More camp notes

jakeididitA couple of weeks ago, I made a return trip to Minnesota to pick up my son from wrestling camp. He made it through 28 days of hard, hard work in a boot camp style atmosphere that improved not only his wrestling skills, but also his dedication, discipline, and sense of responsibility. He came home physically exhausted but knowing he has the will to see any goal through to the end.

How did that happen?! After all, the kid is only fourteen.

The founder of the camp, J Robinson, took a few minutes to talk to the parents after the last practice. Much like when I deposited my teenaged wrestler into his charge four weeks earlier, the words he spoke have stuck with me since.

As J explained the kids’ daily activities, he emphasized that not one had been included thoughtlessly. Each activity, and its placement along the camp timeline, had been chosen intentionally in order to accomplish a specific outcome. All the campers, for example, had to do stadiums (running up and down the stadium steps) at 6:30am for the first three days of camp. They had to do them over and over and over, until there was not a single kid who wasn’t sore the next day. The goal, said J, was that when the alarm went off the next morning, each kid had to make a decision. He had to decide whether to get up and do the next drill, even though it didn’t feel good.

To reach a goal, you can’t be bound by how you feel, J said. You should only be bound by what you want.

Whoa. I’ve been thinking ever since about how many times I haven’t done something that would push me toward the achievement of a goal–simply because of how I felt. How many times I skipped my daily run because I didn’t want to go out in the heat or the cold, because I was tired, or because it was inconvenient. How many times I decided at the last minute not to attend an event that would have strengthened a friendship or furthered an interest because I was too comfortable where I was. How many times I didn’t speak up because I thought I might get embarrassed. I postponed the achievement of my goals–whether they revolved around fitness level, a relationship, my career, or personal fulfillment–because I was bound by how I felt.

I watched my son do something harder than I’ve ever done, and he did it successfully. He got past himself. He set a goal, and he did it.

Don’t be bound by how you feel. Be bound only by what you want. Powerful stuff.

Dancing with elephants

Elephant_dance_at_galleryfullWe’ve all done it. We’ve tiptoed and twirled and tap danced around an elephant. You know the one I mean; she’s the behemoth who sits in the middle of the room and won’t budge. Sometimes it’s hard to see her, but you can feel her presence. If you let her, she’ll suck the life out of the party.

And we do let her.

We cater to her. She feeds off our awkwardness and carefully chosen words and avoidance. She gets bigger and bigger as she gorges on morsels of our discomfort. And we keep dancing around her.

The thing is, she’s a cooperative soul–and a polite one, too. She’ll leave in a heartbeat; all you have to do is ask. That happened to me the other day in such an unexpected, direct way that I was awed by its simplicity.

A friend came to visit and carefully stepped over my elephant. Then he turned to me and said, “Can we get something out of the way?”

Just like that, my pervasive pachyderm disappeared. She left without a whimper, and our real conversation got started.

If we don’t want to dance around an elephant, all we have to do is confront it. Who knew it was that easy?

Week one

You can probably tell that I’ve been busy. I’ve spent the past few weeks preparing my officefor a job change, making the job change, and trying to wrap my head around it all. New extracurricular activities have filled my time outside the office, and my head is spinning. But I love it.

I figure it’s a good time to step back and take stock of what I’ve learned, to let some of my first week observations coalesce into useful tidbits for moving forward. Here goes.

  1. There’s no such thing as too much communication. Just when I thought I had found something I’m good at, I find people who do it better. A lot better. Inside and outside the office, my life is suddenly full of terrific communicators. The more you talk, the more you share ideas, thoughts, and most of all expectations, the better your interactions–and the more you can get done, faster. And there’s always room for improvement–I’m a living, breathing example.
  2. Every minute is valuable. Time management, time management, time management. I thought I was busy, but I didn’t realize how much slack I had in my life until I started watching a great bunch of people get things done. They don’t block hours and days out of their calendars; they wedge things into minutes.
  3. Meetings suck. Over the course of my career, I’ve been in meetings, meetings about those meetings, pre-meeting meetings, and meetings to discuss whether having a meeting is necessary. We’d get a lot of smart people in a room to decide…to have another meeting. What we really should have been deciding is what to get done and how to do it–and then stop meeting so we could make it happen.
  4. Less process, more results. I love processes and standards that bring clarity and repeatability. I hate process that exists for its own sake. Sometimes, you just have to get things done.
  5. You can still have fun while you work hard. Yes, at the same time! This new gig just might feature the hardest working group of colleagues I’ve ever encountered, but it’s also the coolest, most fun working environment I’ve ever encountered. What was that? A smile? Woo hoo!
  6. Jump in with both feet. You’ll have a richer experience, no matter what you do. If you don’t like it you can always do something else. In my case, whether it’s OLG or BWW, I’m all in. This is pretty awesome.

What have you learned lately?

From the mouths of babes

hula karaA couple of weeks ago I wrote about a job change. As excited as I was about the move, apparently the same enthusiasm didn’t spill over to other members of my household–specifically, to my daughter. I had never done such a thing in her lifetime; I should have known she would naturally be apprehensive.

To mitigate some of her fear of the unknown, I took her with me to lunch with my new boss as I prepped for my first day. I wanted her to own a part of the process, and I also wanted to put a human face on my new company. I figured she’d ask a bunch of questions and offer up her usual charming self. Not so. My normally gregarious child sat silently, with her eyes affixed to her plate the whole time.

Her sudden-onset, pre-teen shyness did not, however, indicate a lack of engagement, as I soon found out. On the ride home, I asked for her feedback about the meeting and my new company. Her comments took me completely by surprise.

Mom, you say mmm hmm a lot. Too much.

Excuse me?

That’s what she took from the conversation? I heard her out and moved on–or I thought I did. Darn it if every subsequent mmm hmm didn’t reverberate in my head like a bad piano chord over the next four days. Last night, I decided to revisit the topic with my lovely girlio.

What am I supposed to do? I asked. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but now that you’ve called my attention to it, I hear myself saying it all the time. Is it bad?

No standard twelve-year-old answer for this girl. She nailed it.

Mom! Of course you need to acknowledge what people are saying, but what’s wrong with WORDS? Say ‘I understand’ or ‘I can see what you mean.’ Say something like that instead of mmm hmm all the time. You’ll sound much more engaged!

She is so right and I’m proud of her.

Inspiration can come from any direction, even from the mouths of babes.

Camp notes

jrobA little more than a week ago, I delivered my son to wrestling camp three states away. For a month. I know it sounds crazy, but unlike many moms, the idea of separating myself from my firstborn for a month never gave me pause, even for a second. Truthfully, I was just as excited about it as he was.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not looking to get rid of him. He’s actually a pretty cool kid–the kind I’d like to spend more time with, not less. But I digress.

This camp is pretty hard core. When my son didn’t check in with me as promptly as I thought he should have the first couple of days, I poked him a little via text message. His response? Sorry, Mom. I’ve been sleeping every possible chance. They work the kids hard. They teach them the real meaning of hard work, dedication to a cause. Alongside the intense physical sessions (running/lifting twice a day, four times a day on the mat), they also provide classroom instruction on topics ranging from goal setting to time management to handling money. And they expect the kids to learn life skills along the way by having to take care of themselves for a month sans parents. In fact, as my son and I approached the registration table, the parents were told we had to step aside. For the duration of the camp, the kids have to be responsible for themselves and their actions. *gulp*

So what’s my point?

Something the camp founder said during the incoming parent meeting really stuck with me and really explains everything. In a hoarse voice, he boiled 36 years of camp experience into this:

Everyone has a PowerPoint these days, but you don’t get tough sitting in a room talking about getting tough. To get hard, you have to live hard.

And that’s it. If you want to become something, you have to live it. You can talk about it and plan it all you want. You can learn the technique and study the experts, but you’ll never, ever master it until you do it yourself.

Forget the wrestling part. I’m excited to see the character changes in my son when he returns from camp. I expect to see a more confident, more capable, more wizened young man when he returns. I’m already seeing it in his communication with me after a week; how will he look after another three?

You don’t change by talking about something. To get hard, you have to live hard.

Take a second

Yesterday I read a post in a blog I follow that really stuck with me. It wasn’t actually the topic itself–it was a friends-helping-friends-plea, very well done though not unusual–but a single line.

Nobody is too busy to give another person five seconds a day. –Andra Watkins

That stopped me short.

Is it really that simple to make a difference? I think it just might be. If everyone on the planet offered just 5 unselfish seconds every day, that would add up to more than 9,722,222.22 HOURS each day of doing something good. Okay, so maybe that’s overly simplistic pie in the sky, but if I can make even a tiny difference to one person and all it costs me is five seconds, isn’t that worth doing? And if even a handful of people felt the same way, isn’t that even better?

I guess the reason Andra’s statement really struck me was that it changed the way I look at giving my time. She presented the quantity as something so small, so insignificant, so manageable, that instead of agreeing with a shrug, I’m now wondering what else I can do.

Five seconds? Really? That doesn’t seem like much. I could give several of those. 

Besides seeing this as a how-to-make-the-world-better-in-five-easy-seconds lesson, there are also some marketing lessons here, however unintended.

  • Make it easy for people (whatever “it” is). In this case, five seconds of time is an easier bite to chew than thinking about going to a website, finding the right person, and clicking the vote button, even though that’s still the task. Five seconds? Pfft. No big deal.
  • Change people’s perspective. One a-ha moment will earn you a ton of mental real estate. I’ve been chewing on those five seconds since I read that line. I’ve taken that one statement in a jillion different directions. What can I do in five seconds? What if everyone gave five seconds? Why only five seconds? Ten would be easy, too. Who cares WHAT I’m thinking; the important thing is THAT I’m thinking about it. If you can get someone noodling on your idea, you can really make things happen.

Sorry, Andra. I’m pretty sure this isn’t what you intended when you set out to help your friend. But you know what? The five seconds it took you to write that comment helped more people than you thought. In your own words, Thank you so much for giving a tiny piece of your day to someone else. 

New clothes

new clothesAs I kid, I remember reading the story The Emperor’s New Clothes. If you don’t remember it–or even if you do–it’s worth clicking the link for a refresher. I always got a giggle from the tale as a kid, but lately I’ve been consumed by its wisdom.

Tricked by a couple of shrewd schemers, the vain emperor parades around naked, believing he is garbed in clothing so fine that only the wise and enlightened can see it. Afraid of being deemed stupid, his subjects shower him with cheers and compliments, and the farce continues.

That is, it continues until a child, uninhibited by pretext and social expectation, speaks the truth. The very plain, very apparent truth.

How often have I been in situations where people have been afraid to speak up for fear of looking stupid?

How often have I been one of those people?

It saddens me to think how much time has been squandered talking around an issue because everyone thought he was the only one who couldn’t see it. That feeling is unsettling; it erodes confidence and undermines productivity. Those things eat away at a person.

As I think about the people I respect the most, I realize they share a common trait. They have the eyes of a Hans Christian Andersen’s fabled child, who could only see things as his eyes showed them to him. They’re not afraid to call it like they see it, even if that strains against convention. They’re not afraid to ask questions to help them see something better. And they’re not afraid to speak up about it.

Be that child.

If you see someone running around naked, tell him it’s time to get new clothes.

One lucky girl

tvdThe best career advice I can give anyone is this: figure out what you love to do, then go after it. I firmly believe that there’s a job out there for everyone that will make her say, “I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this!”

When I wrote my first article for publication, I danced on cloud nine. Not only did someone believe in my writing enough to put it in print, but it also came with a check–with my name on it. Even though that check wouldn’t have bought dinner, drinks, and dessert for a party of two, I didn’t care. Someone was paying me to do something I loved. It was the best feeling in the world. (Or at least one of the best two or three.)

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to figure out what that “thing” is that you love. It takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness and generally a healthy dose of trial-and-error, as well. I’ve often thought it completely unfair that we have to make choices at young ages that determine the direction of our entire lives. I wish I had known myself at 18 the way I do now that I’m, er, 40-something. I wouldn’t have taken so long to get here.

After 4 years of college and 22 years of a career with 3 years of grad school sprinkled on top, I finally know what gets me charged up and passionate. Heck, you probably do, too, since those are the things I write about. Making connections. Finding the meaning. Getting the details right. Learning lessons to make things better. Helping other people do it, too.

Now I get to do it and get paid for it. Officially.

On July 8, I’m starting a new adventure. After 18 years with the same company, changing jobs is kind of a big deal. I know the drill where I sit today. In fact, I know pretty much all the drills. There’s a certain comfort in that–but not enough to keep me from this new thrill.

I am so excited! I can’t believe they’re going to pay me to go to work there every day, to do what I love.

It makes no difference if you want to coach wrestling, crunch numbers, create video games, care for people, or call baseball games. If you love it, do it. Live your passion and find a way to make a living from it. Life’s too short to do anything else.

One Lucky Guitar, here I come. I am one lucky girl.

Good stuff

Beef-jerkyI attended a conference yesterday and walked away with word jerky like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t know which of these nuggets to chew on first, so I’m going to share them all and see which ones make you bite. Chime in early; chime in often. Let’s get the most out of these.

And in no particular order… Drum roll please…

  • Trust changes everything. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Get comfortable with change and patience. (Tiffany Sauder)
  • Let go of the mentality that you have a secret sauce. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Truth and transparency can change an industry. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Putting your toes in the water isn’t good enough. You have to jump in all the way. (Brian Halligan)
  • Why do we let our competitors dictate how much money we make? (Marcus Sheridan)
  • If you have too much dead wood in your organization consider this: were they dead when you hired them or did you kill them? (Will Davis)
  • I love watching dumb businesses. It’s awesome! (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Marketing used to be about the size of your wallet. Now it’s about the size of your brain. (Brian Halligan)
  • Don’t irritate your way into someones wallet. Love your way there. (Brian Halligan)
  • Make sharing easy. (Nate Riggs)

I’ve got lots of ideas to develop for future posts, but for now I need to chew on this Sam’s Club-sized portion of word jerky. Talk it up, friends. Which one of these grabs you?

P.S. If you’re a Twitterer and you’re interested in some of the buzz around this conference–the topic was inbound marketing–check out #GoInboundMktg. There was a lot of energy in that room!

Light it up

mirrorYesterday I saw someone I’ve known for a very long time, and I hardly recognized her. I see her a lot, so it wasn’t as if she had undergone some major physical transformation–hair, weight, etc.–that took me by surprise. Her face was just different.

After a few seconds, I realized what had changed her so. It was her smile. Of course, I’ve seen her smile thousands of times, but something made this one stand out. It was deep. It was genuine. It was transforming.

It struck me then that a smile–a true, soul-driven smile–can make anyone beautiful. Or handsome, as the case may be. When it goes that deep, no one can see anything else. It reminded me to smile more, to seek things that fill me with joy. To share the joy with others. That girl has some good things going on, and everyone can feel the energy.

Even someone looking in the mirror.