Take the Leap, but Know How to Fly

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“Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off.  Build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury and the golden age of science fiction are synonymous, and is one of the titans of the genre.  “Fahrenheit 451”, “The Martian Chronicles”, and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” are all considered among the classics of the genre.  Bradbury’s idea of jumping off the cliff, and building your wings on the way down is quite imaginative and daring, but can also be useful for motivating and challenging yourself in a professional manner.

Not a literal interpretation, obviously, but his idea is appealing.  Sometimes we all can get into a good comfort zone.  We know the job, and are proficient with the skills required.  We know the environment and the people.  In these situations, a week turns into a month, months turn into a year, and soon, years have gone by.  We may be happy with our position, and hopefully have worked up the hierarchy of the organization.  But in the end, the years may become routine and time has a funny way of blurring together, rushing into the future in a blink of an eye.  Is this a recipe for greatness?  I do not believe so.

Exactly what does Bradbury mean?  Should be jump into the unknown, and figure it out along the way?  Should you walk out of the office today, and start something new without any preparation or planning?  Realistically, most of us are not in a position to do this.  Family and financial obligations often dictate what we need to do, but Bradbury makes a great point.  That is, to challenge yourself.  To shock your system out of a comfort zone.  In times of strife, turmoil, and sometimes failure, we can grow to great extents.  Comfort zones are not known for creating dynamic careers.

Should you leap down the cliff, before giving any thought on how to build your wings?  I would argue this would be a resounding ‘no’.  Should you learn about what makes wings fly?  Should you study the flight of birds, or how airplanes fly?  Yes!  Perhaps you should have some knowledge of atmospheric pressures and the physics of lift.  If you spend time learning and growing, only then when you leap off the cliff, you will have some degrees of knowledge to build your wings.

Anyone can make a leap into the unknown.  The rocks at the base of the cliff are littered with the corpses of those who leapt before they were prepared for the change.  They wanted change too much, but were not prepared for it.  Spend enough time to have a good foundation that can adapt to change, and you will greatly increase your odds of success.  Do not spend too much time preparing that you never take the chance.  Leap off the cliff with confidence and determination, and know that through preparation, you will build your wings and soar into the skies above.  The sky is the limit.

Align Your Reality and Appearance

A reputation is priceless.  Your reputation is free, and requires no investment of money, nor does it require specific levels of education.  Reputations are difficult to manage and can be your foundation for professional excellence, being a good manager, or perhaps an inspirational leader.  It is the bedrock, your foundation, and works in tandem with work ethic, knowledge, and perseverance.  Reputations can be as hard as diamonds, but they can be fragile.  A moment’s indiscretion can shatter what took years to build, and in some cases, may never quite recover.  Ask former Tour-de-France champion, Lance Armstrong.

Ancient philosophers in the pre-Socrates age often argued and theorized on the nature of reality.  What is reality?  What are things made of?  Is everything just an illusion?  Over time, the nature of the argument of reality versus appearance can take on a different meaning.

Your reputation can be based more on appearance than reality, for right or wrong.  You may be a good worker, knowledgeable and dedicated, but if others see you differently, your appearance will be more real than reality.  Young workers, and those just starting out in a new career need to fully appreciate this, and should focus on aligning these two into a single component.

Always reflect on your words and actions.  You may be a hard worker, but if you are gossiping or do not communicate well with others, the reality of your reputation may be different than you realize.  Do you “tell it like it is” and feel you are honest and provide valuable insight?  Place yourself in others’ shoes and see things from a different perspective.  Perhaps you are correct and you feel as if you made a positive difference.  What if others may see you as arrogant and self-righteous instead?  What is the reality of your reputation at this point?  Will you be the direct, but helpful manager, leader, or co-worker, or will you be viewed as something else?  Will you be effective in a team environment when your appearance is less than ideal?

Reality and appearance can be one in and same, or they can be quite different.  The more different these two are, the stronger likelihood your reputation is diminished.  Always focus on your actions, mannerisms, and your words in all your interactions.  Take the time to reflect on yourself every day, and identify what you can do to manage yourself better.

As a young worker, your actions and reputation are all you will have at the beginning.    However, your actions and reputation, when properly managed and maintained can be strong enough to build your foundation.  As you learn and grow, this foundation will ensure your success, and will always be there.  But you need to take care of it and maintain it.  Even a mansion, if not properly maintained, will crumble and degrade.

Understand that appearance can be more real than reality.  For right or wrong, people are not able to glimpse into your mind, but can only see your appearance and your actions.  In the age of miscommunication, intolerance, and increasing isolation, take the time to ensure your reality and appearance are in sync.  Then your foundation will be solid and firm, and your successes will grow.

John Aaron, Steely-Eyed Missile Man

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The behemoth stands out, tall and mighty.  It’s alive, hissing and groaning.  The metallic surface expands and contracts from the cool fuel loads within, creaking and pinging.  Three brave men stand at the foot of this beast, glancing up, craning their necks to see the top.  The mighty Saturn V stands tall, 363 feet high, and weighs approximately 6,500,000 pounds.  All except the astronaut support crew vacates the area, leaving these brave men to their fate.  Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, and Richard Gordon ride the elevator to the top and strap in for one rough and intense flight.

The crew of Apollo 12 are heading to the moon.  Conrad will command this mission, but the public already questioning why we’re heading back.  “We’ve already landed on the moon,” they say as interest becomes fleeting.  “Couldn’t the money be used for other things?”  The afternoon of November 14, 1969, the silence breaks with the deafening roar of the main stage engines, powering up to their full 7,000,000 pounds of thrust.

The Saturn V slowly climbs into the air, passing the launch tower.  The mission starts, and the three astronauts begin their voyage into space.  In spite of the rainy weather, NASA proceeds with the launch, but soon regrets this decision.  Shortly into the flight, lightning strikes the rocket, placing the mission in jeopardy.  Telemetry is lost, and various power problems are plaguing the control systems.  Many warning lights are flashing on the control panels.  Mission Control scrambles, trying to figure out what’s going on.

The astronauts report many problems; warnings light up on all over their control systems.  It’s quickly realized that lightning struck the rocket, traveling back their ionized trail, striking the launch pad as seen by ground crews, even captured on film.

“Try SCE to aux,” calls John Aaron, one of the many young flight controllers.  A fairly obscure switch, among the many switches in the spacecraft, unknown to Flight Director Gerald Griffin, CAPCOM Gerald Carr, and ealso Mission Commander Pete Conrad.

“What the Hell is that,” says Conrad over the radio before setting the switch, which restore the systems, allowing the flight to continue.  Lightning strikes the rocket, and the problem is addressed in about a minute and a half, all while the astronauts are climbing with pressure increasing up to four times their weight.

The Steely-Eyed Missile Man

John Aaron was one of many young flight controllers during the Apollo program.  Only twenty-six at the time of Apollo 12, his call saved the flight, and quite possibly the lives of the three astronauts.  His knowledge of the systems provided insight to reach the solution.  It wasn’t a random flip of a switch to see what would happen.  A year earlier, Aaron noticed unusual telemetry readings during a test at the Kennedy Space Center.  On his own initiative, he traced the anomaly back to the Signal Conditioning Electronics (SCE) system, and was one of the few controllers familiar with it.  Aaron researched and learned more about the systems, which produced results when the time was right.

His call during the flight was bold, and even though many others were not familiar with this system, or the switch setting, his recommendation was trusted and implemented.  This decision saved the mission, and the growing budget constraints and public disinterest in further moon landings, Aaron may have saved the future of the Apollo program.

Lessons to Learn

Organizations need to learn to trust all their employees, especially Millennials.  Although they may not have years of experience within a department, they may be able to bring alternate ideas and fresh perspectives.  Had NASA adopted a stance that only personnel with certain years of experience could contribute or have ideas entertained, the Apollo 12 mission may have ended in disaster.  A younger flight controller, on his own initiative, learned the system and made a recommendation that saved the mission.  Many younger and lesser experienced workers on the team may not have years of experience, but they often have good ideas and knowledge, which should be taken into consideration.  Each organization needs to ask how many of their twenty-something employees contribute to the direction and vision?  Would any of these employees be able to step up and be heard?

If you’re starting out in a career, with not much experience, seek every opportunity to learn and grow.  Absorb all the experience and knowledge of others.  Do you see a problem in your department or organization?  Learn about what the root causes are and propose a fix for it.  Do not, ever, take the mindset that you are not qualified or it’s beyond your realm of responsibility.  Always be respectful, but question the status quo.  Learn and grow, and you may save the day.

Always remember, the astronauts received much of the acclaim and parades for successful missions, but it was many very young engineers, flight controllers, and scientists that contributed greatly to the success of the early space program.  Many of these young workers made mission critical calls and in the case of John Aaron, their decision saved the day, earning a promotion into the “steely-eyed missile man” club, usually reserved for fighter pilots and astronauts during this time.  Organizations who learn to listen and are receptive to new ideas, products, or possible solutions from all levels of skill sets and experience will often be more innovative to new trends.

Launch Transcript:

Public Affairs Office – “40 seconds.”

000:00:42 Carr: Mark.

000:00:43 Carr: One Bravo.

000:00:43 Conrad (onboard): Roger. We had a whole bunch of buses drop out.

000:00:44 Conrad: Roger. We [garble] on that. [Long pause.]

000:00:45 Bean (onboard): There’s nothing – it’s nothing …

000:00:47 Gordon (onboard): A circuit …

000:00:48 Conrad (onboard): Where are we going?

000:00:50 Gordon (onboard): I can’t see; there’s something wrong.

000:00:51 Conrad (onboard): AC Bus 1 light, all the fuel cells …

000:00:56 Conrad (onboard): I just lost the platform.

Public Affairs Office – “Altitude a mile and a half now. Velocity 1,592 feet per second.”

000:01:00 Bean: [Garble] Got your GDC.

000:01:02 Conrad: Okay, we just lost the platform, gang. I don’t know what happened here; we had everything in the world drop out.

000:01:08 Carr: Roger.

Public Affairs Office – “Plus one.”

000:01:09 Gordon (onboard): I can’t – There’s nothing I can tell is wrong, Pete.

000:01:12 Conrad: I got three fuel cell lights, an AC bus light, a fuel cell disconnect, AC bus overload 1 and 2, Main Bus A and B out. [Long pause.]

000:01:21 Bean (onboard): I got AC.

000:01:22 Conrad (onboard): We got AC?

000:01:23 Bean (onboard): Yes.

000:01:24 Conrad (onboard): Maybe it’s just the indicator. What do you got on the main bus?

000:01:26 Bean (onboard): Main bus is – The volt indicated is 24 volts.

000:01:29 Conrad (onboard): Huh?

000:01:30 Bean (onboard): Twenty-four volts, which is low.

000:01:33 Conrad (onboard): We’ve got a short on it of some kind. But I can’t believe the volt…

000:01:36 Carr: Apollo 12, Houston. Try SCE to auxiliary. Over.

000:01:39 Conrad: Try FCE to Auxiliary. What the hell is that?

000:01:41 Conrad: NCE to auxiliary…

000:01:42 Gordon (onboard): Fuel cell…

000:01:43 Carr: SCE, SCE to auxiliary. [Long pause.]

000:01:45 Conrad (onboard): Try the buses. Get the buses back on the line.

000:01:48 Bean (onboard): It looks – Everything looks good.

000:01:50 Conrad (onboard): SCE to Aux.

000:01:52 Gordon (onboard): The GDC is good.

000:01:54 Conrad (onboard): Stand by for the – I’ve lost the event timer; I’ve lost the…

Public Affairs Office – “Comm reports the reading is back.”

 

Develop Your Roots

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Most of us have a tendency to look at the finished product and view it as unattainable.  We may go to a concert, and see a world class pianist or violist work their instruments into brilliant and beautiful songs, and assume we could never be as good.  We go to a sporting event to watch a basketball player dribbling the ball with astounding precision and coordination and cheer as they help the team win.  We see things in the finished product, but we do not always realize just how much effort and practice went into the finished product.

Think of the roots of a tree.  Examine an old, majestic oak, and marvel at the symmetry and beauty.  You don’t see the extensive roots, which may be just as impressive.  These old giants withered countless storms and bad weather.  The seasons have blurred through time for hundreds of years, over a thousand for some species.

Always take care of your roots and you will flourish in all aspects of your job, and life.  When starting a new job, or getting a professional career started, do not worry about how much or little you know.  Grow your roots though learning and developing.  Don’t worry about how much you know, or how good you may look in the eyes of others.  Most of this is superficial.  Learn all the fundamentals, and your foundation will flourish.  Your roots will grow.  There will be others who are experts in your area or department or in your life.  They may be able to build and produce much more than others.  They may be a skilled computer programmer, whose complex and advanced code may be as impressive as intimidating.  Their root system will be extensive and developed.

As when you watch a basketball game, you see the end result of a lifetime of practice and development.  Stephan Curry may make shooting look easy as he makes shots from seemingly any part of the basketball court.  However, you do not see the countless hours of practice he spent growing up.  In terms of basketball ability, Curry is a redwood, immense and impressive.  A redwood sapling nearby may look up and think it would be impossible to grow to be as thick and tall as mature redwoods nearby.  Yet, after many years, the young sapling gets larger and larger.  Continuous practice and development will grow your skills and create a solid foundation.  As a young worker, you will slowly become a redwood among in your organization and in the workforce if you keep focus on your foundation, your roots.

While it is always a great idea to look upon others with admiration, and to wish to be more like them, always remember that you will need to put in the time.  Practice, plan, and develop at all times, and before long, you will become the majestic oak or redwood that everyone admires, but your roots will be extensive, providing a solid foundation for what everyone sees.

 

Be Prepared

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Be Prepared

One of the simplest and most effective mottos originates from scouting organizations.  Be prepared.  Be ready for anything.  Every year, Coast Guard searches are conducted, looking for people who were ill prepared.  Sometimes they did not adequately prepare with emergency supplies, or safety gear.  Perhaps they neglected to look at the weather reports for the day, and were caught unaware of an approaching storms.

Preparation is vital, not just for life, but also for profession.  Those who apply and interview for jobs that are prepared, will greatly increase their chances for success.  Those who “wing it” or hope to perform and adapt on the fly will have more frustration.  Increase your chances with the following:

  1. Know Yourself

For thousands of years, philosophers and thinkers struggled with the idea of knowing who and what they are.  Know what makes you who you are and how you think.  This can be rather abstract, but in the realm of the job market, know who you are and where your strengths lie.  What are you good at?  What makes you do the things you do.  What do you seek or what do you want to do?  Where does your passion lie?

Fully understanding where you stand in terms of the job market can make interviewing much easier.  When you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can learn to focus and match your strengths with the job descriptions.  Equally important is to know what you need work on.  Targeting weaknesses and areas that need improvement can make you a well-rounded employee down the road.  The first step towards greatness is to know who you are and what you need to do.

When a hiring manager asks you questions, you can always frame the arguments towards your strengths.  You will be able to answer questions with more authority and conviction.  You will not have to spend moments trying to reflect back when asked.  You will be assertive and on point.

  1. Treat Each Application as Unique

It’s easy to target quantity over quality.  The trap is easy to fall for.  Why send out just ten resumes for job openings, when you can send out one hundred.  I’ve heard the argument before.  A small percentage of one hundred will yield more results that a small percentage of ten.

While the math backs up this logic, in terms of job searching, this will generally not work out.  Take each job posting as separate and unique.  Read through the description and look at what skills the organization is seeking.  Match your own skills with the various elements of the job description, tailor the resume to reflect what the job posting specifies.  You want to lead off the resume with the most relevant skills for the posted jobs.  A posting may require marketing skills, so be sure you lead off your marketing abilities, not accounting.

Create a standard resume base, and take the time to modify it as needed for every job you apply for.  Treat the job search as a full time job.  Be organized, and have a breakdown of resumes for every position.  You learn more about yourself in the process and will separate from many applications.

  1. Research

Many interviews will ask what should be an easy question.  “Tell me what you know of our organization and why do you want to work here?”  Learn the pros and cons for every company you apply for.  Are they on Forbes’ list of good companies to work for?  Did they make the Fast Company Magazine of the one hundred most innovative companies?  Are they the subject for impending high profile lawsuits?  Have they declared bankruptcy in recent memory?  Understanding the footing of the company or organization today can lead to a better understanding of what to expect.

Congratulations, you have an interview and are scheduled to go in a week from today.  What’s your game-plan?  Are you planning to drive by the location where you need to report to?  What’s the traffic like?  Construction nearby?  Eliminate potential stress from an already stressful time by knowing exactly where to go and what the parking will be like.  The time before the interview will be better spent on relaxing and reflecting on possible questions, not where to park or go.

Do you have the list of names of who will be conducting the interview?  Check them out on LinkedIn, or even Facebook.  Someone who has a bunch of Star Wars references on their Facebook page may appreciate a reference to the movies.  Discretely, of course.  The last thing you want to do is appear to be stalking them, but having some level of who they are, maybe a little about their personalities can help you leave a quality impression.

Be prepared.  Take all the little steps that can work together to separate you from the others.  Every bit you do will help, and it will take time and effort, but when you go into job search and interview prepared, it shows.  You will tell the prospective company you are serious and determined.  Others may have more skills, but dedication, work ethic, and preparation are equally important traits to have and demonstrate while at an interview.