What gainful employment ‘should’ do for you

I love good questions. Received this one yesterday:

“What is ‘gainful employment’ — how should we be defining it?”

Well, the word ‘should’ sends up red flags for me, and I prefer to answer with another question, not to dodge the issue, but to better frame it: How do you want to define it? What can our gainful employment be about?

Focus on what you truly want

‘Want’ reckons with a more personal and individual desire so we can narrow things down, and better focus on a more helpful answer, because ‘gainful employment’ is pretty big, with options possible in both the employment part of it (the differences between job, occupation, career, vocation is just a start) and in what ‘gainful’ means to us. What do we want to gain?

“This is the true joy in life ” being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one ” being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy ” I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing on to future generations.”
George Bernard Shaw

This “true joy in life” Shaw describes is inspiring to me, and I’m impatient — it’s something I want now, and not later. Thus, my answer is that I want to gain the feelings of well-being possible in Ho‘ohana work versus a job. I work on that first as my driver, simultaneously working to have it pay off (with income that will sustain my lifestyle: Prepping for Ho‘ohana with Financial Literacy).

But that’s my answer. It’s great for me, and hopefully Ho‘ohana can become great for you (it’s my core how-to theme here on Talking Story), but it’s not what everyone looks for at any given time, or feels they need. And it’s okay to look for other things — it’s your work, after all is said and done, and not mine. You know what it will take to help you feel good about the work you do.

So again, how do you want to define it? What is your relevance in defining what gainful must mean for you?

I Wanted Wings

Have reasonable expectations

What you have to be aware of however, is that when you work for someone else, they pay you to work with, and for them, and the question becomes “How do we want to define it?” with the answer up to them more than up to you. When you accept a job with them, you agree. That’s just the way it is.

You still do have a choice of course. Choose the right job (yes, even in the current economy — don’t be a willing victim; a lesser job fit now should be temporary as you keep looking). It’s right enough for you, because you largely do agree with the definition of gainful employment your employer offers you in his or her company.

We usually talk about that choice as a choice of values you’ll subscribe to, because deeply held values drive the m.o. of a company; they can be a kind of guarantee of predictable behavior in the workplace.

But if that gets confusing for you — you aren’t sure what their values are, or they aren’t as apparent as they could be — the focus on what you want to gain can help you. Make your search for gainful employment personal. It will be the work you do.

If you can be specific (and honest with yourself) about what ‘gainful’ means to you, the employment options available are likely to become increasingly clear. You can then ask yourself, “Will this employment prospect deliver what I want to gain?” about each prospect coming your way.

When the right options become clearer for you (in this mirror of what you truly want), your choices get much easier along the journey.

Whatever your answers, work on what feels right for you personally. Trust in your gut feelings and intuition about it. Keep in mind the fact that gainful employment connects to your energy, like a battery pack, for your own energy is the most important resource you have (it helps you gain everything else).

Then, when you want to work within Ho‘ohana, I’ll be here to help.

Ground level rubble

~ ~ ~ MY MANA‘O (what I believe to be true) ~ ~ ~

In Hawai‘i, many kÅ«puna (elders) will say there is a reason our gut is at our physical center.

Our heads and hearts must come lower; one must get out of the clouds and the other out of the clutches of others.

Second, the elemental feeling we get from the land under our feet must rise up and be held in higher esteem, for there is divine power in the ‘āina (the earth), and it is our sense of place, and our home.

Third, we must care about others, but we must care about ourselves first, and enough to connect to our own source, our Aloha.

So it is only natural that our gut (na‘au) is the true seat of our wisdom (na‘auao), for it is where all these things come together to center us with good balance. Trusting in our intuition, is a form of listening as we should, to tap into that balance (which is pono).

This makes a lot of sense to me, because I experience it so much, and very gratefully so.

Managers: Promote a Culture of Asking

Had a situation come up this past week where I was reminded of how important it is that we learn to ask questions. Whatever the reason, our hesitation must be overcome, and sometimes we simply need to get less nervous and more courageous, even with strangers, and perhaps especially with those of higher authority — parents know this bravery is vital to our children’s well-being as they grow up.

The story, briefly:
I’d gone to get my annual mammogram done, and switched my doctor and radiology facility. As women come to learn, we can all have minor masses in breast tissue, and the annual necessity of mammograms is because the radiologist who reads them looks for changes from one year to the next: It is change which may signal cancer, not mere presence. As the attending radiologist told me what he saw, I asked him enough questions about it, and volunteered enough additional info about my own known history, that he went on a diagnostic quest outside the norm after I had left him, retrieving my previous films from another hospital on another island — much to my benefit.

Whew. It was yet another instance where my ‘nagging habit’ of asking question upon question has served me exceptionally well.

And then other memories come back to me, of all the misunderstandings which occur when we don’t ask questions. So many factors can be at play, I know. Our relationships are riddled with unasked questions, and thus, unknown answers. In particular, the workplace is chock full of them, so let’s solve what we can influence.

Here are the assurances Alaka‘i managers must convey to their teams:

  • Asking questions is NOT a sign of weakness.
  • Asking questions is NOT a betrayal of your own intelligence.
  • NOT asking questions when you should will usually be your biggest mistake.

When you ask questions, you get answers. At minimum, you get a bit more information, and a bit more info is normally what we all need to keep us moving forward.

However that’s common sense, isn’t it. It’s an example of sensibility we all have, and yet we’ll still hesitate: Reasons abound as to why people don’t ask questions when they should. And those diagnostics are the job of the Alaka‘i Manager: Seek out the reasons why people may not speak up on your team.

Why are they uncomfortable?
Why do they hesitate?
What is it that YOU need to do to make the atmosphere more conducive to questions?
What are the root causes at play which you need to deal with?

In starting your Quest for more Questions, try this:
Staff meetings, and other routine huddles, have a boring convention of report-giving: Those who conduct meetings will go around the table and ask for reports, wherein everyone will often hear what they already know, or are supposed to have read on email or in the company intranet. It’s a practice which eats up time by proliferating mediocrity. Yuck. DO continue getting everyone to speak, and contribute, but change it up by having everyone ask a question they feel others might have too, and stressing that you’ll all be ending your huddle with much more clarity.

Do the same thing in your one-on-one conversations: Finish them well by asking for questions, and by getting more comfortable with the golden silence in which people think before they speak. When you initiate a Daily Five Minutes and your receiver is unprepared, prompt them without leading them by saying, “Have you been wanting to ask me a question, about anything at all?”

Clarity trumps generic information in a huge way.

Questioning makes an ‘Ohana in Business healthier.
Questioning fuels the growth of more inquisitive curiosities.
Questioning fans the blue flames of idea generation.

So as the adage reminds us: “Ask, and ye shall receive.” Ask well, receive well.

Creative Minds

Archive Aloha: Here’s a Take 5 of related postings:

  1. Are you able to discount your own certainty?
  2. “What’s in it for me?” is a Self-Leadership Question
  3. If you want to know, ask!
  4. Who says you can’t do that?
  5. “Paper or Plastic?” Wrong Question.

Are you able to discount your own certainty?

For that is what it takes to be open-minded —and being open-minded is but the start of possibility in your bigger and better thinking, thinking your brain is fully capable of.


Voltaire said,

“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is an absurd position.”

Meet Dr. David Eagleman, neuroscientist (Link to PopTech2010 Video). I love speakers who can communicate as eloquently as Dr. Eagleman. Trust me, he’s a scientist you’ll enjoy listening to!

“90% of the universe is what we call ‘dark matter.’ That’s a lot to sweep under the rug!”
— Dr. David Eagleman

In his presentation, Dr. Eagleman presents possibilianism:

At 13:52: Possibilianism is “the act of exploration of new ideas and a comfort with the scientific temperment of creativity and holding multiple hypotheses in mind… It’s not that anything goes; anything goes at first, and then we import the tools of science to rule out parts of the possibility space.”

What’s cool, is that “…possibilianism picks up where the toolbox of science leaves out; it’s where we no longer have tools to address it [the magnitude of all we don’t yet know.]”

So why should you bother with this video at all? (It will explain Possibilianism in about 20 minutes.)

In the crush of the holiday season the year will turn, and like it or not, welcome it or not, we will all do a great deal of thinking about ourselves and the world we live in. I urge you to frame your thinking within greater possibility. Give yourself a gift, and let your growth in.

In his talk, Dr. Eagleman will explain that we must seek comfort with multiple narratives.

“This is not just a plea for simple open-mindedness, but for an act of exploration of new ideas. …go back into your world, and live a life free of dogma, and full of awe and wonder. See if you can celebrate possibility, and praise uncertainty.”

This is something you have to work at, because old conditioning can fight you:

At 6:18: You don’t need to be an anthropologist to recognize that our nervous systems absorb whatever our culture pours into us” it is not coincidence that there isn’t a blossoming of Islam in Springfield Ohio, and there isn’t a blossoming Protestantism in Mecca, because we are products of our culture; we accept whatever is poured into us, right? If there was one truth, you’d expect it would spread everywhere evenly, but the data doesn’t support that”

Merry Christmas my friends. However your faith got you where you are today, I’m celebrating the possibility of where we all have yet to go in both heart and mind.

Many thanks to Liz Danzico for introducing me to David Eagleman.

On the 5th Day of Christmas: Wonder

Wonder. To have an inner capacity that can always make room for awe and wonder is such a blessing. To return to child-like innocence and acceptance, to be rendered speechless, and have it feel good and right, never helpless. To not have all the answers but feel it is perfectly fine not to, to just have wonder.

How is wonder an Aloha Virtue for you?

What is the Learning we managers will Curate?

When would it be learning as a value, and when would it be learning as a strategic initiative?
When might learning be systemic, and when might it be irrelevant?

That last question makes me gasp for air in posing it at all, it really does, but I am trying to be open-minded about this” I am trying to learn something by gathering all the humility I can, and dismissing any assumptions I should dismiss in being a better coach for managers as I aspire to be. I’m hoping to get your help with this, fervently believing as I do, that we learn best from other people.

When I introduced our current theme of learning curation on June 1st, one of the things I wrote was this:

We all know of the benefits to learning, and I don’t intend for this theme to be one where we repeat them and preach to the choir: Let’s actually get learning done in a much more satisfying and useful way: Let’s become LEARNING CURATORS.

Now I am wondering if I was wrong, and if we do need to talk about our what and why before going any further. Shall we get a bit more specific?

The backstory

Here’s how these questions came up. I listened to a podcast which featured Jason Fried, founder of 37signals, answering questions collected from readers of his company blog, Signal vs. Noise. He thoroughly surprised me with his answer to a reader who asked what his team does to learn. His response was,

“Um I don’t know what everyone does. Some people go to conferences, other people just pay attention and observe things. I think that’s the best way to learn, to just stay focused on your industry and see what everyone else is doing, and pay attention to the right news sources, and learn stuff that way and just try it out. That’s the best way to learn anything, just try it. Experiment with stuff.”

(Here is the link to the full podcast: The quote about is just after the 15-minute mark.)

Now 37signals is no small-time company (you can learn more about them here), and so his answer really floored me, so much so that one of the first questions to pop into my head was, “Whoa” am I some kind of learning snob?”

So many assumptions, and so few facts

Our theme of learning curation makes some notable assumptions, and I admit to the bias that they are more than assumptions; I think of them as givens fully aware that they stem from my personal value system. They include our Managing with Aloha beliefs that

  1. Learning is essential to any work culture for a vast array of reasons. Learning is a response to very healthy curiosities and fascinations, and it strengthens us as a method of coming up with answers or options.
  2. Paramount within those reasons that learning is essential, is the self-development of everyone within any work culture, for if people grow, the capacity and abilities of the business will grow with them, so that all goals and objectives can be better achieved.
  3. By “grow” we really mean continually improve within a constant striving for excellence. Innovation gives businesses an edge, for successful businesses cannot afford complacency or mediocrity.
  4. If managers are charged with fostering the self-development of their people (and to the MWA way of thinking, they are) they have a very basic responsibility (Kuleana) with promoting learning.
  5. Learning curation becomes a thoughtful strategy, aimed at optimal, well-timed selection from a myriad of possibilities. We choose as will best suit the individual learner, we choose as will best suit our team dynamic, and we choose as will best suit our organization’s mission and vision.

But again, I fully admit that these are my assumptions as the person who authored “Managing with Aloha” as an operational workplace system. So what do you think?

I’ll state the questions one more time. Our context: You are the Alaka‘i Manager accepting the MWA charge to curate best-possible learning for your team.

When would you curate learning as a value, and when would you curate learning as a strategic initiative?

When might learning be systemic, and when might it be irrelevant?

And perhaps a third question: Would you be inclined to leave it up to the individual, as Jason Fried does?

Read the story behind the book: Imagine having a Thought Kit
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