Book report

Last weekend I read an interesting little book. Titled Please Don’t Just Do What I Tell You (by Bob Nelson), this book really struck a chord with me.

Early in my blog life, I posted an entry titled What keeps me up at night. It dealt with my rising panic at what I perceive to be a lack of critical thinking in our current society–or at least in the workplace. Admittedly, I faded into the esoteric. I could have communicated my point better.

Thankfully, now I don’t have to. Though I never once came across the term critical thinking, this book lays the foundation for exactly that. In simple, practical terms, it encourages people to think ahead, understand motives, take initiative, and get things done. Nelson gives suggestions and lays out real world scenarios that will serve as a terrific pocket primer for some and a reminder for others.

Pick it up if you get a chance. At less than 100 pages on my iPad, it was a quick read, but well worth it.

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True colors

Anyone who watches the Pro Bowl–the NFL’s fan chosen all-star game–knows that identifying specific players isn’t always easy. Players from all teams shed their standard uniforms and don game-specific duds that identify either the AFC or the NFC. The only thing that saves us visually challenged fans is that they get to keep their regular helmets, shoes, and accessories. Only from the topside can a fan pick out a Colt, a Dolphin, a Jaguar, or a Seahawk. Even then, it can get a bit blurry in the fast action.

Except for the Packers players.

With nothing more than a sidelong glance, any fan can immediately pick out a Packers player. While these guys fit right in when they’re playing with the full complement of their team, the glaring PMS-1235C gold of their helmets and shoes (not the glittery gold of royalty but a revved up version of 1962 refrigerator) makes a pretty bold statement against the blue and white of the NFC uniforms. Indeed, I have to say that it looks downright gaudy.

And that’s okay.

Those colors (as a metaphor for the team) earned those players the right to be there. It was the combination of team play and their contribution to it that made “The Chosen” stand out. Without those colors, those guys wouldn’t be there. Whether a player’s colors are green and gold, orange and black, or blue and white, he should wear them proudly.

Even though you may not be a football star, that goes for you, too. Your colors are really the sum of your experiences–those same experiences that brought you wherever you are today. So don’t hide those experiences; instead, wear them like badges for your lessons learned. Even if you move on from your team or perform outside your normal arena, don’t hide who you are. Show your true colors. You’ve earned them.

Not just

A few years ago, my staff members introduced themselves round-robin style to a visiting vendor. One by one, each told who he was and what he did for the company. Eventually we made it around the table to one of the newer members of my staff, who gave his name and said, “I’m just a web designer.”

I stopped the conversation right there.

It was really important to me that this person understood his contribution to the company–and that it had value. A company needs every employee, from the CEO to the accountant to the lathe operator to the groundskeeper to run successfully. Each part contributes something to the whole.

One of my favorite anecdotes from my professional experience was relayed to me years ago by the woman who cleaned our offices. She normally did her work after most people had left for the day, but one evening the then-CEO stuck around for a late meeting. When he saw her in the hallway, he pulled her into the board room and asked her to tell his visitor why she was important to our company. Though this exercise was totally unexpected and certainly unrehearsed, she didn’t miss a beat. She told the visitor what she did, why she did it, and how it fit into the company’s values. She was right on target.

No one is “just” an anything. We all offer an activity that is necessary to the success of our employer, or we wouldn’t be there. If you don’t know why you’re important, figure it out. Once you find your purpose, you’ll be amazed how it affects your performance. I’m willing to bet that others will notice, too.

Steno-bro

I’m not a feminist crusader. Although I’m not oblivious to the issues, I honestly don’t think of myself in terms of a gender when considering getting a job done. I’m just me. Either I can do the work or I can’t. If I can, I’ll work hard to prove it.

Even so, here’s a plain truth: guys can carry steno pads.

If you read my earlier post, Steno-sis, you understand the reference. After I wrote it, I thought of a long-time colleague who always used a steno-pad as his note-taking medium of choice. I’m sure he had scores of them stashed around his office, filled without a second thought to how he looked scribbling beneath the spiral binding.

What gives?

He started at the company around the same time I did, is fairly close to my age, and our careers followed the same general trajectory. He never got the speech, and it didn’t seem to hurt him. The main difference? He’s a guy. No one ascribed secretarial allusions to his persona, simply because of that fact.

I’m not complaining. This guy was really good at his job and earned every promotion he got; he just had to worry less about appearances.

And that’s the way of the world. It just is. Frankly, I care a little, but not a lot. I can’t change it by myself, though I do believe those perceptions will eventually shift, however slowly. In the meantime, it makes more sense to put my energy into understanding my world and learning how to navigate it most effectively. Rather than bemoaning the unfairness of this scenario, I’ll move the needle far more by ditching my own steno pad and doing great things, proving that I have the mettle to get the job done–with another kind of note pad, alongside my steno-bro.

And that’s my analy-sis.

P.S. You really should read Steno-sis if you haven’t. This post will make a lot more sense with proper context.

Mission impossible

I may have written about this before, but the topic keeps resurfacing in my world. Whatever you do in life, remember this: the measure is not the mission. It’s perfectly acceptable to look at your paycheck or your bonus as a measure of your accomplishments. It’s standard practice to gauge your company’s success by earnings per share or net income. It’s okay to mark your weight loss progress on the scales.

BUT…

Those results are indicators of a successful mission; don’t let them become the mission itself.

If your mission is to write critically acclaimed fiction, your first few successes will net promising royalties and advances for new works. But if you fall in love with the money itself and start writing for the mass market to generate more cash, you’ve undermined your original goal. Your quality will suffer as you crank out more books, faster, without being able to give appropriate attention to the content. (Sorry, James Patterson.)

If your company sets out to roast and deliver premium coffees to an underserved market, its initial success will be visible in financial measures. When the smell of money overpowers the smell of coffee and you look for ways to generate more profit without regard for the principles that got you there in the first place, your premium coffee customers will look elsewhere for their caffeine fix. (Read The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella for a great fictional illustration of this.)

If you set out to lose weight to improve your health, you’ll obviously turn to the scales to measure your progress. When you disregard what you put into your body in favor of how much (i.e. calories) you put into your body, you can lose weight without the desired health benefits. You can become nutritionally deficient from empty calories, but Wow! What a weight loss success! (Sarcasm intended.)

If you still don’t get my point, think of it this way.

*Warning. Here comes a sports analogy.*

Owners of football teams want more revenue. Fair enough. When a team is good, more people go to the games. More people buy jerseys and t-shirts. More sponsors sign up because they see more fans. When the team starts losing consistently, the opposite happens and the owners sees his income start to drop. Certainly, the owner can try to creatively promote interest and attendance, but unless his team starts playing well, he will likely only slow the shrinking of his wallet. So he goes to work on the team. If he fixes the team’s woes and they start winning, the fans will come back–with their money. The money is the measure; winning games is the mission.

I realize that I’m starting to ramble here, and I apologize. It’s just that I so often see people managing their lives and their businesses to a measure while they ignore what got them there in the first place. It boils down to this. Stick with your mission and do it really well; the rest will take care of itself.

Ride, baby, ride

If you read the recap of my 2011 PMC ride, you know that last year’s ride was tough for me–and I wasn’t convinced I was ready to do it again. If you read my year-end reflections, you know that I did, indeed, decide to give it a go once more. If you’re new to my blog, you’re likely confused.

For the benefit of the latter group, I’ll explain.

PMC stands for Pan-Massachusetts Challenge. It’s an annual event, a two-day, 190-mile bicycle trek that winds its way through half of Massachusetts, from Sturbridge (about mid-state) to Provincetown (the tip of the curlicue). As if the thrill of the physical challenge weren’t enough, this 5000-rider event serves as a cancer fundraiser, donating 100% of all rider-raised proceeds to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It’s a big deal. Last year alone, the PMC presented a check for $35 million to DFCI. Yes, those are MILLIONS.

It’s tough. In fact, it’s grueling. Physically, I don’t think I’ve ever undertaken anything more challenging for that sustained period of time. I almost gave up last year.

It’s also rewarding. Everyone who rides, everyone who lines the route to cheer and encourage has been touched in some way by this daunting illness. Some are survivors. Some are fighting now. Some have lost loved ones. Some are supporting people close to them in their fight. Everyone has a story.

In my most tired, run-down moments during the ride, I only have to turn my head for inspiration. The man riding a tandem bicycle alone, his wife’s photo affixed to her empty seat. The people on the roadside shouting thank you. The couple with both their tiny daughters’ photos pinned to their backs, memorialized for this ride. The kids being treated at DFCI who wait to meet their pedal partners at one of the rest stops. The man with one leg, spinning his wheels faster than I can with two. The signs along the route that say Thanks for giving my mom a second chance.

I also think about the people who’ve sponsored me, who are counting on me to hold up my end of the deal and make it to the end. Many, many of those people have lost someone dear or have survived their own fight. Riding a bike for two days is nothing. Nothing at all.

So here I go again.

This year’s PMC will be my last hurrah, but I am going to do it again; I’ve already signed up. It’s for Frank, Howard, Betty, Roy, Rachael, Rebecca, Linda, Bernice, Jason, John, Sherri, Chanda, Bill, Nonda, Ebony, Carly, and so, so many others. Really, it’s for everyone.

If you want to know more about the PMC, visit www.pmc.org. If you would consider sponsoring me financially, click here to donate. If you want to share a personal story, please do. I would be honored and humbled to ride in honor or memory of someone special to you. I also need lots of encouragement, both during my training phase and the ride itself. Drop me a note, an email, or a text message if you can.

Thanks.

Yes, this post is a bit of a departure from my communicating and connecting theme, but it’s my way of staying accountable to my promise. I think that’s a key component to both of those topics.

Super excited

The Super Bowl (er, sorry NFL, the “Big Game”) arrives in Indy in a couple of weeks and I can barely contain my excitement. No, I don’t have tickets to the event itself, but you’d better believe I’m spending that weekend immersed in the fray surrounding it. Even better, my very good friend and her husband are flying to Indiana to join me for the celebration. We’re going to have so much fun!

Yet even as my eyes burn bright with anticipation, a curling tendril of fear has started to rise from my gut, threatening to quench the flame. They’ve never visited me before; what if I screw this up? What if they don’t like the things I have planned? Where should we eat? Will they be bored? Underprogrammed? Overprogrammed? How can I get this right?

I haven’t said a word to anyone about this niggling fear of mine, but somehow my friend must have sensed it. In a recent phone conversation, I was relaying some of my ideas when she stopped me dead in my tracks. “Tammy,” she said, “We are going to have a blast that weekend, but I don’t care what we do. You don’t have to entertain us. Remember, we’re coming to see YOU.”

Whoa.

My friend has never given me a better gift than lifting the burden from my shoulders as she did in that moment. In my planning frenzy, I had become so wrapped up in the idea that I had to impress her with a constant stream of fabulous events that I had lost sight of the most fabulous event itself: our visit. “Yeah,” I thought, internally nodding my head. “Yeah. That’s right. We get to talk and laugh and hang out. The rest is gravy.”

I do that a lot–get so wrapped up in the accoutrements that I forget to focus on the centerpiece. Whether it’s planning a party or a trip or a school project for one of my kids, I often work so hard on the trappings that the event itself roars past me while I’m looking the other way.

No matter what I plan, we’re going to have a great time. We’re still going to go to Indy and soak up the atmosphere, but the exact details of where and when and how no longer loom as large over my head. Wherever we watch the game, we’ll be side-by-side, cheering (or screaming) loudly, clinking our glasses and munching on goodies. Every now and then, we’ll turn and grin at each other, just because we can–because she’s there. That’s what this is all about, and after that phone conversation, I’m even more excited.

Don’t ever forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. “Getting it right” may not have as much to do with the things you think it does.