Life lessons

Will Lukang, PMP, CSM,  MBA, MASCL

As we go through life, we learn valuable lessons that help us grow and develop.    Some lessons are learned the hard way while others are part of growing pains.   Personally, I believe that there are three ways of learning:

1) Life experiences—growing pains
2) Readings—things we read because of our interest
3) Shared experiences—those lessons people share with us because they went through it already.

According to my colleague Barry Houldsworth, the 4th way to learn things is to teach a subject.     In his experience,  whenever he teaches a subject he learn more than the students.  Because he makes it a point of trying to anticipate as many questions as possible.

A quote from Dan Rather resonates with me the most; it goes like this, “If all difficulties are known from the onset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all,”  because people would avoid the pain and agony that comes with learning the lessons.  However, without the lessons learned we would never improve and develop to be the person that we are today.

Here are some of the lessons that I learned. I wished that I knew these 10 years ago.

Big rocks and small rocks—We need to learn to prioritize what matters to us the most.  We need to take care of the big rocks. Once you took care of all of them, then is the only time you should tackle the small rocks.  Big rocks are what matter to you the most, like health, family, education, etc.  Small rocks are demands other people put on you that may or may not be related to you, but nonetheless they expect you to help them get it done.   It means you need to narrow your focus to the top three goals that are really important to you that, if you don’t achieve them, nothing else you accomplished would really matter.

It‘s okay to make a mistake—No one expect us to be perfect.  If we are always perfect then we are not developing and growing.   In essence there would be no progress.    Sometime people are too cautious to try new ways of doing things because they are afraid to make a mistake.   But when we make mistakes and learn from them, the stickiness of it lasts a long time.   Chances are you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.    Personally speaking, the best lessons I learned are from the mistakes that I made along the way.  I call them growing pains. It is indeed painful, but the lessons I learned stays with me.

Make sure each of your touch point is positive—Early on in my career, I thought that my technical skill was all I needed to get to where I wanted to be.  I was confident that I’m technically capable of reaching my career goal and making it happen.   I had some successes, but I realized human relationship is equally important.   How we deal with others is a reflection of who we are.   We are judged by our connection and touch point.   We need to make sure we treat everyone with respect and each encounter we have will be positive.

Pay it forward—I believe in sharing what we learn with others.  When someone does something nice for us, pay it forward by helping others.   There is nothing wrong with sharing.  By sharing, we empower others and enable them to achieve more.  It also promotes a sense of community.

You always have a choice—Humanity is given two gifts no matter your status and social class.  We have a gift of time and choice: a gift of time to spend however we wish and a gift of choice on how we react to things that happen to us.   For example, on my way to work, someone cut me off and I almost got in an accident.  I can choose to be pissed and curse to no end, or I can just shrug it off and be thankful that I was able to react quickly.  It is also true for unfortunate things that happen to us.  I personally often look for the bright side of any given situation.   The positive attitude helps me in dealing with the challenges ahead, because I am able to see opportunities that I would not notice if I focused on the negative things.  See my post on positive thinking.

Layoff e-mail for negative comments—Negative comments are best served face to face.   This way there will be no confusion and misinterpretation.  Besides it gives both parties the opportunity to discuss the situation and resolve the issue.   From a personal standpoint, I thought that I could best articulate things in writing, but time and time again it backed fired.   So, save yourself some trouble and avoid sending e-mails that have negative sentiments.

In God we trust, all else bring data (W.  Edward Deming)—No one can argue with facts.   The fact’s the master and it is black and white.   Therefore, gather all your data and make sure you have them before you argue your point.

Compete with yourself and not with others—Our situation and circumstances are different, therefore we cannot draw a clear comparison no matter how you argue your point.  Highlight your value proposition and what you can bring to the table and do not compare yourself to the person next door because you think you’re a better performer.   Let your performance speak for itself.  See my post on competing with yourself.

Create a plan otherwise you’ll be working on other people’s plan—The reality is that you will change jobs or career a few times throughout your life.  If you don’t have a career plan, you can plan to fail. Some people spend a big part of their life climbing the proverbial corporate ladder only to find out once they reached the top that they’ve climbed the wrong ladder.    So, I urge you to create a plan and track your progress.   Seek the help of a mentor and ask for advice on how to best maximize your learning.  Keep a scorecard and understand where you stand at any given point in time.

You can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s method and be in business tomorrow—Don’t expect to rest on your laurels just because you have a college degree.  You need to continuously improve yourself and learn new things.  Everything is changing around us; technology is moving at a fast pace.   Even business changes as new rules or products are introduced in the marketplace.   If you don’t keep up, you’ll end up like the old tool in the tool shed that will never be used and become obsolete.    Always be on the lookout for the current trends and invest the time to learn them.

It’s not about the numbers, it’s about people—It is ironic that management focuses on the numbers.   While managing your bottom line is very important, it is equally important to have happy employees, because your customer can sense that your employees are happy during their interaction.   I believe in connecting with the people around me and engaging them.   Let them know how their work contributes to the overall goal of the company.   Show your appreciation and let them know you care about them by recognizing their contribution.   It’s not about numbers

Chase your passion and not the paycheck—Find a career that you really love.  Do not make the mistake of taking a job that pays you the most.    Because you need to love what you do in order to be motivated otherwise you will be miserable and unhappy.   It will be a chore instead of a fruitful career.

Learn to say “NO”—Sometimes people we work with put a lot a pressure on us to deliver.  While in most cases it is justified, sometimes it is a bit too much.   Learn to say “NO”, otherwise you will fail to deliver and will affect your reputation.   It is important to manage expectation.   One of the critical skills we must develop is managing up.  Meaning we need to manage the expectation of the people we work for.  It does not mean we can slack off, but rather we need to let them know that we are there to help them make it happen. However, be careful when your plate is overflowing that you are not over committing and end up failing to deliver.

As we go through life, we reflect on the things that happen to us.   We analyze what went wrong and determine what we could have done better.    I thought I shared the things that I learned along the way.  I wished that I learned some of them early on in my career.   The purpose of this blog is to share my experiences.   I hope others can leverage my experiences and don’t make the same mistake I did.

In closing, I’ll end with my personal quote, “There are a lot of opportunities for us to complain about what we don’t have in life.  However, our time is best spent on thinking about how to get to where we want to be.  It is your choice.  You can pay now or pay later; either way you have to pay.” —Will Lukang

Positive Thinking

By Will Lukang, PMP, MASCL, MBA

Sometimes when things are not going your way, it seems like you are losing grip of what’s going on.    Either your career is not going anywhere because you were told you are not qualified for a promotion, or you are feeling down because people around you kept telling you that you are not good enough to do this or that.    Eventually it gets into your head and you start to believe that you are not capable of achieving your goal or career aspiration.

There is a saying that when it rains it pours.  Sometimes when things are not going well, it seems like it will never end.   You wish to catch a break, but can’t make any headway.   At that point, there are two choices, throw in the towel or step back and analyze your situation and correct and adjust.    Either way the outcome must be something you are willing to live with.

Last Sunday I was watching the PGA Championship. Dustin Johnson a 26-year-old player from the US was putting for par on the 18th hole to tie the lead and have a chance at a playoff.   After completing his par putt, he was told by a PGA rules official that he was at a bunker and grounded his club.  It meant an automatic two-point penalty; each took him out of contention.   One moment you are happy to have chance to win a tournament and the next minute you are walking back to your car to get ready to call it a day.

With what happened, I’ve seen people lose it, but Dustin never blamed anyone for the incident.   He did not even request a replay.   He acknowledged that it was his mistake and it was time to move forward.  Such action takes courage and confidence.   He demonstrated what it is like to be a true gentleman.   I’m not saying that if you show that you are upset, there is anything wrong with it, but rather he chose the high road or the road less traveled.

This is not the first time an unfortunate situation happened to him.  At the US Open, he was the leader going into his final round.  He had a three shot lead.    After a par on the first hole, he triple bogied, double bogied and bogied the next three holes.   The rest is history and he finished with a score of 11 over par 82.   It is the highest score by a 54-hole leader since 1911.    Sure he was unhappy with his performance and would have liked to win the tournament.   But when things are not going his way, he hangs in there.   Because of that, players around him have so much respect for him.   He is true example of a role model for children and adults alike.

Two days after the PGA Championship incident, people were wondering if he was kicking himself for his misfortune, but he is in fact enjoying himself and moving forward.   Johnson is quoted saying,  “I just don’t get why somebody wouldn’t believe me when I say I’m over it. You have to go forward. In every sport, you have to go forward.” (Yahoo, Sports).     Because of his action a lot of players around the world are showing their support and providing words of encouragement.    As an avid golf fun, I became an instant fan of Dustin Johnson.   I like his positive attitude and he won a lot of people over.

For other people, missing two opportunities to win majors might be enough for someone to succumb to self pity and feel sorry for themselves.    It could cause people to doubt themselves and lose their self-confidence.   Then the downward spiral of a career that ends up in the dumpster is not far behind.

In life you always have a choice, a choice to be sad and feel down or to figure out what’s going on and find a way to address your challenges.    Either way the choice is yours and, depending which path you choose, the outcome will be influenced by the decision you made.   Sometimes the outcome is out of our reach, especially if it is health issues.  But our attitude plays a big role in how hard things can be in the months or years to come.

No matter how bad your situation you always have the gift of choice on how to handle it.    The choices we make ultimately affect the outcome of our situation.    Try to think positively and seek other people for help if needed.   Remember, you are never alone unless you decide to be alone.    Focus on the challenge and come up with solutions that will address the issue.  Work at it to achieve incremental gain.  Never give up and keep at it.  If in the end you did not succeed, you can still say that you gave it your best and you’ll be respected for that.

I’ll end the post by saying negative thinking is like mud, the more you step on it the more it will spread and mess things up.   You have a choice to wash it off or keep stepping on it.  Either way the choice is yours.

Taking things for granted

Will Lukang, PMP, MASCL, MBA

The act of balancing work and family sometimes leaves us tired and worn out.   As a result, we end up taking a lot of things for granted.   Things like health and bonding with family are put off because of the conflicting priorities.    All of these are done for the quest of achieving our career goal and climbing the proverbial corporate ladder.

Most companies expect a good return on their investment.   Such demand equates to doing more for less.   As a result, work demand forces us to work extra hours in order to meet our deadlines.    The challenge is whether you can sustain such performance and how many sacrifices you are willing to make in order to achieve your goals.  Work and family demands are like magnets that pull us in different directions.    

Personally, I confess to be being a workaholic.   Back then, my work was an extension of my personality.  I completed two masters while working full time.   I was able to do so because of my supportive wife (Jane) and I had to give up going out with friends, spending time with families and I slept less and less. (Otherwise it sounded like you gave up sleeping less and less.)  

After I completed my second master, I reassessed my situation and came to realize that I took a lot of things for granted.    While pursuing my career goals and masters degrees, I spend less quality time with my family.   Health wise I did not exercise and slept on average about 4 hours a night.   I’m sure I did burn the candle that could be a risk for me in the long run.    

So, what did I do to mitigate the risk?

1)      Re-prioritize what is important to me – like health, family, work in that order.   I put health first because without my health I cannot be there for my family.   I started exercising and taking care of myself.

2)      Spending more time with my family – I knew that work demand would always be there.  I decided to leave no later than 6:30 p.m. to be home in time to spend time with my two girls and do things like reading books and playing with them.    Once they go sleep, I’ll do my work.   A wake up call for me is when I came home early and my daughter would ask why I was home early. It seemed like they expected that I would come home late all the time.

3)      Learned to take down time – I do take days off and recharge.   This includes enjoying my vacation that enables me to recharge.

4)      Slowdown and smell the roses – While I’m still focused on achieving my career goal, I have learned to keep things in perspective and not take everything seriously.    I enjoy a stroll in the park with the family and walking with my wife and children in our neighborhood.

It is time to pause and think about the sacrifices we are making. We cannot continue to take things for granted, because it might be too late for us to make things up.     As a parent, we only have one chance to bond with our children; this is when they are young.    Once we miss this opportunity, it might not present itself again.    Our health is really important, because if we get sick, it can prevent us from doing what we really want in life.    So, stop and think about the things that you are taking for granted.   If you’re reading this, you still have time to do something about it.  What are you waiting for?