Ancient history

Last weekend, I had the chance to speak on behalf of my company at an event honoring our longevity in and contribution to the community. Aside from a mild (but quickly waning) apprehension toward public speaking, I also felt a frisson of delight about being our spokesperson.

I carefully crafted my speech, trying to find just the right mix of appreciation for the past and promise for the future. I felt really good about it and hoped it would go over well. Even knowing I was part of a larger event, I stayed pretty focused on the part that centered on me.

Of course, it wasn’t about me. It took all of thirty seconds after the doors opened to realize that I was just a tiny cog in that wheel. Former employees from all decades of the company’s existence poured through the doors, exchanging grins of delight as they took in all the once-familiar faces. The speeches became secondary–like polite pauses in conversation while a newcomer interjects a loosely related observation–conversational inconveniences affably accommodated for the sake of propriety.

The “real” program took place all around me in the form of reminiscent conversations. As I heard memories awakened and stories retold, I began to see inside my company to its bones. I saw its heart and soul, its hands and feet in the people and their stories. I breathed their excitement as they relived the early years full of inventions and patents and hope. I felt the warm mantle of their sense of common purpose, of family.

Yes, I know a lot about my company. I know the facts and figures and plans and strategies. I’ve even been here long enough to have experienced a few of the old stories myself. Still, I never expected the welling sense of pride those people gave me about the place where I work. It’s my heritage, too, after all.

The lessons I learned that day are these. Know where you come from. Understanding your past is a foundation for your future, whether you build on successes or learn from mistakes. Neither underestimate nor overlook the lessons others have learned. More importantly, companies are built on people, and people build companies. Honor them, learn from them, remember them. They brought you to where you are today; give them credit.

Questions and answers

Yesterday, a friend and mentor asked me a question. It was a simple question, really; it would have been easy enough to answer and forget about it. And yet…

And yet if I had simply answered and moved on, I would have missed an important message. You see, the key piece of information in this exchange wasn’t the answer sought by my friend. It was, instead, the question he asked: Does this feel ok to you?

I know my friend well enough to understand that if he posed the question to me, the situation hadn’t settled well with him. If this particular issue had been in my control, I would have known I either needed to explain it, defend it, or dig into it a little deeper–just because my friend asked the question.

So often we can learn just as much from the questions as we can from their answers. Why is someone asking? Whom is he asking? What is he asking? How is he asking? Does the question convey lack of understanding? Judgment? Has it been cleverly placed to make sure I know there’s an underlying issue at hand? Is the person asking it to make a point or to garner information?

I know I’m a word nerd, and I’ve already confessed that I put the anal in analytical. Still, there are questions and there are questions. Make sure you know the difference; you just might learn more than you think.

Wanderlust

Not long ago, I realized something pretty important about myself. If home is where the heart is, then my home is on the road. I’ve felt that way as long as I can remember, but I’ve never been able to categorize it so succintly. I just knew that I was always ready to go. In fact, my ex used to tease me by saying that the perfect gift for me would have been an airline ticket. It didn’t matter where, as long as I got to go.

Even though I always find myself in the throes of planning my next trip, I didn’t think much about my wanderlust itself. During a recent conversation with a colleague, however, I had an epiphany. Many, maybe even most, people feel as if their real selves are the ones who sleep in their own beds and run errands and go to work and make dinner. For them, returning from a trip means getting back to “real” life. Traveling often means leaving their “real” selves at home while they explore, so it makes sense that eventually they’re ready to get back to being real.

Here’s the epiphany: I’m not that girl. The real me comes alive when I’m on the road. When I come home again, I feel as if I have to pack her away. She gets antsy going about her daily routine, biding her time until she embarks on her next journey. Coming home from a trip, with rare exception, feels more like the end of the line or a resumption of duty than returning to myself.

Now that I understand this about myself, I can work with it. It no longer has to be an unseen drag on my line as I cast about; I can work with it, shape it, accommodate it. More importantly, the better I know myself, the better I can relate to others. Understanding our differences is just as important as understanding our similarities.

Walking on sunshine

I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day… Sunshine, on my shoulders makes me happy… Good day, Sunshine!

Last week, Love Life Infinity nominated me for a sunshine award. According to LLI, this reader-forwarded honor is “specially given to those who are earnestly inspire others by their inspirational ‘arts’  in the blogosphere.” Holy cow.

I never aimed for inspirational; I had set my sights on informative, interesting, and hopefully somewhat insightful. To be called inspirational is a bit overwhelming for me. Thanks, LLI!

According to the rules of the award, I must answer 10 questions and similarly nominate 10 blogs. It’s a clever way to turn people on to interesting reading material while helping fellow bloggers increase their exposure and, hopefully, their readership. Count me in.

–Aside: Word of mouth, btw, is one of the most powerful marketing tools out there. Companies are just starting to figure this out. Check out WOMMA if you want to dig in.–

1. Who is your favorite philosopher?

Can’t really say I have one–unless it’s me, of course. 😉

2. What is your favorite number?

3. Or 9. Or 39. As if it matters.

3. What is your favorite animal?

I love dogs, especially big ones. I used to have a bull mastiff who stole my heart.

4. What are your Facebook and Twitter URLs?

Here’s my Facebook URL, but I’m fairly judicious about friend requests. On Twitter, I’m @tampyd. I don’t tweet a lot.

5. What is your favorite time of the day?

I love the dusk hours, when the sky settles into a rich cerulean blue. I see houses come alive with light as people return from the workday and gather at their tables or settle onto their sofas. It sets my imagination whirling, spinning stories of what might be.

6. What was your favorite vacation?

The best vacation EVER was my bicycle trip through Tuscany. My aunt and I celebrated our 100th birthday–her 60th and my 40th–together with my uncle and many new friends we made on the trip. Wonderful company, wonderful food, wonderful scenery, wonderful time. And where else can you get a really good cup of coffee for 90 Euro cents? And in a porcelain cup, no less! The very best souvenir from that trip was a fast friendship with Sally, whom I met on that vacation.

7. What is your favorite physical activity?

Running, when I’m really on my game.

8. What is your favorite non-alcoholic drink?

Water or coffee.

9. What is your favorite flower?

I love the smell of lilacs, the grace of calla lilies, the delicacy of lilies of the valley, the sunshine of daffodils, the elegance of orchids, the jauntiness of tulips, the cheer of Gerber daisies… I think I love them all, especially in big bunches or when they’re delivered unexpectedly to my door.

10. What is your passion?

Words are my passion, in all forms. A witty jibe, a carefully crafted sentence, a clever retort, a double entendre, or a straightforward “I love you.” Spoken or written, mine or someone else’s. (Usually someone else’s!) Grammar, spelling, syntax, reading, and writing all fit in there somewhere, too.

Blogs that inspire ME? In no particular order, each of these has touched me in some way, from tickling my funny bone to soothing my soul. Some are blogs and some are particular posts. You’ll note that I’m somewhat eclectic…

5 things to do today

People, Places, and Bling!

Get Write Down to It / Letters to my Treadmill

New Equus

Eurolinguiste

Daddy Drinks

Armstrong is probably guilty but it is definitely meaningless

Gen Y Girl

MWF Seeking BFF

Things I Have Learned from Running

Zucchini variations

Enjoy!

When losing is winning

I’ve said it before: even more than I like to win, I HATE to lose. But last Saturday, my son beat me in a road race for the first time ever. He didn’t even hand me the defeat gently; he blasted my time by almost two minutes. I’d like to say I had a bad run, but that wouldn’t be true. Back in May, I posted the same time in another race and beat him by almost a minute.

We’ve run a few races together, and usually I follow the course in reverse after I’ve finished so that I can find him. I’ll jog alongside him and encourage him all the way to the finish line. This time, he came back for me.

Of course, by the time he found me, I already knew I had been beaten. He took off like a shot from the starting line and I never saw him again until the end. The funny thing is, I didn’t care.

I was one proud mama when he came back to find me. In that moment, I saw the culmination of many of the important character traits I’ve tried to teach him: determination, perseverance, and the importance of working toward goals. This boy who seemed not to care for so long finally got it. I was nothing but proud.

That’s the way it should be. When we have the privilege of mentoring someone, whether our own child, an employee, a colleague, or a friend, the best measure of success is not the point when he can do just as well. It’s when he can do better. It’s when he takes what he has learned and develops it in new ways, building on what he’s been taught and taking it beyond what has already been achieved. It’s the day he beats you at your own game.

Then you’ve actually won.

To do list

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got, and you’ll always feel what you always felt. –Unknown

I stumbled across a hidden treasure the other day. I found a blog called 5thingstodotoday.com.

It’s a neat little piece designed to urge people out of their comfort zones. Anyone can submit a list of five suggestions to the blog’s administrator for consideration. He publishes frequently based on his incoming suggestions, so there’s a lot of variety.

I really enjoy reading the lists, because even if I don’t embrace every idea, they all get me thinking. Here’s what I love about it:

  • Learning what is important to people
  • Seeing things from another perspective
  • Tapping into fresh ideas
  • Finding bits of inspiration
  • Chuckling at the silly stuff
  • Being reminded of the important stuff

I’ve resolved to pick (at least) one list each week and DO it. I won’t allow myself to cherry pick items from more than one list to create my own; that might allow me to stay in my own comfort zone. I want to follow someone else’s list and see what I learn. Who knows? I may even blog about it.

What’s on your list this week?

The best policy

I observe how people act, as well as how they talk. I offer my honest opinion, Gilbert. Formerly, you thought that a sign of respect. –from City of Darkness, City of Light, by Marge Piercy

That passage stopped me in my tracks yesterday as I was slogging through City of Darkness, City of Light. (Don’t get me wrong; I’m enjoying the book, but it’s a fairly heavy read.) I really identified with the first two sentences–I do exactly the same thing, and I think I’m pretty good at it. It was the link to the last sentence that set my mind a-whirl.

The character to whom this statement was addressed, Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette (yes, THAT Lafayette), was trying to trade favors with the speaker in order garner support in an upcoming election. The speaker wouldn’t make a trade and told Lafayette he’d consider his own vote at a later date. Frustrated, Lafayette essentially told him, “You’ve given me nothing!” The speaker, of course, saw it differently.

And here we land on the pivotal point: a straightforward, truthful, no-strings-attached assessment is, indeed, something. It is, in fact, a gift.

Think about it. When someone offers an observation wrapped in platitudes and qualifications, he’s trying to protect the other person or himself from something, whether that’s a negative reaction, an ego blow, or something else. For whatever reason, he isn’t comfortable “telling it like it is,” or he wants something in return.

On the other hand, a person generally has to hold another in fairly high regard (doesn’t mean he has to like her, though!) to tell her what he thinks, politely but unabashedly.His opinion is part of himself, and he’s trusting the other to treat it with respect when he hands it over.

My boss once told me a story about a technology someone wanted to adopt in another company. The guy in charge thought it was a great idea, and the people involved in meeting after meeting kept the project moving forward. Everyone was on board: finance, engineering, marketing, operations. When the factories were finally switched over to the new technology, productivity plummeted. The company tried making tweaks, but nothing helped. Finally someone asked the operations guy what was going on. He quickly identified the issue and explained it to the guy in charge. The disconcerting factor was that the operations guy had known it all along, but he had never spoken up. He let the whole company make an expensive mistake because he hadn’t respected the guy in charge enough to give his honest assessment. He just smiled and said yes.

Maybe you think that respect is the wrong term. I could argue that, but it’s not really important. The main thing to remember is that when someone offers you an honest exchange of ideas, accept it for what it is. Don’t search for the quid pro quo; it’s a gift all by itself.

Yes, indeed, an honest opinion is a sign of respect.