punk band named The Clash penned a catchy tune called, "Should I Stay or Should I Go" that quickly caught fire.

To this day it is galvanized on VH1's Top 100 rock songs list. What made it so popular was the hook which says, "Should I stay or should I go now? Should I stay or should I go now? If I go there will be trouble. And if I stay it will be double. So come on and let me know."

I see the dilemma facing so many people today. How do I decide to walk away from a job? If I go I may be unhappy, but the fact remains that I am not happy here anyway. Decisions, decisions. Here are some tips to help:
  • Be honest about your motives: I once told a client that being unhappy at a job is not enough reason to launch your own business. The truth is, everywhere you go there is the potential to be unhappy. And not liking the people you work for isn't enough reason. When you start your business you will be working for customers too. The motive for leaving is to release your own potential, not escape management.
  • Include your family and close friends in the process: Many spouses have become bitter because the other did not confer before walking away from the job. They feel betrayed when decisions are made that affect the entire family structure and their opinion wasn't valued. These are giant steps and we all need the balance of our family's feedback to help us.
  • Develop a strategy and timeline: Since you have decided leaving is what you should do, next ask yourself: how? Allow yourself a minimum of eight months to a year to transition out of employment. Be as upfront with your job as possible so you won't burn bridges. Meet with professionals to evaluate your business plan and prep your family for any adjustments that will be made to the finances. This should be a gradual blend, not a sudden rip.
  • Keep your head and heart in sync: Be careful of the daydreamer's illness. That's when you are sitting on your job so overwhelmed with ideas you forget you still have current responsibilities. This can be a time that will test your integrity and ability to multi-task. The object is to keep both sides from slipping as you maneuver through this transition. You don't have to compromise to be successful.
Deciding what to do with your future can be intimidating. Questions surround the safety of staying at a job only to be laid off in a year. Maybe you'll step out to launch your business only to go broke.

Either way there are risks involved. One thing is for sure, both decisions require a plan.

No one can answer this for you, but the tips I shared can at least make the transition a little smoother.

Written on 4/5/2012 by Early Jackson. Early Jackson, happily married to his wife Cherese, is a heavily sought after teacher and conference speaker. He is the author of “Groomed For Greatness: 31 Days To An Empowered Life”, "50 Affirmations For Next Level Living", "Tweet Your Way To Greatness" and “10 Mistakes I Made Before 30 & How To Avoid Them” as well as a variety of Coaching CD series.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What I learned about hustle from a Girl Scout

Posted: March 29, 2013

It's Girl Scout cookie time. This is a wondrous time of the year where we cast off restraints and indulge a bit more than we should. Since 1912 when Juliette Gordon Low came up with the idea with her cousin in Savannah, Ga., the Girl Scouts of America have been working to empower and inspire young girls. As with any organization, economics began to play a major role in its effectiveness. So by 1917 the Girl Scouts found it necessary to utilize unique methods of fundraising. What began as a one kitchen operation to supplement the costs of business, has grown into a multimillion dollar expansion and the bulk of all funding for the Girl Scouts. With a track record like that, I believe we can learn a few things about growing our businesses and ourselves.
Every year someone "gets" me boxes of these cookies. Just when I think I have escaped their clutches, time and time again, it ends the same. Two boxes of thin mints and a box of Do-Si-Does. What can I say; I'm a sucker for a good cause. But if you pay attention to the obvious sustainability of the Girl Scout's cookie hustle, it remains as a pillar for successful business.
How beneficial would it be for your family, business or even personal life to experience nearly 97 years of success? We are talking about navigating world wars, great depressions and the constant fluctuations of the economy, all while raising money to provide positive reinforcement for millions of girls. So I gleaned a few things I think we all can apply:
  • Meet your customers where they are: It's difficult to find an unoccupied store entrance this time of the year. They are everywhere. These "cookie ninjas" pop up near your car just as you've exited the market, the exact time they know you will have change in your pockets or purses. The lesson here is to make it easier for your customer base to access your products. Piggy-back from another similar service, or better yet connect with someone who could benefit from a diversified partnership. 
  • Fearless marketing is successful marketing: Armed with nothing but their cuteness and smiles, Girl Scouts all over America approach us without fear. Why? Because they understand that very few can resist their brand. This is no accident. Through years of developing a culture of fearless sales, these girls will walk up to any and every person. And more times than not, they walk away with a sale. I wonder what could be accomplished through you today if you adopted a fearless mindset to sharing your vision? While standing in line at the store, or at a restaurant, take time to boldly share what you're passionate about. 
  • Good customer service is what creates loyal customers: Some of us have been addicted to these yearly treats for a long time. We eagerly await the announcement from co-workers that it's cookie time. The reason we are so committed is because they have taken the hassle out of cookie shopping. Think about it. They bring us the order form, we choose our cookies, pay later and they even deliver. What a bargain. The moral is if you take great care of the people who support your vision, they will be connected for a long time.
Chances are your business isn't cookies. You may be in retail, run a small business or a stay-at-home parent. Whatever you do, you're a leader and more importantly, you are touching lives. The more successful you are, the more people you can affect. Take these principles from one of America's success stories. The Girl Scouts have been a beacon of guidance and source of development. With the proper application, we can hope for such longevity.
Early L. Jackson Jr. of Virginia Beach is a life coach at New Direction Coaching Associates. He can be reached by emailing