Language lessons

Recently I worked on a side project that fell just a bit outside my realm of experience. It wasn’t that I hadn’t done similar things before; I just hadn’t done that particular thing. I viewed it as a surmountable challenge, and I dove in.

I made a few calls, asked a few questions, and got what I needed to move forward: the right words. You see, I knew what I needed to accomplish, but I didn’t know how to talk about it in a way that would make sense to the right people.

So I put myself out there and asked questions. I asked them until I could describe my subject in the vernacular of people in the know. The conversation to get there went something like this:

Me: Hi! I’m working on this project and I need to do XYZ. I also need a bit of an education.

Guy on the phone: Sure. Will you help me understand what you’re looking for?

*He asks as few specific questions, which I answer.*

Guy on the phone: Oh, you need [specific term].

Simple as that. Once I knew what to call my project, I was home free. My Google search results changed dramatically when I knew what to input. I found the right people to contact and could describe the project in their terms. Now I could get things done.

It’s funny how finding a simple key to a situation makes me giddy. And of course, I analyzed the heck out of it so I could boil it down to a couple of key lessons. First, don’t be afraid to ask questions–ask people who know and keep asking them till you get what you need. Second, speaking the right language gets results. When it comes down to it, words do matter.

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.

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?

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.

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!

Just say yes

Kara80s-8My kids ask me for stuff all the time. I’m not talking about buying them things–they’re actually not too presumptuous in that area–no, my kids want to go places, have friends over, do things. For a long time, my immediate reaction was to say no: our schedule was always too busy, I needed to go for a run and didn’t have time to put myself back together, the house was a mess. Even if we eventually worked our way back to a yes or some modified version of it, everyone’s spirits sagged a bit from the process.

Somewhere along the way, I started saying yes more often. When I can’t give an unqualified assent, I offer a few alternatives.

“I want a tie dyed cake for my birthday.” — *gulp* “Okay.”

“Can I have a friend over on Friday, Mom?” — “I need to go to X place on Friday, but we probably have time on Saturday afternoon.” 

“Can I go to the mall and hang out with Noah?” — “I’m expecting someone to come over and can’t take you right now, but if his parents can pick you up on the way, I don’t see why not.”

At 12:45: “Can I go to Megan’s party at 1, Mom?” — “Sure.”

Not too long ago, I would have categorically said no to each of those requests. I had plans on Friday, I wasn’t available to play taxi at the needed hour, 15 minutes was not enough notice. I don’t know what changed my approach, but I’m amazed at how much more smoothly things go when I start with a how-can-I-make-this-work attitude rather than simply denying a request because that’s the easier thing to do.

We’ve had some of this going on at work, too. No, no, no, is turning into let’s think about this. We still can’t accommodate every request, but working toward a common solution builds a lot more cooperative atmosphere than drawing a clear line between yes and no, regardless of the explanation that may accompany the no.

Sure, I sometimes fall back into old habits, but I’m getting a lot better. The best part is that I’ve found that the more often I say yes, the bigger my world becomes. I meet new people, make new things, see someone smile.

The yeses make my life a lot richer than the nos. Try it yourself.

Close encounters

galaxyWhile getting a haircut the other day, my brother chatted it up with another salon patron. Somewhere in the conversation, they exchanged enough information to spark a flicker of recognition in her memory. A few questions later, she fanned it into flame. This woman was our second cousin.

We (I’m lumping myself together with my brother here) hadn’t seen each other in more than 25 years, probably closer to 30. We were all just kids back then, and as middle-aged adults, our appearance has certainly changed a lot. I find it amazing that this once reasonably familiar fixture from our childhood–we saw each other a couple of times a year–even made the connection.

If I had been in that salon chair instead of my brother, chances are that this happy coincidence never would have taken place. Where my brother frequently reaches out to others, I often keep my nose in my smart phone or a book. Thrilled as I would have been to make the discovery, we wouldn’t have had the chance.

That set my mind racing.

  1. How many rich experiences have I missed because I have been reluctant to engage? I’m often hesitant to initiate conversation and tend toward observation rather than participation in certain circumstances. What or whom would I have discovered if I had simply said Hi?
  2. What causes people to lose touch with others who had once been a familiar part of our lives? Lack of interest? Lack of effort? Time and tide? Is this a natural culling or tragic laziness? Who are the people around me I want to keep in my life? And how do I make sure I do it?
  3. Whose path have I crossed and not known it?

Forget sci-fi. Sometimes it takes a close encounter of the second (cousin) kind to get me out of my little world.

Love is blind

blindfoldRule #1: Don’t fall in love with your work.

Okay, I don’t know what that’s the first rule of, but it should definitely be a rule somewhere. I learned that lesson (again) today.

A colleague and I were working on an ad, and we needed just the right image to reinforce the copy. We both started searching independently, forwarding links back and forth to photos that we thought might work. Then I found it. The perfect image. Even though I loved it, I tried to play it cool.

My colleague was less than enthused, but he did his due diligence and placed it in the ad to get a feel for it. He gave me thoughtful comments. The background was too busy; it would hamper readability. There wasn’t enough of a color pop to get attention. It didn’t lend itself to the overall design.

I didn’t argue with him, but I just knew it would work. It evoked exactly the kinds of feelings I wanted from the ad. Even so, I kept my comments to myself and kept looking, hoping he would see the light.

Eventually, we found another shot that worked well with the ad. It was completely different, but it worked. And it even addressed all of my colleague’s issues: it was simple, lent itself to readability, and offered just the right color pop. We had found a winner.

I still think my original image looked great, but I can’t argue that this one does, too–and probably more so. Yet if I had dug in my heels, I would have missed this opportunity. I would have been content the way things were rather than struggling to make them better. It’s easy to forget that often one’s best work arises from conflict, from being forced to think and rethink, from eschewing the easy and finding new solutions. When we fall in love with our own stuff, we run the risk of becoming blind to something better.

Of course, it’s no big surprise that I’ve been here before. Many moons ago, I wrote about the same challenge in Panning for gold, and later in Get over yourself. Why, oh why, does it take so many tries for me to learn the same lesson?

When you fall in love with your work, take off the blinders and fix it.

Walls

bldg-constructionLast week I paid a visit to our new company headquarters, which is starting to look ready for our planned mid-summer inhabitation. Because of my involvement with the project, I’ve actually had a pretty good handle on the building’s progress all along. Even so, something about this visit really grabbed me. The building just seemed so much bigger.

With walls finished and furniture installed, somehow the building seemed more impressive than when the ground was staked. Or when the frame went up. Or when interior walls were nothing but studs. How does that work?

It seems counterintuitive to think that filling a space will make it feel bigger. Shouldn’t adding boundaries make it feel smaller, more confining? Apparently not always.

As I thought about it, I got a bead on deconstructing the phenomenon. When the project was an empty field, and later when the footer was poured and the frame erected, so much of the building was left to my imagination. How could that footprint house more than 200 people? How could that many workspaces fit inside that very finite shell? My mind was left to fill in the gaps, to paint the rest of the picture.

The more of the building that went up, the less my mind had to fill in. On last week’s visit, I could clearly see where all those people would fit. I could imagine my colleagues and me bustling about. I knew exactly where our equipment would be tested. And with the structure nearly finished, I could easily compare it to our current digs.

Compare.

I think that’s the key. Most of us need a point of reference before we can really make sense of our surroundings. Even if the new thing is wildly different than anything we’ve experienced before, we still need that what-we’ve-experienced-before baseline to understand that it IS wildly different. We need a way to put it into context.

If you’ve got the time (about 17 minutes), take a gander at this video clip, Thinking inside the box. Dan Heath explains better than I ever could that sometimes it takes knowing the boundaries to really unlock our potential. Instead of closing us in, sometimes the walls actually open us up.

I need to chew on that for a while.