Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Twitter's 1st evangelism comms guy, Linkedin's 2nd PR guy. These are my thoughts on tech, public relations, and life.

CEOs Good to Great: Who Makes the Cut and Why?

3 Lessons I Learned from Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn

My five years at LinkedIn 1 is the best experience of my career.

One of the biggest reasons: Jeff Weiner.

Here’s my thoughts on what made Jeff the best CEO I’ve ever worked with, as he transitioned his role a month ago to Ryan Roslansky after 11 years of one of the most successful runs as Chief Executive I’ve ever seen.

From L – R: Jeff’s first LinkedIn Hackday judging with Adam Nash hosting, to the picture on the right, arguably (correct me if I’m wrong) Jeff’s first LinkedIn All-Hands in 2009 as he was introduced as CEO by founder Reid Hoffman, and below: my peers in the marketing & comms team, circa 2008: Richard Chen & Krista Canfield

There are Good CEOs, and then there are Great CEOs. Besides, Jeff Weiner, Dan Nye and Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), I have worked on Jack Dorsey’s team (Twitter), Andrew Dudum (who now runs Hims) and worked closely with Adam Nash (CEO Wealthfront) during his time at LinkedIn — one of the best product minds I’ve ever seen. But, I can objectively say, Jeff Weiner is as good as it gets as a leader.

Here’s three reasons why and three lessons I learned:


Lesson 1: Compassion As Purpose

Jeff Weiner was always about the High-Order Bit. I talk about that in my post on grief. As Steve Jobs would often say, what is your high-order bit. And Jeff would always ask us to stack-rank prioritize our goals, and if I had to pick the highest-ranked legacy of Jeff’s — it’d have to be compassion.

Harvard Business Review wrote about the “Best Leaders being Great Teachers,” in which they relate a story shared by Mike Gamson 2, who I got to know in 2008 and who went on to lead LinkedIn’s Sales efforts:

Another example comes from Mike Gamson, a senior vice president at LinkedIn, who told Business Insider that his first meeting with the company’s new CEO, Jeff Weiner, involved a two-hour discussion of Buddhist principles. Gamson said he wanted to be a more empathetic leader, and Weiner asked why he wasn’t instead aiming to be more compassionate. The pair explored the difference between those concepts, with recourse to a religious parable.

I have a similar story, though I wish I had the chance to explore spirituality more with Jeff, than just this brief moment during my time at LinkedIn…

The Aha Moment: Breathe In, Breathe Out

Some of you may have read my recent post on how Meditation has become an incredibly important part of my life, helping deal with grief and cope with chaos.

Way before that post, there was this anecdote:

During my time at LinkedIn (since early 2007) I had the opportunity to work with the founding team, executive team, and Jeff during his first few years since his time as acting CEO.

Fast forward, to a particularly high-stakes conversation I was having with Jeff in the middle of a tumultuous period in my life, and (of course) I have a panic attack 3.

I don’t know how other CEOs might have handled it; maybe they’d asked me to collect myself and reschedule the meeting, but Jeff instead helped guide me through composing myself while he suggested breathing techniques that are common to those who meditate, and it helped calm me and got me on to the habit of meditation that I have finally put into consistent practice.

Sure, it felt strange sharing this here, but it’s the tiny moments in life that leave a mark. Of the five years I spent at LinkedIn, this experience is at the top of my list!

Compassion in the Workplace: A Feature, Not a Bug

CEOs also need to recognize that we are in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, stressors mounting by the minute 4, an epidemic of loneliness so desolate that compassion is more relevant now than ever in the history of the workplace.

A group of researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Harvard Medical School released results from a survey they conducted in the second half of May, and 55% of people said they were more stressed than in January, before the virus was perceived to be a widespread threat.

We are living through unprecedented times, when over half of a country’s adults are under a once-in-a-century moment in history and this situation is only likely to continue.

As the workforce transitions into Gen-Z you recognize that unlike prior generations, they care most about personal well being and a work-life balance and more than ever, they crave a sense of purpose. 5. The two biggest takeaways post-pandemic (epidemic of loneliness and the WFH phenomenon) will demand that CEOs be more compassionate, wise and spiritual; the best among them setting an example worth emulating.

Jeff has also created a platform-for-compassion in The Compassion Project for elementary school students across the United States, inspired by the PBS Documentary “A Class Divided;” a classroom experiment in compassion that has its origins in a teacher’s efforts to calm her students and help them understand discrimination and divisiveness in the aftermath of the Martin Luther King assassination.

We’re in a time where people are increasingly being torn apart. People are looking to reinforce their own views by connecting with others that look like them and sound like them. Tribalism, as some would call it, is reinforced through both conventional and new media channels. – Jeff Weiner

Couldn’t agree more. It’s never been more important than in these days Black Lives Matter, where stoked by the fires of circumstance and polarization, we find our deepest insecurities bleed into an epidemic of anxiety.

These circumstances are seeing parents moonlight as teachers while going about their day jobs, a shocking increase abuse, both in homes and in the workplace, as we continue to isolate and expose ourselves to the searing heat of 2020. It is, now more than ever, for all of us (at work and home) to create a platform for compassion in every imaginable scenario.

Great leaders don’t just teach about work—they also proffer deeper wisdom. – Harvard Business Review

Lesson 2: Clarity, Consistency and Curiosity

The very first thing I recall Jeff define as CEO was a clear vision (“Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce”) and mission (“Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful”). Remember this was before the IPO, when LinkedIn has 30 million users (that under his leadership has scaled to 700 million users) 6, and the stack-ranked priority, the high-order bit for Jeff was identifying those core values, then sharing that with the leadership team, and as part of his Comms team our priority was disseminating that vision across our entire company.

One Vision, One Mission, Godspeed.

The Vision Jeff entrusted with his teams, and the Mission he demanded we create for ourselves were reiterated over and over again, until you could blurt it out were someone to wake you rudely in the middle of the night.

And everyone in the company knew that 7, as Reid continues:

Jeff says that you build trust through consistency over time. One of the things he said that stuck in my mind was that by the time that you’re getting bored of yourself saying a message, your organization is just beginning to hear it.

And Jeff hired for Mission Sync:

This showed up in how Jeff recruited people to LinkedIn. His pitch wasn’t, “Come work for me.” It was, “Come work together with me on this mission.”

Great Leaders Teach, But Also Relentlessly Learn

Star leaders also take a page from Socrates and teach by asking sharp, relevant questions, often in the course of furthering their own learning. According to a colleague at HCA, Frist “was always asking probing questions to find out what was happening.” He did it to “educate himself, not to make you feel like you were doing something appropriate or inappropriate. It was an educational venture.” 8

Jeff’s product curiosity was always spot-on. Not only was he one of the first few people at LinkedIn, who understood the true import of Twitter that I evangelized internally relentlessly, when everyone was wondering where does fit into the larger corporate storytelling paradigm. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, relates a similar story about Jeff when he first visited Jeff at Yahoo! Network critiquing the product with Jeff’s team 9

Jeff’s reaction was perfect and telling — he was intellectually curious rather than defensive. He showed an intensity of curiosity and learning, especially towards being what I call an infinite learner. And, he wanted his people to talk and interact more than he did, which reflects Jeff’s focus on leading the team, as well as being a part of the team. – Reid Hoffman on Jeff Weiner

Lesson 3: Culture & Community

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer, famously asked 10 Jobs during the last few months of his life, thus:

I once asked him what he thought was his most important creation, thinking he would answer the iPad or the Macintosh. Instead he said it was Apple the company. Making an enduring company, he said, was both far harder and more important than making a great product.

And I think Jeff understood that very well, since the day he started at LinkedIn.

Our All-Hands was a big deal. And with Jeff’s arrival, it became the heart-and-soul of LinkedIn’s culture. I briefly had the fortune of working with Jeff on crafting those until my good friend Armen Vartanian took over, and it was clear from Day One, Jeff was going to carry forward the vision and reiterate it in ways — both artful and purposeful — at these gatherings.

The All-Hands wasn’t just an excuse for us to gather, like the Pixar building that Steve Jobs built, but it was a reason to be a part of something bigger than yourself. It was the culture, given who LinkedIn is about connecting every single professional in the world — bigger than all of us professionals working at LinkedIn.

And it worked. And it shows.

How You Go from 100s to 16,000 Employees!

In another distinct way, Jeff’s actions pay homage to the lessons left by Steve Jobs, especially with the way he crafted his transition, to Ryan Roslansky, who came to LinkedIn from Yahoo!

Jobs maintained an excellent and relatively stable executive team during his second tenure at Apple. The more mature and confident he became, the more he surrounded himself with strong, opinionated executives who felt comfortable arguing with him. – There Is No “I” in Steve, Fast Company

Jeff came to LinkedIn that way. With a team in mind, a plan in place and this transition, as Reid suggests was always the best case outcome, and kudos for finding a stellar product leader to carry forward that vision:

Another great lesson I learned from Jeff was the importance of having multiple succession plans for every executive — one for an immediate emergency successor, one for a year down the road, and one for the long-term. Ryan was Jeff’s long-term succession plan. He was Jeff’s first hire after arriving at LinkedIn, and had worked for him at Yahoo for five years before that, so they have a very strong and lasting alliance. – Reid Hoffman

Jeff’s Biggest Legacy is the team he built and is leaving behind. Having briefly crossed paths with Ryan, it’s clear LinkedIn is in great hands.


In Summary; Thank You Jeff!

And, yes, these are all stellar examples of why was trending on LinkedIn a few weeks ago, given the outpouring of gratitude and employees, past and present, sharing their career high — working for Jeff.

Of course, in classic Jeff style, the All-Hands was a huge-send off with singing of Jeff’s favorite song, which did and would have brought tears to the eyes of anyone who had the pleasure of working at LinkedIn with Jeff during a glorious run. No wonder, the hashtag was trending for a while.

This is my story.

For showing me what real leadership is; #ThankYouJeff!

The Last LinkedIn Alumni Reunion Dinner I attended in 2019 with some of the early folks, hope to see Jeff in the future


  1. My alma-mater of over five years, and where I spent my most informative and insightful years as the second PR & Marketing Hire right through to our I.P.O. ↩︎
  2. A great Harvard Business Review by Sydney Finkelstein on what separates the best leaders – the ones that teach ↩︎
  3. Check out how meditation helps me cope with grief, while dealing with a relentless pandemic in 2020 here and how this episode might have been my first foray into meditation ↩︎
  4. Here’s the most recent study on July 1, 2020, that finds 55% of Americans are stressed with numbers shooting up if you’re past 50 years of age ↩︎
  5. Source: Dynamic Signal, “When Gen-Z’ers believe they are surrounded by like-minded people who feel their effort has a purpose, work is less like a job.” ↩︎
  6. Source: Statista and 400 employees (that Jeff scaled to 16,000 employees!), Growth of LinkedIn members from 2009 to 2016 ↩︎
  7. Here in Jeff’s own words that we heard reiterated during those formative years, how and why one should define their Vision, Mission and Values so clearly ↩︎
  8. Sydney Finkelstein, a professor at Tuck School, Dartmouth, writes “Best Leaders are Great Teachers” for the Harvard Business Review, calls out their Socratic approach as well as their compassion ↩︎
  9. I’d highly recommend you check out Reid Hoffman’s LinkedIn post on Learnings from Jeff ↩︎
  10. This Harvard Business Review piece by Walter Isaacson outlines The Real Leadership Lessons of Jobs, which include Focus, Simplify, and Taking Responsibility to the End ↩︎

 

Filed under: Linkedin, LinkedIn in the News, Latest at LinkedIn, LinkedIn Colleagues, Thoughts, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Best-of, Jeff Weiner

2020: Reflections on a Year Gone Wrong!

How I escaped my worst year and what it taught me about 2020

It was the best of times.

It was the worst of times.

2020 was the worst of times!


Table of Contents

2020 is unlike any other year in modern history. It is up there with 1918, 1919 and 1920; the three years suffused by World War I, that got decimated by the Spanish Flu. A pandemic of epic proportions that laid waste to 100 million lives, and came back wave after wave decimating hundreds of thousands more with each subsequent wave two and three times as awful as the first in the spring of 1918 1.

That’s where we find ourselves this beautiful summer morning in 2020. On top of the pandemic rearing its head, we find ourselves in a couple more pandemics; racial and informational, both of which have been exacerbated since the 2016 election leading to the most divisive climate in this nation’s great history.

But you wonder, what was my worst year and what does it have to do with 2020.


2016: The Worst Year of my Life, Until 2020

I lost my Mom.

I lost my Dream Job.

I lost my Girlfriend.

Snapchat from WayBack: Pics From my last trip that reunited me with my parents, sister, and nephew Gabe.

I didn’t see this coming — at all! To lose one of the above, and I’ve seen people lose their minds. To lose all three, albeit slowly, then suddenly and some in parallel; was an earthquake, on top of a tsunami in the middle of a hurricane. And to sit there in the middle of that storm unraveling, was an uncanny experience and one that has steeled me for the rest of my life. In particular, one that has steeled me for 2020.2

“There is no love of life, without despair of life.” – Albert Camus

Here’s my story of 2016, what I learned from it, and how I’m applying it to this Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year.

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.” ― Viktor E. Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning

What I’d have given to not go through those months of distress, losing the most important people in the world to me, seemed cruel and incomprehensible 3, but as cliche as it sounds, those tears were meant to teach.

Turbulence clouds the mind, mists the future, and all I could do was silently spiral into a mental paralysis. As I now connect those dots; when all three had fallen through, it truly felt like falling off of a cliff and I was free-falling. And there was nothing to stop the fall.

And it was at that moment, that I found meditation.


Step 1: Find your High-Order Bit!

Steve Jobs calls it the High-Order Bit. The one that has the power to unlock other powers, exponential across other options. Jeff Weiner, in his very first week at LinkedIn, told all of us to come up with each team’s mission / vision statement, and then figure out our stack-ranked priorities as we re-aligned every part of the organization. And the high-order bit is the one that sits atop that pyramid of priorities.

If you could do just one thing right now, and one thing only with the most impact on every other priority, what’d it be?

For me, that was meditation.4

Fight, Flight or Meditate?

To be honest, at that point in 2016 when the bottom fell out, I wasn’t thinking straight. I was free falling, and my-then-girlfriend-soon-to-be-ex recommended guided meditation with former teacher of hers. And all it took was one session, and the free-falling turned to free-floating. A free association of ideas, possibilities and peace. And since then, I’ve tried my darndest to describe what meditation is, to the uninitiated.

3 Keys to Meditation: The why, the when (it works) and the how of meditation?!

The Why: Bend or Be Broken!

“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” – Confucius

The parables are as old as Time itself, but the lessons are simple, and frankly until you experience that moment of no return, when you lose someone you dearly love and can’t ever see them again; when you walk through and out that door.

That’s when shit feels real.

As Harvard University psychiatrist George Vaillant, describes in the most recent edition of Scientific American, describing the mental health crisis humanity faces, thanks to the pandemic.

A resilient individual resembles a twig with a fresh, green living core. “When twisted out of shape, such a twig bends, but it does not break; instead it springs back and continues growing.” 5

Apparently 2/3rds of individuals recover from traumatic episodes and may even learn from it, but a third of us are lost for months, maybe years.

My own experience from a couple of years ago, could have turned out vastly different, were it not for some opportune decisions I made; regardless, I did lose time to the vicissitudes of trauma. Decisions, like meditation, that came through a lot of soul-searching, a supportive family, and a few good friends that cared about me.

Without them, I’d have been lost, and my writing is an humble effort at educating even one lost soul how I came through that door, and lived to tell the tale.

When you lose a parent (especially, a parent); that’s when all bets are off. The foundation shows its true shaky premise and you have to hold on for dear life, spiritually. But what presents itself as an impossibility — “how could this happen to me,” and “how will I ever get out of this situation,” gives you the ultimate lesson in living — “Let Be.”

The Bard Said it Best: “Let Be”

Hamlet (Act 5, scene 2, 217–224):
Not a whit, we defy augury.6 There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to

come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come — the readiness is all.
Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is’t

to leave betimes, let be.

Accepting I don’t have all the answers, that where I am isn’t the endgame, that I don’t even have a clue what the endgame is (!), and looking forward into the “abyss” with peace, not fear at the uncertainty — is what meditation teaches us. Much like Yoga isn’t just about the physical solace it provides, nor is Meditation just about calming the mind. It’s about using the storm, to find the calm — the eye of the storm.

If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape. – Pema Chodron

The When: Meditation is the Cure, The Key is in the Abyss!

“The Arrival of Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.” – Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche 7

With apologies to Winston Churchill, “We can all be trusted to do the right thing (in this case, Meditation), once all other possibilities have been exhausted.”

I had tried meditation in the past, but never felt the need for it, nor did I miss it. But, when things got ugly, I frankly had no other alternative, and the more I held on tightly to everything that was slipping, like sand, through my fingers; the more I needed an out, and that’s where meditation came in.

It’s as if someone found the secret to life, locked it in a treasure chest, threw the chest and the key down the abyss. And each time one of us stares into the abyss, we fear it swallows us whole. But, the journey to find the key must be made.

The journey to find the key is the right thing. The only option.

And so does fear. In fact, anyone who stands on the edge of the unknown, fully in the present without reference point, experiences groundlessness. – Pema Chodron

And the right thing… is meditation.

There is nowhere to hide.

Sometimes, however, we are cornered; everything falls apart, and we run out of options for escape. At times like that, the most profound spiritual truths seem pretty straightforward and ordinary. There’s nowhere to hide. – Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

There is nowhere to run.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. – Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech

Now, meditate.

The How-To Meditate: Zoom out, Zoom in!

Meditation is an invitation to notice when we reach our limit and to not get carried away by hope and fear. – Pema Chodron

The secret to meditation is letting go with focus, and to “not get carried away by hope and fear.” You’re watching your life unfold, without the affectation of your ego. It’s the real world mental equivalent of the Dolly Zoom, best encapsulated by the famous scene in Jaws:

“You can observe more of the background, while keeping the foreground in the same place.”

The Dolly Zoom as you can see describes meditation perfectly. In much the same way as the Dolly Zoom, employs both the telephoto and the wide-angle lenses at the same time, meditation is the deliberate practice to lose yourself-and-your-ego by focusing on two things at once — the foreground of your life, and the background of your life — until they both disappear and you experience this weightless, groundless feeling as described by Pema when you’re fully in the Now-minus-Ego.

The challenge with meditation is that it’s underrated and vastly misunderstood, so many folks let go of the practice before they master it. Let me walk you through my three simple hacks to get started. Stick with this for at least 30 days, and let me know whether it worked or not @mariosundar.

I study Sanskrit and Arabic to improve my mind

I wanna do things for the benefit of all mankind

I say to the willow tree, “Don’t wait for me”

I’m saying to hell with all things that used to be

— “My Own Version of You,” by Bob Dylan

Step 1: Third Eye First, Tune your Spine!

The three steps I outline need to happen at once, and there will be a moment when you subconsciously do all three, but I’m still at the stage where I’m tryna ride this bicycle of my mind, and those moments of blissful riding the mind are few and far in-between.

While there might be a lot of exaggerated stories about the “Third Eye,” the fact of the matter is that it’s a simple hack to focus on a specific point, it could be a mantra (as is common in Transcendental Meditation – that everyone from Howard Stern to Jerry Seinfeld swear by), but the answer is simple — find a word or visual spot to focus.

Personally, I shut my eyes, sit erect on my yoga pillow and focus on a spot between my eyebrows and trust me be — it is not easy to focus for a concentrated period of time on any spot (visual or mantric), and the trick is to pursue that for as long as you can. And if you can do that for more than a few minutes, you’ll see yourself floating away, while focusing on that spot.

Dolly Zoom your mind. Tuning Fork Your Spine!

In yoga meditation, the meditator withdraws the life force (prana) from the sensory and motor nerves — by a process known as pranayama (life-force control) — and directs it to the higher centers of awareness within the spine and brain. – Paramahansa Yogananda, Self-Realization Fellowship

That’s where you start. Keep your spine straight and your focus on either a mantra or a visual point between your eyebrows.

Step 2: Empty Your Breath

Equally important, I realize how crucial proper breathing is to achieve the meditative flow, after you hit the first two notes from Step 1. It’s amazing how bad we are at breathing right; anxiety and stress and alcohol and lack of sleep doesn’t help. But meditation can be a bridge to getting better at something so foundational to better living.

Controlled breathing, like what you just practiced, has been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness and boost your immune system. For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment. – New York Times, The Benefits of Controlled Breathing 8

My first experience with this was during a particularly high-stakes conversation I had with Jeff Weiner 9 way back in 2010, who I had the pleasure of working with during my nearly 6 years at LinkedIn, and I recall him asking me to breathe in and out, in a measured way when I was about to have a panic attack (more on my anxiety in a later post). But that worked, and it’s clear why that is the case.

Consciously changing the way you breathe appears to send a signal to the brain to adjust the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which can slow heart rate and digestion and promote feelings of calm as well as the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol. – New York Times, The Benefits of Controlled Breathing 10

Next week, I’ll outline the modern tools I use to track the effectiveness of my meditation, if you’d like to track that either subscribe to this blog here, or follow me @mariosundar.

Sneak peak (Week of June 29, 2020: Meditation Hardware)

  • The Apple Watch (Tracking Runs, Meditation and Workouts)
  • Core vs. Muse (Tracks Meditation)
  • Komuso Design (Tracks Breathing)

Sneak peak (Week of July 6, 2020: Meditation Software)

  • Headspace vs. Calm
  • Core vs. Muse
  • Transcendental Meditation (TM) vs. Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF)
Step 3: Empty Your Mind

So, the worst year of my life and what it taught me about 2020.

I didn’t think I’d make it out of 2016 in one piece. But, here I am. Thanks to family; thanks to a few close friends. And thanks to my biggest epiphany.

All happiness rests in one place. Between our ears! There’s the rub…

Happiness isn’t a given. Kurosawa, inarguably the greatest writer / filmmaker ever, once said:

“With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. … The script must be something that has the power to do this.”

With bad software between your ears, even the best circumstances life gifts you might be wasted materially, and most definitely spiritually. But with good software buoyed by daily meditation, calm and equanimity, you will take anything life throws at you, and you will create a masterpiece.

Yes, it sure has been a long, hard drive

But someday every thing’s gonna be different

When I paint that masterpiece – Bob Dylan

Since 2016, right through to the Pandemic of 2020…

I ran most days (88% – 92%).

I quit alcohol.

I lost 50 pounds.


Finally, I’m back to writing.

SnapBack to Now: That’s me, 50 pounds lighter, before the Pandemic of 2020, in front of my favorite restaurant

Now, let’s do this all over again! Here we go…

The best way to follow my writing is Twitter. I’m also in the process of redesigning so you can find my writing in your Inbox!Please subscribe to @mariosundar, with 7500 other friends who follow me, or if you’re in Public Relations or Marketing, connect with me on LinkedIn, with 3500 other professionals in our space. I also have a secret project I’ll be launching shortly. Stay tuned.

It’s good to be back.


  1. Source: John Barry’s “The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” that outlines the excruciating spread of a pandemic that took 100 million lives and 5% of the world’s population, with two thirds of lives taken between 18 – 45 years, across three waves in the middle of a World War, via Peter Attia’s excellent podcast — The Drive ↩︎
  2. My experiences resemble this retelling in the New York Times by Eva Holland, Author of “Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear.” I call it “Deliberate Resilience.” ↩︎
  3. Everything at that moment, will feel random, meaningless, surreal, but make no mistake, it is suffused with meaning and it will take years to unwrap. The only gift I wish for you is to be open and curious over the next few years. ↩︎
  4. This is particularly true for those of us, stuck at home, with our inner demons. Sam Lansky, Author of Broken People, nails this dangerous time to slip-and-slide into binge-eating-or-drinking in his terrific TIME piece Stuck With Yourself: The Hidden Price of a Pandemic ↩︎
  5. An introspective Scientific American feature delves into similar themes I discuss in this post on the macro-psychological view of the pandemic and how 2.6 Billion people are coping with anxiety ↩︎
  6. The exact moment where Hamlet recognizes everything is out of his control, and learns in the following lines to accept with grace, and the moment shall arrive. More here ↩︎
  7. A beautiful primer on why “Chaos is Good News” from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche ↩︎
  8. Lesley Alderman, Psychotherapist and New York Times’ contributor, outlines the Breathe-Exhale-Repeat Formula that is a necessary Step 2 in my outline for meditation efficiency ↩︎
  9. Jeff Weiner is currently Executive Chairman at LinkedIn, and I had the pleasure of learning and working with him during the first four years after he began LinkedIn’s comeback from layoffs back in 2008 ↩︎
  10. “Breathing is meditation for people who can’t meditate,” says Dr. Belisa Vranich, author of the book “Breathe”) ↩︎

Filed under: About Mario Sundar, Best-of, Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn Colleagues, Thoughts, Writing

Why I blog and why you should too

The toughest part of blogging is keeping up the urge to blog seven days a week. This post, inspired by Orwell, started out  as my quest to find out why I  blog, but it kinda evolved into an outline on why you should too.

sisyphus-1549

Trust me on this one: blogging’s tough to keep up with, there’s no clear end game but it’s totally worth it!

So blogging newbies, if you’re expecting a quick return on investment with your new hobby I’d say, don’t even start. You are likely to shed your blogging interest much like a New Year’s resolution:

“Avocational” bloggers are likely to drop off simply because it’s hard work to keep up the pace. Writing an insightful 700 word article several times a week, for no or little money, is far more taxing than snapping a photo or sending a 140 character tweet. That’s part of the reason a 2010 Pew study showed that the rate of blogging was declining among teens and young adults, who were instead spending their time on social networks.

But if you’re willing to stick with it, read on. Here’s why blogging matters to every single one of us (yes, every one reading this post):

1. Blogging gives you a voice

Blogs traffic in ideas and as a professional if you’ve ideas other than what your boss demands of you in a daily job, than a blog is the best way to share it widely. Quora or LinkedIn or Twitter sure help, but you’re playing in somebody else’s playground. I say build a blog yourself and it’s all you. You own your words, your ideas.

Get creative. You’re gonna feel the urge to do that someday soon. @dorieclark summed it best:

Writing is still the clearest and most definitive medium for demonstrating expertise on the web. But as thought leaders like Gary Vaynerchuk have shown with video blogging and fellow HBR blogger Mitch Joel with podcasting (i.e., audio blogging), as long as your content is rich and thoughtful, you can still build up a massive following and reputation regardless of your channel. In an information-hungry world, there will always be a need for expert content. And there will always be more readers and “retweeters” than there will be creators.

2. Use that voice with purpose

If you want to have an impact, you might as well be the one setting the agenda by leading with your ideas to influence the world. Reminded me (yes, I think of most things in life as a Steve Jobs quote) of something Steve Jobs said:

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is to live your life inside this world; try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life.

Life can be much broader. Once you discover one simple fact and that is everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.

You can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

This thinking echoes one of Orwell’s motives for writing:

Political purpose: Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.

And, I think any good blog or book has a serious purpose. The rest of them blogs are boring as hell; kinda like some of the older posts I wrote in Act II of writing this blog. A mistake I don’t plan on making again.

3. Blogging sharpens your mind 

Nothing clarifies the mind better than the concerted effort to write a blog post. I learned this from @adamnash who, besides being a prolific blogger himself, also used to be a strong advocate of product managers on his team writing posts for the company blog as an exercise in thinking through product features from a user’s perspective.

What’s true for product managers is true for any professional across the board. Much like the iPhone’s limited mobile real estate forces designers to surface the most important features efficiently, a blank page on a blog forces you to channel your ideas on topics that mean something to your career.

Open an empty word document and try writing down the first thing that comes to mind about your “job” today.

Try it, it’s a liberating act.

4. Blogging helps you connect the dots

Facebook may connect you with people you already know, but knowledge networks like Twitter or Quora connect you with people you gotta know. A blog is the epitome of this dynamic.

I’m still good friends with the first group of bloggers I stumbled upon when I started this blog. Folks like Ann Handley, Jeremiah Owyang or Mack Collier among others. As time progresses, your thinking evolves, you focus on areas your mind leads you to (in my case – social networking) and you find other equally insightful bloggers to friend.

Fact is: blogging expands your circle of professional connections but more importantly guides you towards people who are more in line with your professional thinking.

So have I made a persuasive case for blogging? Frankly, this post is more a personal rallying cry to help me sustain my blogging, but rest assured blogging changed my life once and I’m betting on it doing the same again.

As Steve Jobs said:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.

So blog. Do it if you really love what you do. Heck, do it if you don’t love what you currently do.

And the dots will eventually connect.

Filed under: Best-of, Thoughts, Writing,

Find your Inner Blog.

“Don’t censor yourself. Don’t go along with the crowd. Don’t be greedy. Don’t be cheap.

Young as you are, play dead — so that your eyes will stay open.” – Nadine Gordimer

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Thus ends Jeffrey Eugenides’ advice to 10 Whiting Award winners this past year. Words that resonate strongly with me during this holiday season for one reason: it’s a swift kick-in-the-pants I need to get me back to writing.

But, more importantly, it’s a welcome thought reminding me of the real reason I started this blog: to find my passion, and to find my inner voice. Words that give me hope that it may not be too late to revive my writing after all.

Other points of wisdom in the article that bestirred my writer’s conscience:

1. “A serious person should try to write posthumously”

That was Nadine Gordimer to Christopher Hitchens. Mortality’s a theme revisited by many artists because “almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Or as Hitchens put it:

“By that I took her to mean that one should compose as if the usual constraints — of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and, perhaps especially, intellectual opinion — did not operate.”

Either way, it can be a most liberating thought. And one that frees up a creative block and forces you to think straight – for the long term.

2. Write with purpose, find your calling

For a while there, I halted my blogging coming up with a flimsy excuse that I needed to find an audience before I shared my words. Every day was an excuse to skip putting my words down on WordPress, while I evaded the hard work of capturing those fleeting thoughts.

I still recall the first time my blog got recognized with a spike in traffic (hat tip to Jason Calacanis). It was one of those magical moments where my passion met an audience. It can’t be planned, it can’t be faked.

You write your first stuff pretty much for yourself, not thinking anybody will read, much less publish, it, not thinking it’ll earn money, therefore not worrying about pleasing anyone or falling in line with any agenda; not worrying about censoring yourself, either, because who’s going to see it? And, miraculously, it worked out.

But once you find the audience, your mind starts working in reverse trying to please that audience, grow that audience, so you repeat yourself with popular “Top 10” posts, etc. And over time all you’re left with is drivel.

You might begin to forget the person you are in order to write and sound like someone else. Alternately, you might be tempted to repeat yourself. To follow the fashion of your own previous work, to stop exploring, learning and trying new things, for risk of failure.

If you try to write posthumously, however, fashion doesn’t apply.

As far as a blog is concerned all that’s within my control is to write with honesty and try to share that with a few good people who may appreciate it.

As Kurt Woolf, Kafka’s first publisher in Germany, wrote to him after Kafka’s book tanked, “You and we know that it is generally just the best and most valuable things that do not find their echo immediately.”

Fashion is the attempt to evade that principle: to be the echo of someone else’s success and, therefore, to create nothing that might create an echo of its own.

3. Remember when and why it all started

The fuel to keep going is simple yet elusive. My favorite passage in the entire article is Eugenides reminding the writers of why they started writing.

“When you started writing, in high school or college, it wasn’t out of a wish to be published, or to be successful, or even to win a lovely award like the one you’re receiving tonight.

It was in response to the wondrousness and humiliation of being alive.

Remember? You were fifteen and standing beside a river in wintertime. Ice floes drifted slowly downstream. Your nose was running. Your wool hat smelled like a wet dog. Your dog, panting by your side, smelled like your hat. It was hard to distinguish.

As you stood there, watching the river, an imperative communicated itself to you. You were being told to pay attention. You, the designated witness, special little teen-age omniscient you, wearing tennis shoes out in the snow, against your mother’s orders. Just then the sun came out from behind the clouds, revealing that every twig on every tree was encased in ice. The entire world a crystal chandelier that might shatter if you made a sound, so you didn’t. Even your dog knew to keep quiet.

And the beauty of the world at that moment, the majestic advance of ice in the river, so like the progress of the thoughts inside your head, overwhelmed you, filling you with one desire and one desire only, which was to go home immediately and write about it.”

That’s it. Every blog post I’ve written that was ever worth reading was a response to that overwhelming desire to describe…

“The majestic advance of ice in the river.”

And somewhere along the way, somewhere in 2012, I completely lost that wonder. Circumstances and stress may have had something to do with it but I’m sure there will always be opportunities for stress. I feel like it’s about time I once again started reacting to the magic around me.

And over time, I bet, the rest will add up too.

The magic will happen. The dots will connect.

As a wise soul once reminded us:

“Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

Filed under: About Mario Sundar, Best-of, Thoughts