The chosen

It should come as no big surprise that I followed last weekend’s NFL draft with intense interest, given the prominent picking position my team earned through its dismal season. Because actually watching the draft is more boring than watching golf (sorry, Dad) and because I generally hate TV, I kept my nose buried in my iPhone for three solid days. I alternated between the ESPN and NFL sites , and I soaking up as much analysis as I could along the way.

The best article I found, however, had nothing to do with stats or potential or grading the picks. Instead, it was all about remembering who you are, how you got where you are, and building a life that has a future.

Wait–that doesn’t sound like football analysis.

Although it was directed at the 253 young men who can now call themselves The Chosen, the article applies to everyone: players, fans, and scoffers alike. Peel away its NFL veneer, and you’ll find words to live by for that person you see in the mirror every day. It boils down to these nuggets of wisdom:

  • Keep it in perspective.
  • Set realistic expectations.
  • Be conscious of who you are, even when no one is looking.
  • Build your life around what’s right, not around what’s right now.
  • Surround yourself with good people who care about your well-being, and listen to their advice.
  • Say thank you as often as you can.

Whether you’re a football fan or not, I hope you’ll read the article for yourself. It’s full of words that matter.

You can find it here: You’ve been drafted. Now what? (Please read it. You’ll be glad you did.)

Make a difference

For most of the week, my posts have conveyed stories about things that didn’t work. Although they’ve taught some valuable lessons, I don’t want brooding clouds of negativity to gather into an overcast outlook; the sun is going to break through in this post–just like the real one outside on this gorgeous Friday.

Today’s sunshine is named Stacy.

Stacy works for my daughter’s foot doctor, managing the office, the patients, and (I’m pretty sure) the doctor himself. Stacy makes things happen, and she does it in a way that exudes a rare combination competence and cheerfulness. She’s the kind of person you search for reasons to talk to. She’s the kind of person who keeps you coming back.

Even on my very first phone call to set up an appointment, I was impressed. I had never even met Stacy, but I hung up the phone feeling relieved and comforted that someone had listened. And understood. Since then, she has solved every administrative issue we never got a chance to have because she preempted it. She’s one of those people who can do ten things at once and still make you feel as if you are the center of her universe. She looks for ways to help.

Here’s a story that tells it all:

On my daughter’s first follow-up visit to the doctor after surgery, the door to the office suite swung open just as she hobbled up to it. At first I thought someone was coming out, so I started to tell my daughter to make sure there was room to pass. Before the first words passed my lips, however, there was Stacy with a huge smile, saying, “I can hear crutches a mile away. Come on in!” Even without considering that the desk she left was two doors and a corner away from the door she had opened–not an uncomplicated maneuver–she put a huge smile on my face. Really, who does that stuff anymore? Who jumps up to help?

We need more Stacys in the world. Stacys make a difference.

Stop making sense

To preface this post, let me say that I understand how we got to this point. I really do. I understand liability issues and the litigious nature of our society that brought us to this point. I understand the importance of covering your you-know-what. But there’s got to be a balance. It’s got to make sense

After I wrote yesterday’s post, Process Server, I realized that a story I had been carrying around for a couple of weeks offered a prime example. My daughter recently had minor surgery and, trooper that she is, was ready to go back to school at the first opportunity. Although the doctor had proscribed some stronger pain meds–the kind I had to show my driver’s license and sign my life away to get–three days after the surgery she was pretty comfortable on plain, over-the-counter Tylenol.

I took her to school Monday morning, doing what I thought were all the right things. We arrived early to avoid the dangers of maneuvering with crutches among munchkin hallway crowds. I settled her into her classroom, went over the high points with her teacher, and gave her a quick hug as she shooed me out the door so she could begin her adventure. (That’s pretty much how she views everything.)

On my way out of the school, I stopped by the office to drop off her pain meds (Tylenol) and to set up and sign off her dosage schedule. Easy stuff, so I thought.

The school nurse, however, blanched when she saw the bottle of Tylenol in my hand. “Oh no,” she said. “It has to be Children’s Tylenol. We can’t give her that.”

With mother bear hackles immediately up, I responded, “Oh, yes you can!”

After a tense and emphatic discussion, the nurse ended up agreeing to dispense the Tylenol, as long as my daughter’s doctor would fill out a form approving it. I left the school fuming and headed to the doctor’s office.

This is a case where The Process overruled good judgment. My points are these:

  1. The medicine could be purchased over the counter by anyone, my daughter included.
  2. 72 hours earlier, someone was digging around in my daughter’s foot, sawing bones and inserting pins. Although she was doing really well, it stands to reason that something a bit more potent than Children’s Tylenol would be required to manage her pain.
  3. At 5 feet tall and 113 pounds, my daughter is the size of a small adult.
  4. We were following the doctor’s recommendation, though I’m not sure that should matter as much as #5, below.
  5. I am her mother. I gave written permission for the school to dispense an over-the-counter medication. We’re not talking prescription drugs here.

This is a case of serving the process rather than letting the process serve. It made no sense and left me feeling vilified as a parent. Following the process became more important than exercising sound judgment–judgment that made more sense, in this case, than the process itself. And I had followed the process. I took the medicine to the office, filled out forms, and sign permission slips.

I wonder what would have happened if I had brought my daughter’s Vicodin instead.

Process server

Unless whatever you do in your line of work is unique every time, there’s probably a process you can implement to help streamline your efforts. Having a routine whose steps you follow means that whatever you’re doing is repeatable and trackable. Even if the output isn’t the same every time, the process to get there can be. Process can help make sense of chaos.

Sometimes, though, people focus so much on the process that it becomes The Process. It becomes the game itself instead of a method for playing it. When that happens, there’s danger in the air. We risk doing things for the sake of The Process, not for the goal that necessitated that process in the first place. When you can’t explain why it makes sense–when all you have to offer is, I’m sorry, that’s our policy–it’s time to reexamine your method.

The goal isn’t for us to serve the process; it’s for the process to serve us.

Redefining success

Back in January, I laid out some goals for myself. As I approach a key milestone, I find myself staring at success–as it taunts me from just beyond my grasp.

As promised, I’m going to run the Indy Mini again this year, but I’m pretty certain I won’t improve my time. I didn’t follow my training regimen, I’m miles short of what I need to have on the soles of my shoes, and I haven’t done a lick of speed work. (Okay, I probably wouldn’t have done any speed work anyway, but still.)

My inclination whenever I see failure looming is to walk away from the project. If I’m not going to accomplish it, I should move on to something I can. I should stop wasting time on what I know will be an undesirable outcome and focus my efforts in areas where I can succeed. At least, that’s what my competitive self says, the same self who views life as a series of destinations, not a journey.

This time, I’m choosing to resist that self. I’m going to see this thing through no matter what the outcome. I know I can run the race; it just won’t be at the pace I had hoped. Is that failure? I’m trying to tell myself it’s not. I would tell anyone else that sticking it out no matter what is its own victory. Perseverance and tenaciousness mean as much as process improvement. Quitting–or in this case, not participating–means forgoing all the lessons to be learned along the way.

When I first ran the Mini, I didn’t do it for a time goal. I did it because I thought the energy surrounding the event was so powerful that I just had to be part of it. The energy hasn’t changed, only my perspective. Maybe it’s time to change it again and just enjoy the day.

Besides, there’s always next year.

Comfort zone

When I run, I have a tendency to constantly assess how I feel. If I don’t otherwise occupy my brain, I will spend the entire time I’m pounding pavement registering each twinge, ache, and burn. How’s my breathing? Is my knee okay? Why does my calf feel stiff? Am I tensing my shoulders? When something hurts, even a little, my willingness to continue plummets.

In general, I think that pain serves as an indicator, a warning signal. Pain means, Stop! Something’s wrong! But what if–WHAT IF–there’s a difference between pain and discomfort?

This idea came to me during my run yesterday morning. The day before, I had done a long run that taxed my body more than I wanted to admit. I had some sore muscles–but no real injuries–as I hit the pavement. Every step seemed arduous, and my calf muscles made themselves known each time they flexed. More than once, I had the thought that I should cut the run short, that I wasn’t up to it.

Thankfully, I started to consider the logic. The route/distance I had planned for the day was a normal one for me; I’ve done it countless times. My muscles were sore, but that was because I had given them a pretty good workout the day before. There was no pain signal to stop, just reminders of my earlier activity. I might have been uncomfortable, but I wasn’t risking injury. If I stuck with it, not only would I feel better about myself afterward, but I would also likely work out much of the lactic acid plaguing my muscles in the first place. Instead of killing me, this run might actually help me. Though it was far from my best ever, I finished it. And I’m glad I did.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between pain and discomfort ever since. True pain should be an indicator to stop what I’m doing in order to avoid injury. Discomfort, however, is usually just a signal that making progress isn’t always easy. To realize success, I plow ahead.

I wonder how many times I’ve confused discomfort for pain. I wonder how many times I’ve given up on a project when I should have muscled through it.

Getting to know you

A colleague sometimes shares with me the trials and tribulations of an advisory board on which he participates. One of the board’s current challenges is to attract young people to come to its events. They see a generation gap and have not been able to bridge it effectively thus far. They’re afraid that the industry–or at least the sponsored events–are dying a slow death.

“Use more social media!” was the battle cry put forth at a recent meeting. “We should be on Facebook!”

I was shocked. “What is your message?” I asked. “How will you attract  your audience to your Facebook page? If they aren’t listening to you now, what makes you think they will seek you out somewhere else?”

As silence ensued, I took the opportunity to hop onto my soapbox. Social media is a tool, a medium. (In case you missed that, refer back to its name: social media.) A medium needs a message. It seemed to me that the problem was really a lack of ability to connect. No one really knew why younger people weren’t attending, but rather than figuring out the reasons, this group wanted to find a new bullhorn to project the same, tired message that hasn’t worked so far.

I asked my friend if anyone is trying to get involved with the desired audience. Has anyone talked to these apparently intimidating young people? Has anyone engaged them in conversation? Does anyone know what is important to them? Has anyone considered offering board membership to some of their key opinion leaders?

This is a classic case of not knowing the audience, of talking louder instead of talking smarter. If a particular audience isn’t attending an event, the first task should be to discern why, and the best way to do that is to engage those people in conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook. It’s no different than a telephone, though. When you make a call, you can’t have a conversation unless someone is on the other end. The hard part isn’t picking up the phone or creating a page; it’s getting someone to answer. The first thing you have to do is get to know them.

And that goes for any audience, not just young people.

Trust the technology

An old friend reminded me yesterday of a particularly annoying habit that seems to have become pervasive: following up on emails. I’m not talking about the kind of follow-up that provides additional information or seeks an answer after a prolonged period of unresponsiveness. I’m talking about the guy who pokes his head in your door seconds after you hear your computer chime, saying, “Hey, did you get my email?”

Or the woman who calls and says, “I just sent you an email. Let me know when you get it.”

Or the co-worker who stops by the minute you return from a meeting and, while your hand is still hovering over your mouse, says, “Hey, I know you probably haven’t seen it yet, but I just sent you an email about [fill in the blank] and here’s what it says. What do you think?”

As my friend put it, “Unless the server is down for an extended period of time, I got your email!

Sure, servers can fail or spam filters can suck out the unlucky few, but chances are that if you know me well enough to ask about your email, we’ve probably exchanged electronic messages in the past so 1) we’ve proven the server works and 2) you’re probably in my address book so you can stop worrying about the spam filter. Trust the technology and give me a chance to respond.

If you’re going to follow-up with a phone call or a visit to my office anyway, then don’t waste your time with the email in the first place. Unless you’re my mother. Then you can do what you want.

P.S. If you come to me asking because you really need a response and can’t wait, try phrasing it that way. Hey, I know you’ve been busy, but I’m up against a deadline and really need an answer on this one. Will you take a peek at my email and let me know what you think?

Plan of attack

For the last two days, I’ve woken up during the night in a state of panic. Not the flat-out terror kind of panic where I lie awake trying to figure out what made that noise or the kind that sends me rushing to check on my kids, but the kind of panic that wakes me hours before I’m supposed to get up, with my mind racing to nowhere and my heart beating a few knocks faster. And then I can’t go back to sleep. The real problem is that I can’t figure out why.

It’s true that I have a lot going on right now. I’m pretty busy at work, in the community, and at home. While not every project is going swimmingly, I’m fairly pleased with the general state of things. In any case, I don’t think there is anything significant to worry about.

So why do I feel as if I’m racing the edge of a cliff with reckless abandon?

My best guess says that these activities and tasks that are piling up threaten my ability to wrangle them into submission. That means that if I want to have a chance of getting a good night’s sleep, I need to show them who’s boss. Control freak that I am, I need to get organized.

Today I’m going to make lists, review my calendar, push papers, and create files. I’m going to put everything in its place and make sure everything has a place in my life. I’m going to take control and quell the panic.

That’s my plan, anyway. When the going gets tough, that’s how I get going. Most of the time it works for me.

My point is that I have a plan. Without a plan–even if, in some cases, the plan is to wing it–you need a plan to keep you from dissolving into a quivering mass. You need a plan to be effective. What’s yours? How do you keep your life in order? I’d love to hear it; I hope you’ll share.

Jive talkin’

Credibility. That’s the key to almost any interaction. If you don’t seem as if you know what you’re talking about, you might as well stop talking at all.

Yesterday provided a bonanza of illustrative examples for me. I’ve chosen a few for your consideration.

  1. In a meeting, a woman representing a local organization known by its initials mixed up those initials every time she referred to them. When she was new and first made the mistake, I chalked it up to inexperience. Now a couple of months later, I ascribe it to inattention. And if she doesn’t care enough about her organization to get it right, why should I?
  2. I needed to submit some information to local media outlets, so I went to their web sites to find appropriate contact information. Though they didn’t make it particularly easy, I eventually found what I needed and sent messages to the appropriate people. Shortly thereafter, I received separate emails from two of those people, chiding me for using incorrect addresses–addresses which I had clicked from their sites. (How else would I have gotten them?!)
  3. After a brief email exchange on a business matter yesterday, the person referred to me as Tina instead of Tammy in her final email. Even though my email addy contains only my first initial, my full name is included in the auto signature of the email to which she had replied. Come on, really? (Besides this issue, if you’ve read many of my posts, you probably know how I feel about getting names right.)

If you don’t know your stuff in the areas where you are supposed to be the expert or where the information is right in front of you, why should I believe you about anything else? You’re just jive talkin’.