Love and Work

Love and Work

Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday that reminds us of love. We mostly interpret that to mean “romantic love” or eros, which leaves the day fraught with peril for those who are between love interests. If you’re without a sweetheart, the day may be a stinging reminder that everywhere you look, someone else is getting a dozen roses.

I celebrate Valentine’s Day in a broader sense, focusing instead on a higher form of love, agape, a transcendent love, universal and unconditional. This is the love that I’m speaking of when I share the mission of my coaching practice: “To create a world where people love what they do and do what they love.” When we are in service to others through our work, that is a transcendent love. We are driven to make a difference and in spite of circumstances, in spite of the evidence (failure, disappointment, no results), we keep on working. We do it for love.

My coaching practice rose from the ashes of losing the job that brought us here to the Chicago area. After the shock and shame of getting fired, I lifted my head and asked myself, “What did I learn? Where was I responsible for this mess?” Truth was, I was not fit for that job. I ignored the signs, to my peril. Once I accepted that I was 100% responsible for what had happened, I made a powerful choice: I would never again stay in a job that didn’t fit. I committed myself from that time on to loving my work and helping others love theirs.

Sigmund Freud said “Love and work are the cornerstones to our humanness.” I would venture to say “Love of work is the cornerstone to our humanness.” Look at how much time we spend at work…most of our waking hours. I had a colleague once who complained daily about her job. When I gently offered to provide some career coaching to her, she sighed and said, “No, that’s all right. I only have eleven more years until retirement.”

ELEVEN MORE YEARS! I think of my friend Sheryl, who died at 56 of a brain aneurysm, unable to see her daughter graduate high school. I think of men who have heart attacks within months of retirement, having tolerated their work with the vision of golf courses in their heads, now too weak to walk. Plan for the future, yes, but don’t live for the future. The future is now. We have the right–and the responsibility–to love what we do so that we can make a difference in the world. There is urgency in this message! We must love what we do because as far as I know, this is our one shot. As the poet Mary Oliver wrote in her poem “The Summer Day,” “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I hope on this Valentine’s Day you’re surrounded by all types of love–love of friends and family, your pets, your home and your work. Most of all I hope you love the choices you’ve made. If not, you can make new choices. There’s still time but time, like your life, is precious. Act now. Let me know if I can help.

Help! I’ve Been Hijacked!

Help! I’ve Been Hijacked!

Have you ever had that feeling that you’ve been hijacked? No, not literally hijacked on an airplane bound for Boston, then suddenly headed to Havana. But maybe you’ve been hijacked by someone else’s agenda. Perhaps you know the feeling of moving forward resolutely toward your own goals and objectives when suddenly, you find yourself writing copy for someone else’s campaign or you’re volunteering for a cause just because you couldn’t say “no” to that persuasive friend. Everywhere we turn we’re faced with opportunities, decisions and invitations, most of them well-meaning but with the potential to distract us from our own powerful missions.

Recently I wrote, in dry-erase marker on my bathroom mirror, “Don’t get hijacked by someone else’s agenda.” This reminds me, daily, to consider the invitations that come my way. Do they support the mission I’m on, to create a world where people love what they do and do what they love? Are they part of my strategic marketing plan? Is the opportunity one that aligns with my commitments, passions and brand? Or am I just caught up in the moment, swept away by someone else’s (well-meaning) enthusiasm for their own project? The writing on my bathroom mirror cautions me to take the time to stop, think, and reflect before saying “yes.”

A while ago I read this quotation by Warren Buffett, the famous business magnate, investor and philanthropist:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

 

This quotation initially shocked me. For many years, I had lived by the credo, “Just say yes!” For someone who “smells” opportunity everywhere, I was convinced that staying open to the world, and saying “yes,” would move me closer to my goals. The wisdom of Warren Buffett turned my thinking upside down and made me very uncomfortable–it seemed so ungenerous! But after much reflection, I think I understand. Successful people stay committed to what they say they are committed to. Reluctantly, we can’t do everything. The “really successful people” maintain a laser-beam focus, resist being distracted and refuse to get hijacked by other people’s agendas. We can wish them well, and stay open to possibility. But in order to make a really big “dent in the universe,” as Steve Jobs famously said, we must maintain our own mission, purpose and direction. We have to practice discernment. When in doubt, refer to your strategic plan. If you don’t have a strategic plan, let’s talk.

Paying Your Dues

Paying Your Dues

Whether you’re building a business or moving up the ladder (or, for some, the “lattice”) of your career, you’ve probably heard that term: “You’ve gotta pay your dues.”

Literally, it means allocating the money to be part of your professional association, trade union or any other organization that supports you in your endeavors. Maybe it’s your annual dues to belong to your local chamber of commerce. Or perhaps it’s the cost of being a member of your association so you have access to certification, training and a network of other professionals from whom to learn. Your dues are a line item in your budget, and you can expect to pay that as an annual fee as long as you want to stay in that organization.

But “paying your dues” has another definition. The phrase implies a long-term investment in order to someday reap the rewards. And it has a kind of ominous tone to it, doesn’t it?

Anyone who is successful has a story to tell about “paying their dues.” It may mean taking on an unpaid internship in order to learn the business you’re interested in. You may have started out in the copy room or the mail room. You may have schlepped to get coffee for the higher-ups in order to be in the sphere of those you admire and whose careers you want to emulate. For you, paying your dues may have been working in a low-level and low-paying job in order to get your foot in the door, to learn the fundamentals. Paying your dues implies you are willing to forego ego, prestige and pay because you have your eyes set on a bigger prize, and you know experience is the only thing missing between you and that prize.

Brett and Kate McKay are Generation Y bloggers who wrote a blogpost about “The Importance of Paying Your Dues.”  In their collaborative blog “The Art of Manliness,” they admit their generation and the Millennials who follow have a certain sense of entitlement, perhaps inspired by growing up in a time when everyone on the soccer team got a trophy just for showing up. They’ve studied success through their “So You Want My Job” interviews and their advice to their readers is sound: “Be willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term goals.”

I think about the jobs I’ve had that contributed to what I’m doing today: my first service jobs as babysitter and counter girl at McDonald’s; being a clerk-typist at the university as I worked my way through school; my first job as a librarian, a job that gave me access to books and the time to write; and my days as a “swamper” in the newsroom, writing obituaries as the lowliest reporter working for a daily newspaper. Each and every job was an exercise in paying my dues. The twenty years of writing copy for hospital newsletters, ghost-writing the CEO’s column, cranking out press releases and poring over media lists, making presentations in front of the board of directors–every duty I ever performed was like practicing scales in the rehearsal room. All designed to refine and hone my skills so that today, I may serve my clients with purpose and passion.

So as I write a check for my own professional association this month, the National Speakers Association, I remind myself that membership has its privileges. The commercial transaction gives me support, context, access to all the things I need to be a successful speaker and coach. What I do with that access going forward, and my willingness to continue to pay my dues, is totally up to me.

[Photo credit: www.steadusers.org]

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?

Staying Relevant

Staying Relevant

 

Remember these?

Remember these?

 

 

 

Maybe it’s because I just had a birthday but lately I’ve been thinking about the importance of staying relevant. Watching someone riding a bike while talking on the phone; seeing Facebook photos of my three-year-old grandnephew Grady reading a book on an iPad; and hearing the news of Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post (and reading Arianna Huffington’s response, “The Future of Journalism,”) have made me dizzy from the speed of change.

Each generation has to embrace change. My dad, a professor and a prolific writer, resisted using a computer. As a fellow wordsmith, I thought he would love using a tool that made writing and editing so much easier. Instead, he stuck to writing hard copy (and lots of it) on his IBM Selectric III. He never really embraced the ease and expansiveness of computers but instead continued to bang away on his electric typewriter, cranking out books, articles and letters which I now treasure, typos and all.

My mom, however, was an early adopter. Back in the mid-1990s when e-mail became all the rage, I remember my mom asking me with a sigh, “When are you going to get e-mail?” She’d already opened her first AOL account and was impatiently waiting to send me notes from her computer to mine. Years later, when I was visiting her in Tempe, AZ, and she and I were finalizing our dinner plans, she said breezily, “Just send me a text.” Text? I hadn’t yet learned to text. My seventy-eight-year-old mother beat me to the punch, thanks to her grandchildren who had nudged her into the world of texting. (Yes, now I know how.)

So as someone who thought the Internet was a fad, I have to be wary of my resistance to change. How can we stay relevant in today’s world?

  • Stay alert. Keep your eyes and ears open and watch what’s going on around you. I’ll never forget seeing my first Walkman and later, seeing someone reading a book on a Kindle at an airport. I was taken aback, then intrigued and ultimately it caused me to…
  • Ask a lot of questions. I remember breaking down and asking someone, “So, how do you like that Kindle?” I got a full report. After interviewing several other people about that technology, I learned I needed to…
  • Be courageous. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say it’s courageous to learn to read books a whole new way. I admit, I still favor “real” books, but I’m learning to enjoy reading on my Kindle. And I appreciate the advantages of being able to read multiple books on one device without schlepping multiple books with me on a plane.
  • Hang out with young people. They’re fearless. Young people have grown up with computers and other digital devices. Watch and learn and don’t be afraid to ask them questions about how things work. And when it doubt…
  • Try it, you’ll like it. Jump in, experiment, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s the only way to grow.

Staying relevant means staying engaged, being curious and continuing to learn–at any age. We don’t have to adopt every new gadget or be on each social media site available, but to ignore new options for communicating would rob us of some exciting opportunities. I remind myself to be open to what the next generation will bring, not just to be “hip.” Staying relevant is good business.

Barn-Raising 101

Barn-Raising 101

Many years ago I read the book Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want by Barbara Sher with Annie Gottlieb. The book had a profound effect on me and I’ll never forget one of the analogies the author used to encourage her readers to ask for help from others to accomplish their goals. Ms. Sher referenced a barn-raising to reinforce the power of community, enrolling others in your mission to move there faster and more efficiently.

You’ve seen pictures of a barn-raising, right? Think of an Amish community in the rolling hills of Ohio or Pennsylvania. A young couple is about to be married, and they’re moving into their own home after the wedding. They need a barn, so the community comes together. In one day, they “raise a barn,” accomplishing something it would take the individual months, maybe even years to do. (If you want to see an example of a barn-raising, watch “Witness” with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis–it’s a great thriller with some steamy romance thrown in.)

Barbara Sher blames our culture of rugged individualism on the tendency for folks to insist on going it alone. But it really does take a village… to get our goals and dreams accomplished. That’s one of the most powerful reasons to seek and participate in a professional (or trade) association.

I recently joined the Association Forum of Chicagoland and people laugh when I tell them it’s “the association for associations.” Associations are big business-VERY big business. In 2012 the Association Forum did an economic impact study of Chicagoland associations conducted by CliftonLarsonAllen, one of the nation’s top 10 CPA and consulting firms. The study reports there are more than 1,600 associations based in the Chicago area, and these associations pump more than $10.3 billion directly into the local economy each year. Together, membership exceeds more than 27 million individual members and 250,000 corporate members. These Chicago area associations provide nearly 44,000 full- and part-time jobs with a total employee compensation of more than $4.2 billion.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with you? Essentially, this means there’s an association for everyone. If you’re in the healthcare field, an accountant, an attorney or in any one of the many occupations listed in the Occupational Outlook Handbook which includes approximately a bazillion titles, there is a group of people in the same industry or occupation who share your interests, skills and, most importantly, educational needs. Most associations exist to serve the professional development needs of their membership, along with often representing them as a powerful lobby. Associations are fascinating entities and if you’re not part of yours, find one. There may be more than one–try them out and if it’s the right fit, join. Get involved. Become a member of a committee and, if you’re engaged in their mission, you’ll find yourself on the board before you know it.

Then, when you’re in the process of building your own barn (read: career, mission, goal, company, project), you have a community to help you. Oh, sure, you can build a barn by yourself, one nail and one plank at a time. But there’s urgency to get your barn built! And it’s a lot more fun when you accomplish your goals surrounded by people who know and care about you. It’s called “networking.”

 

 

Free from your labors on Labor Day

To most of us, Labor Day means picnics and barbeques, parades and a three-day weekend. We think of the holiday as a time to kick back and enjoy the last days of summer before the transition to our more hurried fall routines of work and school.

But if you read the history of Labor Day, you’ll see it began as a reconciliation with the unions after bitter strife and even bloodshed. According to Wikipedia, the holiday was first proposed by union workers in the late 1880s. The officially sanctioned holiday was a rush job by President Grover Cleveland to appease workers after the Pullman strike.

So out of chaos and conflict came this three-day weekend in which we celebrate work and workers… while not working. Hmmm… go figure.

My many years of working for hospitals taught me that even on holidays most of us take for granted, people are working. Nurses and doctors, firemen and women, emergency personnel and 911 operators… these are the people we can stop and acknowledge while sipping a beer or flipping a burger. The drive-throughs are still open, the retail clerks are frantically stocking to keep up with Labor Day sales and somewhere, someone is writing a blog. Oh, that’s me.

To all of you who are workers, I salute you. I believe we’re created to make a difference through our work which is why I do what I do as a marketing coach–helping people be successful in their businesses and careers. I’m thrilled to launch this blog about work on the holiday set aside to honor work.

Here’s to you! (clink)