Thought #7: A Few Keys to Success

Within the last year, the opportunity to launch my own consultancy emerged out of some new life circumstances in which I found myself between jobs, back at home with family, and weathering a professional identity crisis.

During this transition, I took advantage of the opportunity to take stock of my skills and abilities, as well as pick up a couple of new ones, but most importantly think more deeply about the man I wanted to be and how I wanted to be spending my time and the quality of life I imagined for myself.

I found the push I needed to take a risk and finally start a business. The first step: I needed to figure how to make a sustainable career out of teaching and advising young people from high school and into meaningful, suitable, and diverse careers – that’s what I love to do.

Up to this point in my career, I never had to rely on my ability to independently (and more critically successfully) run a small business, and generate income – I had been spoiled by a consistent influx of salary.

My new position as self-employed has asked me to engage in business planning, as well as draft revenue, expense, and 5-year growth projections. In short, I’ve had to perform tasks that are foreign to me; however, these new tasks remind about the importance of learning how to hold yourself accountable for success.

Whether you’re launching a business or tackling some other major life endeavor endeavor – like graduating high school, enrolling in college, or applying for a job – it’s important to cultivate good habits because the right habits are going to be your key to greater success.

For Thought #7, I wanted to share three things you can do hold yourself accountable for your accomplishing your goals. When you start to hold yourself more accountable for your actions, you start to realize that success is easier to achieve than you previously imagined.

1. Set SMART Goals

If you ever had a goal that you failed to achieve, I would wager you failed to accomplish your goal because it simply wasn’t SMART enough.

The acronym SMART, ie. specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-specific, is arguable one of the more popular ideas in business management and definitely one of my favorite ideas in life in general.

The basic idea of SMART is that how you start plays a major role in how you finish. For example, if your goal is go an international trip before the end of the year, it’s not enough to say, “My goal is to travel to Costa Rica in six months.”

While not bad, the goal as stated doesn’t provide much information about how one would actually go about bringing this goal to fruition. A SMARTer goal might look like: “I’ll save $200 per month for airfare the next four months leading up to my trip to Costa Rica while monitoring prices online, so I’m sure to get the best deal.”

The point here is that it’s so much easier to monitor and hold yourself accountable for progress on SMARTer goals than big, broad, or vague goals because you’ve decided what you will accomplish, how you will accomplish it, and by when.

The more thought you put upfront into articulating goals that are SMART will increase the likelihood you’ll actually accomplish them later down the road…if you’re willing to put in the work and follow through of course.

2. Keep a Journal

Perhaps it’s the writing teacher in me, but maintaining a journal is one of the best tools for improving personal accountability.

A journal is a great place to house your thoughts, intentions, and aspirations, so you’re not relying solely on your memory, which can be fickle. Moreover, journals permit recursion, i.e. the opportunity to regularly go back to review and tweak.

The best part about journaling is that it’s super easy – all you need is a journal, a pen or pencil, and a commitment to write regularly. For the more technologically oriented, you can also download free apps like Evernote for an electronic alternative to old fashion pencil and paper.

I recommend free writing for 10-15 minutes per day about what’s going in your life for 4-5 days per week to really benefit from the exercise of journaling.

When you write your goals in a journal and then keep a regular log of your progress on your goals, you’re able to evaluate impediments to accomplishing your goals and revise either your goals or your behaviors to better create the conditions for success.

3. Find an Accountability Buddy

Identifying someone who working to accomplish a similar goal as you or a mentor that is willing and able to invest time is helping you to succeed is so invaluable.

It’s important to note that identifying and cultivating a relationship with the right accountability buddy can be challenging and time intensive.

The key to relationship is trust and honesty. You don’t want anyone who is going to ruin your self-esteem, but you don’t want anyone who is going to enable you to default on your goals either. If you fail to accomplish a goal in a specified time, you need to trust that your accountability buddy is going to provide you with the right combination of compassion and tough love.

Moreover, both parties need to be committed and vulnerable in order for the the accountability buddy relationship to be effective; however, you’re golden once that relationship is established.

A great accountability buddy will help you to develop SMARTer goals, hold you accountable to periodic check-ins about progress made on established goals, and share tips and strategies on how to circumvent challenges and obstacles to accomplishing your goals.

Personal accountability is not an easy thing to do; however, I hope the tools provided in this article inspires you to develop a system for personal accountability that works for you. Once you’re able to hold yourself accountable for success, achieving your goals will become easier, and you’ll experience new levels of personal and professional success.

If you enjoyed Thought #7, be sure to like and leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Also, please subscribe to Thoughts on my website and get notified of new posts.


Thought #4: 4 Ways You’re Rich

Recently, my father decided to go back to school, so he enrolled in a night course with me,  which means we’ve been spending more time together then we have in years.

You’re probably thinking that all of this quality father/son time is adorable, but the reality is that the two of us rarely ever see eye to eye – introduce a classroom to our dynamic, and we become arch nemeses.

Our conflict stems from the fact that he perceives my views as liberal and generally naive, while I think he is conservative and a little out of touch.

A couple of weeks ago in class, we were on opposing sides of an issue like we normally are; however, this time my father seized an opportunity to make things personal and hit me where he knew I would feel it.

The topic we were discussing that evening was: “What motivates employees?” A group, including my father, agreed that money was the greatest motivating force in the workplace, yet the professor presented research suggesting that other factors, such as challenging work, a clear connection to future goals and aspirations, and positive relationships with coworkers and managers motivated employees to be more productive and approach their jobs with more enthusiasm.

Inspired, I shared how I prioritized finding work that I considered to be meaningful over jobs that offered high salaries during my recent job hunt, to which my father rebutted: “He mightn’t had taken that Community College job if he wasn’t living with me rent free!”

It’s true, my father has always been my hero every time I have gone through a major life transition (e.g. this time, my plan to move abroad fell through, and I found myself between jobs and out of an apartment, so I decided to take a risk and launch a business). Still, I couldn’t pick my jaw up off the ground – my father got me good.

After some reflection  – and major ego restoration – I came to see that my father was actually trying to remind me that I’ve been able to pursue my dreams because I possess a lot of Capital.

For this “Thought”, I discuss 4 ways to be rich and make progress towards your dreams even when your bank statements say you’re broke.

#1. Appraise Social Capital

Social capital refers to the value created by the people in our lives. Family, friends and our professional associates are all valuable assets, particularly when making a major life transition.

While the delivery of his message could have been more tactful, my father was unequivocally just in his assertion that I might have prioritized a large salary in my recent job hunt had I not been the beneficiary of the security and support that he provided me.

Receiving help from a parent to make a down payment on a house, getting recommended for a position by an associate in a coveted company, or crashing on a friends couch in a time of need are just a few examples of how each of us has probably benefited from social capital; in addition, the belonging and sense of connection created through our social networks is extremely valuable.

Though social capital varies greatly from person to person, I’d like to believe that if each of us appraised our social networks, we’d realize just how wealthy we are.

When you’re broke and chasing a dream, it’s important to cultivate your social capital. For example, stay present in the lives of the people you care about and continue to expand your network. Also, don’t be afraid to humble yourself and tap into your social capital – you might be surprised how willing and able people are to provide you with what you need to keep pushing forward.

#2. Expand Human Capital

Human capital refers to our intrinsic talents, skills and abilities. Besides who you know, the return on investment in what you know can’t be underestimated, especially when you’re trying to bring a dream to fruition.

Thanks to the internet and the public library, expanding your repertoire of talents, skills and abilities has never been easier – or cheaper! You can learn almost anything online or in a book. Moreover, your local community college is a great resource for Career and Technical Education, which provides direct access to many of the most popular and fastest growing careers (check out my post “5 Reasons to Get a Certificate” for more information).

Just because you’re broke doesn’t mean that you can’t become an expert on a topic or in an area of interest to you, or you can’t pick up a some new skills that could come in handy later on down the line when you’re trying to launch that business or apply for that dream job.

#3. Diversify Economic Capital

Economic capital is the capital we’re most familiar with – and probably the type of capital we’d like to get better acquainted with – and it refers to cold hard cash.

While human and social capital are important, “money makes the world go round“.

It cost money to interview or start a business, and that’s on top of eating, keeping up with a phone bill and car insurance, or student loan payments (if you are one of the millions of Americans grappling with student loan debt), so I would be remiss if I didn’t emphasize the importance of diversifying your economic capital.

When you’re transitioning between careers or starting a business, you probably don’t really want to commit to a 30+ hour per week job; however, that doesn’t mean you can’t still make money.

If you live in a major metropolitan area and have a car, contract with car sharing or delivery service and take advantage of the flexible schedule. It’s becoming increasingly popular to sell things online. If you have a talent or skill, chances are there is someone willing to pay you for them. In short, hustle!

#4. Cultivate Spiritual Capital

One of the first things to be sacrificed when life gets tough is health and faith. Spiritual capital is an original concept that I am using to represent the value in attending to the body and soul.

Exercising and praying and/or meditating are free, but they are two activities that can reap major benefits in your life. Hitting local trails or walking around your neighborhood is a great opportunity to reflect and strengthen your body. Moreover, having faith that a force greater than yourself is working out the things that are beyond your control is a great way to lighten your load and free  up your mind so you can focus more on the things within your control.

Accomplishing a dream can be a long and arduous journey full of trials and tribulations, which is why it’s so important to focus on creating value in all aspects of your life.

Enjoy this “Thought”? Remember to like and leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, please subscribe to my blog on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #3: 5 Reasons to Get Certified

After finally convincing myself to be courageous and venture out on my own to start working as an independent educational consultant, I knew that I was going to need a lot of help figuring out how to start and operate a successful business.

Immediately, I began to research blogs, videos, and books that would give me the information that I needed to get started. While the internet provided me with more than enough resources, I mainly felt overwhelmed; it was hard figuring out how to organize and use all the information.

My gut told me that I would benefit so much more from working with an experienced entrepreneur or business professional who could curate the information for me and help me to break down the complicated process of starting and operating a small business into some actionable steps.

Fortunately, I had been researching and advising young people on alternatives to enrolling in traditional undergraduate programs for a while, so I was familiar with the various career-focused certificate programs offered in the Bay Area, and I remembered that the City College of San Francisco offered a free, 72-hour certificate program for persons interested in owning and operating small businesses, so I gave it a try.

As I prepare to complete the program, I appreciate just how much I have been able to accomplish in such a short period of time: I developed a business plan, I built a website and started this blog, I registered my business with my county Clerk Recorder, and I extended my professional and personal networks and now have mentors to support my continued growth and development as an entrepreneur.

In addition to the small business certificate program, I have earned other certificates, and each one has been similarly useful in helping me to cultivate new skills and open doors to new opportunities, so I wanted to take some time and share a couple of reasons why I think you should consider acquiring a certificate too.

1. They are Highly Specialized

One of the main deterrents of young people continuing their education after high school is the thought of more general education. I have heard on numerous occasions how young people are jaded by twelve years of compulsory education and lack the desire to take more courses on topics that lack a direct application in the world of work.

Moreover, some of my close friends have realized that the jobs they really want require highly specialized skill sets and know-how that weren’t offered in their undergraduate programs.

For both situations, a certificate is a great solution. A major benefit of certificates is that they offer a high degree of specialization, which means you only take those courses that are directly related to your chosen discipline, and many programs don’t require high GPAs, test scores, or prerequisite courses to start.

2. They Don’t Take Long to Complete

“I don’t want to be in school forever…I want to get a job,” or, “I am too busy and don’t have time to take classes,” are the most common reasons people give me for choosing to discontinue their formal education.

What’s so wonderful about certificates is they are created to provide a fast-track into a desired career, and many certificates are designed to fit the schedules of working professionals and non-traditional students. Many of the certificates that I have looked into take less than a year to complete (and some take less than 6 months!), plus many of the programs are offered in the evening or online making them compatible with virtually any schedule.

3. They are Affordable

It’s no secret that school can get expensive, and student loan debt is arguably the defining financial crisis of our times; however, that shouldn’t deter you from looking into earning a certificate.

While the cost of a certificate can vary depending on where you get it and you want to pay close attention to the accreditation and reputation of a program, chances are there is a certificate available at the right price for you.

If you are currently working, it might be worth it contact your Human Resource Department or speak with your manager/supervisor to find out if your company has any money set aside for professional development because you might be able to earn a job-related certification for free.

If you are not working, check out the course catalog at your local community college and see what the school has to offer. Community college programs are generally industry approved, and they offer some of the most affordable rates on the market – my program was free!

4. You Meet New People

Unless your chosen program is entirely online, you are going to get to work with lots of new people. These people will come in the forms of professors, experts, and peers – as you may already be aware, sometimes who you know is just as important as what you know.

Increasing your network is powerful because the more people you meaningfully connect with in your field means more potential opportunity. As you begin the process of looking for jobs, knowing people in your field becomes an advantage and can translate into higher quality recommendations and referrals.

In addition to expanding your network, new people have the potential to inspire creativity because you are exposing yourself to new and different ways of thinking. This exposure will help you to stretch yourself and become a more critical thinker.

5.  You Build Your Resume

Lastly, certificates are a great way to build up your resume and transform yourself into a more marketable candidate for employment.

Whether you are fresh out of high school and just embarking on your career journey, or you are a seasoned professional, certificates are a great way to spruce up your resume and demonstrate to a potential employer that you are intellectually dexterous and committed to learning and growing professionally.

Certificates offer a big bang for the buck! A short investment in time and finances can turn out to produce big returns in work satisfaction and future earnings.

Enjoy this “Thought”? Remember to like and leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, please subscribe to my blog on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #2: Hindsight Is Not Always 20/20

If you’ve never seen the featured image for this post, let me be the first to introduce you to Sankofa, an Adinkra symbol originating from west Africa.

Sankofa is commonly depicted as a bird with its head turned back to retrieve an egg off its back and means “return and get it”. It is supposed to symbolize the importance of reflecting on the past to build a successful future – there is an intense movie with the same name that I highly recommend you watch.

I run the risk of exposing myself by admitting this – even though I have a strong suspicion that many of you reading this post might do the same yourselves – but I have a tendency to look back and critique my choices or try to imagine what my life might look like had I made different decisions.

College, more specifically my undergraduate career, is one such experience in my life that I’ve thought many times about doing all over again.

If I could go back to my senior year of high school knowing what I know now, I’ve thought that I would apply for more scholarships; I’ve thought that I would never sign a promissory note for a private student loan; I’ve thought about staying in California and never moving to Pennsylvania, and I’ve thought that I would stay home and save on tuition by going to a U.C. and major in computer science, so I could get a fancy tech job in San Francisco.

The point is it’s easy to look back and think about what you “shoulda, coulda, or woulda” done had you known what you know now. The problem, however, is that looking back with this kind of an attitude misses the spirit of Sankofa and doesn’t improve your current situation.

With the new year fresh upon us, I have some suggestions on how to reflect more constructively on the past for a happier and more productive 2016.

1. Learn from the Past

Reflecting on the past can be a powerful thing – if done correctly. Dwelling on the past is not the right way to reflect. The better way is to learn from the past.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the lifestyle that you ‘should’ve’ had, had you turned left instead of right, went up rather than down, or decided to go rather than stay; however, the reality is that time moves forward and there are rarely, if ever, any second chances or ‘redos’.

Still, there is a lot to learn from the choices that we’ve made. It’s useful to know the emotional impetus for our choices (e.g. were our choices driven by fear, insecurity, lack of confidence, etc.) because those emotions are likely to continue to dictate our future decisions if not acknowledged and dealt with.

When reflecting on a ‘bad’ decision, it’s far more productive to ask, “Why did I make that decision?” rather than asking, “How would things be right now had I chose differently?” The first question prompts greater self-awareness and personal exploration, which is always a good use of energy, while the second question transports you to the realms of disappointment and regret, which generally leads to frustration and anger – ain’t nobody got time for that!

2. Live in the Present

Living in the present means expressing gratitude. It’s easy to miss the blessings and opportunities in life when we are more focused on what we could have done differently.

Changing even the smallest aspect of the past has the potential of changing everything about our current realities. If I would’ve never moved to Pennsylvania, I wouldn’t have the support network that I have today. Some of my closest and most enduring friendships were established during my stint out of the California – no amount of money is worth sacrificing these relationships.

Accept that life can be fickle and the struggle can get real, but remember that our struggles are what make us stronger, and our mistakes are what make us smarter – we just have to be willing to learn from them.

Take stock of the experiences you’ve had, the people you’ve met, as well as the critical life-lessons you’ve learned about yourself along the way and be grateful for them. Changing your frame of mind and training your brain to consider how you’re blessed rather than how life has let you down is the first step towards increased happiness and greater success in the future.

3. Plan Forward

While you can’t alter the past, you do have a lot more control over where you’re headed in the future. This is why it is so important to plan for the future given what you’ve learned about yourself from the past.

I mentioned that I ‘should’ve’ majored in computer science and be working as a programmer and enjoying all the wealth that has flooded into the Bay Area in the past couple of years; however, saying I ‘should’ve’ doesn’t really change the reality that I ‘didn’t’ and I am not.

Replace ‘should’ve’ with ‘will’ and powerful things will start to happen. Saying, “I will become a computer programmer,” or “I will do [insert what you would like to do here],” transfers the power back into your hands and activates your unconscious mind.

Whenever we decide to do or accomplish anything, our subconscious mind starts working overtime to figure out how to bring our dreams and aspirations to fruition. Practicing life planning is a way to engage in dialogue with your subconscious mind.

Create a vision board, or draft a 5-year plan or future resume and cover letter. The format is far less important than the exercise of drafting a road map for yourself that can guide you towards your goals. When you can say what you want and have a plan for how you are going to get it, suddenly the stars begin to align, and the universe starts to bend to your will. Before you know it, you’re a computer scientist or [insert your dream or aspiration here], and you’re no longer looking back and reflecting on all things you’d like to change about your life.

Enjoy this “Thought”? Remember to like and leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, please subscribe to my blog on my website and get notified of new posts.

Thought #1: Conquer The Fear of Completion

Lately, I feel as though I have just been sitting by on the sidelines watching as my friends and family take charge of their lives, one after the other, and graduate.

Please don’t let me be misunderstood, the accomplishments of my loved ones are huge sources of pride and inspiration for me; however, watching them push forward with their lives puts my recent struggle to take charge of my own situation into focus.

For my entire life, being a student has been a major source of identity and purpose for me. As my graduate program drew to a close and student loans payment notices began to flood my mailbox, I have really had a hard time grappling with the question “Now What?”

Since advancing to candidacy in my graduate program, I have been stuck on my culminating project, and I even started to feel stifled at my longtime employer.

Naturally, I did what people do in difficult situations: I ran!

Or, I tried to at least. I resigned from my job and signed up to teach English in Saudi Arabia, and I was ready to leave it all behind. Obviously, this is not a blog about my life in the middle east, but it is a blog about the pains of growing older.

In some ways, nothing has really changed since my failed attempt to flee the country; my culminating project is still incomplete, and my student loan debtors continue with their demands for money. There is one critical difference though; now I understand why I was “stuck in a rut” the first time around – I never dealt with the root cause for my block: fear of completion.

I believe tons of people will live their whole lives and never experience the fear of completion; however, my intuition tells me that tons of people might be grappling with this particular fear right now.

For my first blog post ever, and my first “thought” of 2016, I want to shed some light on the fear of completion and share some tips on how to overcome fear for a fearless 2016.

The Fear of Completion is a real thing y’all!

From my inquiry, I have found that the fear of completion is real and, in action, tends to look a lot like procrastination. The following are some common reasons why even the best of us experience difficulty finishing things that we start.

The Pursuit of Perfection

This may sound slightly counter-intuitive, but the pursuit of perfection might be holding you back. When you are a perfectionist, it is easy to get bogged down by the minutia of a task, lose your momentum, and never see the task through to completion. For example, imagine a student that spends hours crafting the perfect introduction to their term paper. They read and scrutinize each sentence making small changes until they can barely stand to look at their paper anymore.

By the time this student nearly faints from exhaustion, they are frustrated because they have lost several hours, and the rest of the paper still needs to be written – plus there are still typos!

The reality is that perfection is the myth. Trying to be perfect is exhausting and absolutely hinders one’s ability to produce.

An Aversion to Criticism

Similar to the pursuit of perfection, an aversion to criticism might be holding you back as well. Perfectionists obsess so much over their work because it’s embarrassing to share something you work hard on and have another point out all its flaws.

A lot of the time, completing a project is submitting your work to another for critique. Being told, “your presentation needs to be more focused,” or, “I am not sure how this paragraph relates to your thesis,” can feel like a personal assault on your confidence and challenge your sense of competence.

Again, the reality is that perfection is a myth and receiving critique is not a bad thing. Everyone can benefit from a little improvement.

Loss of Excitement

If you are gamer, you probably know the excitement of purchasing the latest platform game. Initially, you might be completely obsessed with advancing through all of the levels and completing the game.

For a number of reasons, you lose interest in the game before reaching the conclusion. Maybe the game was more challenging than you anticipated, or you acquired a new game and became engrossed in that game instead. Whatever the reason, you lose excitement and never finish the game.

Like with games, loss of excitement is a hindrance to completing projects. You might lose interest after knit-picking your project in the pursuit of perfection; you might have dragged your feet on submitting your work to a supervisor for critique, and gradually loss excitement in completing the project over time.

There are numerous reasons we lose excitement in projects; however, it is important to get excited about your project again.

Tips to Get ‘Er Done

While the fear of completion is a real and crippling thing, it doesn’t need to dictate your life. The following are two things you can do in 2016 to conquer the fear of completion.

Let It Go

In the words of Princess Elsa: Let it go!

That’s right, to finish that elusive project just let it all go and have faith that your best is good enough. If you have been stuck in a rut for a while, focus on producing anything, perfect or not, and before you know it your project will be done – and it will probably be better than you think.

The truth of the matter is most things in real-life are graded pass or fail, which means there is a 50% chance of passing if you submit something and a 100% chance of failing if you don’t submit anything. Elementary statistics suggests that it’s worth it to just complete the task

Regulate those perfectionist tendencies and embrace the imperfect human, which is pretty extraordinary already.

Monitor Your Progress

Watching your savings account grow feels so good because you can see the progress. Same concept applies to completing a task. Being able to monitor how a project is progressing is extremely motivating.

To overcome the fear of completion and complete tasks, you need to get motivated, which is why you should first assess and celebrate the progress you have made already then actively monitor your progress moving forward – consider to-do lists or posters.

If you monitor your progress, the fear of completion will gradually be replaced with excitement as you notice your project moving forward and the finish-line drawing nearer.

Enjoy this “Thought”? Remember to like and leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also, please subscribe to my blog on my website and get notified of new posts.