Off the curb

Feeding the Meter

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For some reason, I find most people hesitate to apply for their dream jobs if they are not %100 qualified for the position. For example, the position asks for 5 years experience and they only have 3. Or the job description includes a list of 12 critical skills needed for job success and they only have 7. So they skip applying, thinking it’s a waste of time, and move on to to something they feel more closely qualified for. Seems like a logical approach. Instead, usually they unnecessarily shut themselves off from some potentially great opportunities! If this sounds like something you do, take note of the following:

  • Most employers write up a job description based on their idea of the “ideal” candidate. The requirements posted are usually guidelines and not necessarily hard and fast rules. Sure they’d love to have that engineer with 10 years experience in software design in their specific industry but will they also consider the candidate with 7 years experience who happens to be located nearby (avoiding relocation costs) and can demonstrate his/her ability to be a fast learner? Probably yes!

  • Do you have 70% or more of the qualifications or skill sets needed to be successful or only 10%? If you’re closer to the %10 it’s probably best to pass, but if you’re hitting %70 then think about what else you can offer the employer to make you a more attractive candidate. For example do you have a transferable skill you can offer? Perhaps you’re applying for a sales rep job and you haven’t worked in direct sales before, but you grew up working nights and weekends hustling to successfully get your family’s business off the ground. Could this hustle and tenaciousness translate into sales skills somehow? If so, make this pitch in your cover letter.

  • When you apply online, keywords are important. Look for the words in the posting that stand out and make sure your resume showcases your skills and experience using some of those keywords so you make it safely past the algorithms.

  • Once you’re resume makes it past the bots, remember that humans make the final hiring decision, not the bots! So if you can find out who the hiring manager is and make a direct pitch, then do. Or if you know someone in the company that can attest to your hard driving leadership skills, enthusiasm, or work ethic, then reach out and ask them the best way to make a connection. People hire people. In most cases, a hiring manager would rather hire someone who somebody can vouch for vs. taking a chance on a stranger with a few less qualifications.

  • You’re outgoing personality and enthusiasm can’t get you hired unless you get in for the interview so make sure you use language that conveys that in your cover letter. Don’t go on the defensive by using language such as “I don’t have all the skills but thought I’d apply anyway…” Do highlight the skills you do have and make your pitch. “Here are 3 strong skills I have that will make me immediately valuable to you…” as an example.

Although it takes work going for a position that feels a little higher than your reach, many people get ahead by going for it anyway. As the famous Frederick Wilcox quote goes, “Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”


Truth is (despite my pure Celtics upbringing) I’m a Magic Johnson fan. There’s a reason ESPN once named him the greatest NBA point guard of all time. Passion, talent, and drive made him a thrill to watch as he propelled his team to five NBA championships.

Although his leadership skills on the court were unquestionable, and his post basketball contributions to both the war on AIDS, and to inner city economic development extraordinary, the “v” word I’m thinking about isn’t vision although no one could argue Johnson doesn’t have it. The “v” word I’m referring to is vulnerability.

Vulnerability isn’t something most fans would have easily associated with the 6’9” athlete when, more than 25 years ago and at the age of 32, he tearfully announced he was retiring from basketball because of HIV. His “then” story was life as an international basketball giant. His curb moment was HIV.

I knew I was going to suffer

When Johnson stood at the curb, he could have chosen a different path. “He didn’t have to announce it. He didn’t have to tell anybody, ever! He could have retired under the guise of a neck injury that put him in danger of paralysis. He could have said he was retiring because of family issues,” wrote LA Times writer, Bill Plaschke. “Only his doctors knew of his HIV and they were silenced by patient confidentiality.” At the time, most of his advisors counseled him to stay quiet about his health, but Johnson went public despite the expected backlash. “I knew I was going to suffer,” he says. Endorsements got pulled, friends disappeared, and a comeback was thwarted when several pro players, including Karl Malone and Mark Price, publicly denounced him for fear they would catch HIV. “It really hurt,” recalled Johnson.


Fox Sports / Getty Images

Google vulnerability and words like “extremely susceptible,” or “physically or psychologically weak,” come up. It’s a quality most of us run from, not aspire to. It’s the ability some people have to manage the balance between keeping the stiff upper lip or moving ahead no matter what, and contrasting it with letting their guard down, owning up to mistakes, and sharing blind spots. Sometimes vulnerability takes courage and often it comes with risk.

Today Netflix is an $8 billion dollar company producing a number of critically acclaimed series such as House of Cards, but a few years back, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, screwed up! Hastings made a decision to restructure and separate the DVD and streaming businesses and increase pricing. Customers were irate. The decision drove away an estimated 1 million of them and instantly drove the stock prices down by nearly half. Many speculated Hastings would resign amidst the pressure and controversy but he didn’t. Instead he apologized. In a company blog post he wrote, “I messed up, I owe everyone an explanation.


Nathan McAlone /

In hindsight, I slid into arrogance based upon past success,” he wrote. “But now I see that given the huge changes we have been recently making, I should have personally given a full justification to our members on why we are separating DVD and streaming, and charging for both. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.” Two years later, in a New York Times interview with James B. Stewart, Hastings said it wasn’t the media criticism or plunging stock price that got to him, it was the thousands of emails that poured in from angry and disappointed customers.


Fox Sports

“I realized, if our business is about making people happy, which it is, then I had made a mistake,” Hastings told Stewart, “The hardest part was my own sense of guilt. I love the company. I worked really hard to make it successful, and I screwed up. The public shame didn’t bother me. It was the private shame of having made a big mistake and hurt people’s real love for Netflix that felt awful.” He added, “I wasn’t naïve enough to think most customers care if the CEO apologizes, but I thought it was honest and appropriate.” His vulnerability resonated with both customers and analysts alike and, over time, he built up consumer confidence.

Although vulnerability seems like a bad thing, sometimes when you’ve been kicked to the curb, it’s the opposite. It strengthens you because you stop wasting energy protecting yourself from what you think other people shouldn’t see. Such proved the case for Johnson and Hastings. As Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz said “I don’t think you have to be vulnerable everyday but there are moments where you’ve got to share your soul and conscience with people and show them who you are, and not be afraid of it.”

Johnson’s story took a remarkable turn last month when Lakers’ owner Jennie Buss announced he would return as the Lakers’ new president of operations. Undoubtedly, Johnson’s announcement over 25 years ago was tough, and the transition to a new story challenging, but some would argue that he turned out to be a bigger player off the court than he ever was on it.

To learn more about Johnson see ESPN’s documentary The Announcement click here.


You can actually take a test to find out how gritty you are!

While talent, intelligence and charisma are all qualities traditionally associated with high achievers and success, some researchers are honing in on other traits like backbone, fortitude, and stick-to-itiveness as being more important to long term success. Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, a professor and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance chalks it up to a quality she calls: grit. “Grit,” she says, “entails working strenuously toward challenges and maintaining effort and interest, despite failure, adversity, and plateaus. Gritty people, are not easily tempted away from their ultimate goal by distractions, easy answers, or boredom.”

Duckworth and her colleagues argue that high achievers may not have more brains or talent than others but instead have developed a higher stick-to-it ability to” gut things out.” They set far-reaching – goals and then drive relentlessly toward them despite challenges, setbacks, or losses.


Angela Duckworth, TED Talk
“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”

As a student at Harvard, Oxford and U Penn, Duckworth arguably hung out with some pretty bright folks. However while studying with positive psychology pioneer, Dr. Martin Seligman, Duckworth wondered what characteristics, beyond IQ and talent, distinguished those students who went on to become high achievers and leaders in their fields from the others. To learn more, Duckworth and her team created a “Grit Scale” asking participants to rate how much they agree/disagree with statements such as “My interests change year to year,” or “I finish whatever I begin.” Across six different studies with a wide range of participants including National Spelling Bee contestants and West Point cadets, Duckworth found that grit significantly impacted successful outcomes.

Challenged by my own recent hurdles on my way to a goal, I tried the Grit Scale. Turns out, I could turn up the grit notch a bit! Take the test here. If your score could be better, spend some time visualizing or revisiting your goals and put specific time periods in place for achieving them. If your plans or creative style has a tendency to veer off track, delegate action items or find someone who will hold you accountable. “I don’t think anyone’s figured out how to make people smarter, but these other qualities of grit may be teachable. Grit may be as essential as talent to high accomplishment,” concludes Duckworth, and that may be good to know when you’re facing a “curb” moment. To learn more check out Duckworth’s Ted talk here.

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Wendy Watt / Photo by Maddison Heisler

Sometimes, if we’re open to it, one simple idea or an inkling to do something more meaningful can shift everything. Such was the case for interior designer and art director Wendy Williams Watt who founded the Big Love Ball three years ago and found a renewed sense of love and purpose.

Watt was already experiencing a successful career as one of Canada’s top 25 interior designers and owned an inspiring retail space (called Liberty) in downtown Vancouver but something was missing. She wanted to create something that impacted others in a playful way and spread a feeling of connection and inclusion. One day she had a pop of inspiration; creating art from a big silicone ball and adding the word LOVE across it. Soon the balls were seen in shops, restaurants, national monuments and weddings. First in Vancouver. Then, around the world.


Hajnalka Mandula / Photo by Anick Violette

– Wendy Williams Watt

“Big Love Ball was the manifestation of many feelings I had when shifting from the world of things and spaces to moments and people. Tired of expressing myself through s t u f f. I was forced to take stock when my computer mouse battery expired and the screen announced dryly.”


Aerin Knight / Photo by Anick Violette

Connection Lost

I set out to engage in the physical world seeking matterful connection with friends I’d not yet met. I felt compelled to express my love for humanity as swiftly and as vastly as I could. How could I share my profound feeling in an uncomplicated way? As I think in visual metaphor, Big Love Ball actualized before me.” she shares on on her website. “This big buoyant symbol of inclusion and connection now had a function. I was delivered from a state of stagnation and loneliness, with hours upon hours of exciting, silly, deepening, moving things to do before me. I remain a culture gawker with an insatiable appetite for art, nature, design, music, fashion, literature and film. I love mondo and micro moments. Enriched with my own sense of purpose I rest at the end of the day, full. Tomorrow excites me.

Connection Found


Photo by Bob Garlick

Watt now calls Big Love Ball her full time endeavor calling the ball “ conceptual art with a function. An inflatable sculpture with one word displayed across its breadth. Shared with one, or seven billion Big Love Ball delivers the single most important message to mankind”

To learn more about Watt and her creation visit: Big Love Ball

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Graduations are around the corner and it’s always a good time to glean a little wisdom from successful folks who stand at the podium and share their stories.


Fortunately NPR has compiled a list of what they’ve chosen as the “best commencement” speeches ever. The list includes speeches from a diverse group of TV personalities, ex-president’s, design icons and business leaders. Stephen Colbert, Bill Clinton, Tory Burch and Steven Jobs are just a few of the over 300 names you can find on the list.


Type in the name of your favorite speaker in NPR’s search bar for instant inspiration from your favorite speaker.

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