It feels like I have joined a public speaking boot camp. This week’s workout was at a high school where I spoke with 100 students and teachers over two sessions. The topic was my life’s timeline and the lessons learned along the way. For fifteen and sixteen year olds, this had the potential of being boring, or worse, sleep inducing, so I added lots of excitement: a costume change, candy rewards (Kraft/Cadbury brands of course), high-kicks, and brutally honest stories (and the emotions behind them). It was a lot of fun and they seemed engaged by the good and bad decisions I made.
It felt strange sharing my life with an audience. Although I prefer the present over the past, I had forgotten some of the experiences that have made me who I am. My lessons learned are:
– Believe in yourself – no one can do it for you
– Decide what you want in life and go for it
– Be good at something, anything – “The more I practice the
luckier I get”
– Keep your options open – be open to new things
– The more you do the more opportunities you find
– Be referable – that’s how you get ahead
– First impressions count
– Be positive– you don’t accomplish much when you are
– If something isn’t working, try a different approach
– Ask for help (and give it too)
– Don’t burn bridges
– What goes around comes around
Like most public speaking talks, you learn from your audience
and I am still thinking of the students’ and teachers’ thoughtful
questions. Now, how do I write a thank you note to 100
When I was 11 years old, I watched a TV show called Make a Wish. I recall it being the only program on Sunday mornings that was made for kids. Each show profiled a different topic such as an animal, an invention, or an occupation. Tom Chapin (brother of musician Harry) was the host who narrated film clips and sang songs about that week’s topic. Make a Wish opened with Tom singing the title song that had empowering lyrics about pursuing your dreams. I think I liked the song more than the show and often sang the first few lines of the title song:
“Make a wish, have a ball, dream a dream, be it all,
If you want it, you can get it, but to get it, you’ve got to want it,
Anything you want to try, just let go, fly high,
Make a wish.”
Make a Wish came to mind when I caught myself wishing for my detailed editing work to be over. It’s been a long haul and day and night editing loses its novelty over many weeks. I immediately caught myself because the experience of writing is part of my “wish,” where learning a new craft and articulating my beliefs on change management are as important as the completed book. The old adage, “be careful what you wish for because it might come true,” is good council for most aspects of life, including this one. Wishing that a part of an incredible lifetime experience is over is missing the point. I am “having a ball” and “being it all,” so I must remember that it’s all good.
I told my son Sam that I was late writing this week’s post, and I had to stay up late to do it. He replied, “If you weren’t you, would you read your blog?” My first response was, “The personal ones, where I show a part of me.” Then I added, “Since I’m into change management, I would read all of them but only enjoy the personal ones.” Sam gave me a look that only a teenager can give: “Are you crazy?” or “What are you doing?” – more like “Are you crazy?” I decided to change my topic to something more interesting.
It was very cold on Sunday (-13 C/8.6 F) when I reluctantly headed out for a 20 mile run. The thought of running for 3.5 hours outside was not “interesting.” Once I got started my mood improved and it was fun waving at the sprinkling of fellow frozen runners along Lake Ontario.
As I passed the half-way mark my mind wandered. I thought wouldn’t it be great to find a wallet on the trail. Four minutes later, right before my eyes, was a huge wallet on the path. I couldn’t believe it. I picked it up and opened it. Everything looked in place: credit cards and I.D. were in their side slots, money and receipts were in the back compartment, and a picture of a loved one was behind the protective plastic cover. I looked around, saw no one, and put it in my pocket.
As I ran home I wondered who had lost it, how he had lost it, and what he was doing now? “Was there any foul play?” my over-active mind wondered. Once home I looked through the contents to find a phone number or email address by which I could contact him. I found an address but no other information. His number was not listed so I was stuck. Taking a closer look I found a yacht club membership. I called the club and eventually they got in touch with him.
That evening he came to our home to retrieve his wallet. We talked for a few minutes, which told me more about him than his wallet. Later on, I looked through my wallet and realized it was similar to his (except for the yacht club membership). It could have been anyone’s wallet.
This theme of identity and personal expression has been raised about my writing. My readers and editor have counselled that I need to create more of a personal narrative so that my book will be more reflective of me and be more interesting. I am now making edits. You never know where you will find inspiration – even a wallet or a perceptive question from my interesting son.
Every year during the holidays, a friend and I choose a destination to visit in the summer. We’ve been to many cities in the US and Canada. Each one has its special attractions and memories.
|Ernest Hemingway’s study, Key West
This year we discussed going to Key West, Florida, the southernmost city in the continental United States. It would be great to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home to see where he wrote ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro.’
Why are we fascinated by environments that produce great things? Is it the belief that we, too, can get something positive from these spaces, that something magical will rub off on us? If so, is it the physical space or the spiritual presence that holds this magic? Could we get it by sitting in Hemingway’s writing chair or by closing our eyes and taking in the essence of his study?
I started thinking about how my environment has played a role in my writing. What made it productive? What facilitated the connection between intention and output? Perhaps, like most things, it’s a collection of factors versus one ‘silver bullet.’
If you get inspiration by visiting famous places, that’s great. If you create your own productive space, that’s great, too. As long as an environment helps you get to where you want to go, you are in the right place. So far, it’s working for me. Phil
|Writing: 1. Source materials, calendar, to do list, and latest draft, 2. Where thoughts turn into words, 3. My plan – front and centre, 4. My printer that churns out numerous drafts, 5. Reference materials
This week was very productive. I spent it absorbing feedback I received from my reviewers. An author friend cautioned that reading feedback “…is both exhilarating (because you are making the final product that much better) and frustrating, especially when reviewers offer contradictory advice.” I found it exhilarating and exhausting, but not frustrating. There were more common themes than individual threads.
The great news is that I am on track to completing the book I wanted to write. Equally great news – there are many ways I can make it better and I still have a lot of work to do.
Reviewing multi-source feedback feels like the role Tom Cruise played in Minority Report; your job is to look for patterns across multiple pieces of information. The challenge is to keep everything in your head while you find the connections. I wonder if Tom got headaches while he was filming these scenes.
Speaking with my reviewers to clarify points and test solutions has been a great help. Halfway through these discussions, here are the changes I am making:
- Audience: clarify who the book is written for
- Navigation: be more directive on how best to use the book
- Structure: categorize chapters by theme – results, the plan, resources, and communication
- Format: add graphic elements to help the reader find the information they need
- Content: open each chapter with one or two quotes and remove the ‘Words of Wisdom’ section
- Content: Delete the stories that don’t illustrate ‘What works/What doesn’t work’ sections
- Writing Style: Make it more personal, more ‘Phil’ – some parts read like a text book
Reviewing feedback is like searching for constellations. The stars are in full view, but you need to look hard to find the patterns. Having a team of generous astronomers helps a lot.
|Chip time of 4 hrs. 29 min. 46 sec.
Running my first marathon was an incredible experience. The best way to describe is captured in an email I sent just after the race:
At 2 miles my shin splint and vastus lateralis (upper thigh muscle) injuries resurfaced but they were less intense than before and manageable. At 9 miles I started getting intermittent ‘Charlie horse’ pains in each leg. By 12 miles I had full-on, non-stop Charlie horses. They were agonizing. I shortened my stride, which allowed me to keep going. The only time they subsided was during the walking parts of my 10 minute run & 1 minute walk rotations. At 15 miles both legs locked up and I had to walk like I was standing on stilts. I saw another runner doing squats so I did so while punching my legs to get them going. At 16 miles the tendon in my right leg started to spasm, pulling my toes under the sole of my foot. It was so bizarre, like I was running in a ballet stance or like one of those Looney Tune mice trying to sneak away. So painful. The last 6 miles were tough but no worse than the 6 before it, which I saw as a positive omen. My legs locked a few more times before my 100 metre finale.
As I turned the last corner, the crowd spurred me on and I started running faster (from really slow). I looked at the sky and let out three Braveheart screams, fists pumping with each one. People started laughing and clapping and then my right leg locked again. I started hopping on it as it started to trail the rest of my body. It unlocked for the last 50 meters allowing me to run over the finish line.
Any experience provides learnings from things that went well and those that could have been better. Here are mine:
- Kept to my race strategy including beginning at a slower pace (difficult to do) and consistent refreshment
- Adjusted my approach once problems arose, experimenting with different remedies
- Achieved my goal
Condensed my weekly running mileage into fewer days. The spikes of training overworked my right leg resulting in injuries. Sometimes efficiency leads to lower effectiveness
- Extended weekly long runs beyond my training program. A 24.9 mile run that was supposed to be 20 miles triggered my shin splints
- Ignored early signs of injury while training. I didn’t act upon my data, which resulted in lower performance on race day. Later, I went for laser treatments based on a friend’s recommendation, but it was too late to regain full health.
Parallels to My Book
- Stick to my plan as long as it’s working
- Ask friends for help. They are amazing and can help in more ways than I think
- Keep going. The finish line is ahead
I know I gave everything I had. As David Lee Roth said, “You do the best with what you’ve got.” My goal was to achieve one marathon and then focus on shorter distance races. After the race my plans remained unchanged.The next day, I mentioned to my wife Barb that maybe some day I would consider running another marathon. The day after that, we talked about the possibility of us both running a marathon in May 2012. The following day, I printed out a 29 week training schedule for a 4 hour, 4 minute and 25 second finish time. It starts on Monday.
In early 2000, someone in my office started taking notes in black 9″ by 7″ notebooks. Within weeks everyone seemed to be walking around with them – including me. For the next eleven years I captured my meeting notes, to do lists and lessons learned in these handy journals. Each time I completed one I would put it on my shelf in chronological order, just like the scene from Alister Simm’s ‘The Christmas Carol.’
This week, one of my tasks was to reread all 55 notebooks (9,350 pages) to extract lessons learned I might have forgotten. I figured there would be many thoughts that had been jotted down during past change projects that would be perfect for my book. I was right. There are some great ones that were captured in the heat of the moment. Less exciting is the amount of time it takes to read 55 notebooks. I am on notebook 20 with one day to go!
Beyond collecting these nuggets, I learned the following about the notes I took and the way I took them:
I created an index for the first three books and then abandoned the practice
- Each book has a “Thank you for returning my book” inscription in the front cover, just in case it got lost, which only happened a few times when I left it in someone`s office or a meeting room
- Our sons, Sam and Charlie ,drew in the backs of them when they joined me at the office on weekends
- There are a lot of references to passion and energy
- Our businesses had many highs and lows over the years
- Training sessions were defined by the people who attend them, especially in different geographies – same content, different interpretations
- Leaders were very quotable, e.g., “You, can’t rebuild a ghost.”
- I have worked with so many fascinating and talented people
- There are a lot of references to pushing the boundaries to become the best – no regrets on risks taken
- I contemplated writing a book about learning style training design in 2000 (my concern was that it was not an exciting topic)
There are many details of our lives that we forget unless they are recorded and reviewed. George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.“ Perhaps a complementary thought is “Those who forget their lessons never learned them.“