Putting the “Dead” Back in “Deadline”

Putting the “Dead” Back in “Deadline”
Pere Lachaise Cemetery

The graveyard is full of great ideas that were never heard (Photo: Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France)

My friend Greg Crawford had a wonderful saying he once shared with me. “I love deadlines,” he deadpanned. “I love the sound of them as they go whooshing by…”

Boy, can I relate. Even with the discipline of having been a journalist for a daily newspaper (read: daily deadlines), I struggle with those commitments, mostly the ones I make to myself. That’s why I loved hearing the audio promo from the August 2013 issue of SUCCESS magazine, in which Publisher and Founding Editor Darren Hardy cites a story about a French mathematician who learned the value of deadlines.

Évariste Galois was a young Frenchman who was born with amazing brilliance in math, particularly algebra. But it wasn’t until he was challenged to a duel that he took the time to furiously scribble 60 pages of notes, ideas that would later lead to a revolution in higher algebra. Sadly, Monsieur Galois lost the duel… thereby putting the “dead” back in “deadline.”

Why is it we’re our most productive when there’s a (literal or figurative) gun to our head? Mr. Hardy of SUCCESS Magazine says this story demonstrates the need for tension, pressure and urgency to push our ideas out of us. “Otherwise the feeling that we have an endless amount of time is insidious and debilitating to the mind,” he writes in his publisher’s letter. “Our attention and thoughts become fractured and dispersed. Our lack of intensity makes it difficult to jolt our brain into high gear, into that higher state of creativity and mental lucidity.”

One of the reasons I love coaching people in mid-career is because somewhere around 40, we start to hear the ticking of that proverbial biological clock. The career trajectory that we saw as endless opportunity in our 20s suddenly has some very real parameters around it. If we don’t do what we were designed to do now, then when? Barbara Sher wrote a book called It’s Only Too Late if You Don’t Start NowJohann Wolfgang von Goethe, known as Germany’s Shakespeare, is often quoted as having said “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Maybe the  best quote of all is from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “Don’t die with the music still in you.”

In other words, we need to get off our duffs (OK, need to get off my duff) and get busy, creating whatever it is we’re going to create. If you want to start a business, begin working on a plan. If you’re dying to become a professional speaker, sign up for one of the many National Speakers Association Speakers Academies around the country. (Shameless plug: I’m dean of the one in Chicago that starts in September–visit NSA-IL for details.) If you have an aria to sing, find a stage and some folks to listen.

While we may not be facing a duel tomorrow morning at sunrise, we don’t get any guarantees. What would you scribble on those 60 pages if you knew your days–even minutes–were numbered? What’s the music still left inside of you?

The Tenacity Gene

The Tenacity Gene

This week I heard a great interview on National Public Radio with an author named David Epstein who wrote a book called The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. There are some wonderful insights Mr. Epstein shared about the book, but the one that really caught my imagination was a story about the success of sled dogs who help win the Iditarod race in Alaska.

Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey couldn’t afford to breed fast dogs. Instead, he bred dogs that were slower but would “just go and go and go,” according to Mr. Epstein. These dogs had the drive to pull the sled all the time, never wanting to stop. He says these dogs have been bred for motivation and for “work ethic,” something that’s kind of funny to think about when you’re considering sled dogs–but there it is, supported by science. These dogs are pulling longer, not faster.

This story brings new meaning to the old Aesop fable of the tortoise and the hare. And I can’t  help thinking about it when it comes to our own work habits. My most recent habit is to focus more deeply on follow-up and follow-through. I know that networking is only as good as the follow-through, so I’m holding myself accountable for new habits in connecting with people.

I receive a business card and follow up with an email, written expressly for that person and highlighting where we met or what we may have talked about. I remind them they’ve given me permission to add them to my “Golden Rolodex.” I thank them for their time and offer an open invitation to be of service to them in any way I can. Then I go to LinkedIn and write a custom invitation to stay connected via LinkedIn, too–referencing my earlier e-mail. I ask for nothing in any of these communications–this is just my way of reinforcing we’ve met and laying the groundwork for future connections.

This takes time and I feel a little like a sled dog, plodding my way through the snow. But I know that these investments of time and custom connections are critical to building relationships that will last. Whether or not I have the tenacity gene, I’m working on my tenacity muscle, accomplishing what Gregg Levoy in his book Callings calls “the pick-and-shovel” work of making connections. And I feel stronger every day, building the skill to just “go and go and go.”