As you may know, I'm working on a book to be published with Columbia University Press. I'm feeling the pressure of the deadline as I grasp the enormity of this project. I've been quite comfortable writing when I was a student, but working as an author has been quite a different experience. I care so much more this time and I feel that what I have to communicate is so important. This is what I'm sure will make it all worthwhile. On my toughest days, I rely on Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and her words on $hitty First Drafts for inspiration. I also shared this with a client when it became clear that some of their strategy plans needed a "try again". No need to be discouraged or disappointed. It's all about iterating toward something better. This is true for writing a book, design, most experiences, and life in general. From time to time, I will document my writing process here in the hopes that it will be helpful to all the aspiring writers out there.
I find this to be especially true when it comes to ideas. We have a tendency to self-edit and to judge too quickly, whether it our own ideas or other people's. In reality, ideas are sometimes seedlings that need nourishment, enrichment, or new environments to grow. Before you toss out that next inspired nugget, think about how you can play with it, recycle it, combine it into something new. Whatever you do, don't throw it away! Your creativity is precious, not disposable.
(In no particular order)
1. Relationships. At first, it was easy--we worked in the same office and ultimately reported into the same VP. We were of similar ages and so it was easy to connect. Her friendly demeanor invited everyone in, and for those that said yes they became a part of her life. When we were with different employers, she always made sure to touch base with me every so often, sometimes before I had the chance to reach out to her. This was the first lesson in networking for me—on how to keep in touch with people and share ideas, work practices, and stories. Because she reached out, the bond grew. We met up for dinners, and then we hung out at our respective apartments. Eventually our work relationship became a true friendship, one where we trusted each other with experiences of great strength and moments of weakness. It’s been many years since we first met, and I have moved many times since then—out of state, out of country, back to another state, and finally to another coast. Still, the friendship survived all these years. This is an example of networking-turned-friendship, and how this one quality relationship made a difference in my life.
2. Perseverance. She was appropriately ambitious—she knew the direction she wanted to go, and she did the hard work to get there with both urgency and patience. She never expected handouts or short cuts. She worked full-time while pursuing a graduate degree. So did I. She changed pathways in her career. So did I. She knew when to celebrate important milestones, like graduations. I didn’t do that as much as I should. When she met the biggest of challenges, she did not shy away from stepping up with a positive attitude and declaring, “I can do it.” Her perseverance was steadfast. She once wrote, “Today, I am grateful for resilience. The ability to catch my breath again after the wind has been knocked out of me time and time again.” She never gave up, and neither should we.
3. Purpose. Like all of us, she evolved. She used her gifts to serve many purposes—some she planned for, others came to her—and not always of her own choosing. “I suppose this was a role I was meant to play,” she says, “I can see the benefit and need of someone to this person for others... I hope I have done for others what was done for me.” She took every opportunity to serve a purpose. We know how important it is for us as humans to have a reason for being. After all, some people spend their entire lives searching for it. They don’t always realize that it’s often right in front of them for the taking.
4. Learning. She was introspective, reflecting on all things learned and taught through life. Some people go through life in a blur, never questioning or thinking through anything. Not her. She could list those lessons off quite easily. With a dose of positivity, she incorporated them into her life: “First off, I have learned that just because you might have a horribly crappy day doesn't mean that the next day can't be decent. I've learned that even if you don't get your way, you can still smile and have fun. I learned that even when you want to crawl under the covers, the best thing to do is to keep walking forward. Sometimes, you might be able to run. Other times, you might just limp along. But you have to keep going. I have learned that sometimes the only way to gain true perspective is to go through painful experiences that open your mind and your eyes. I have learned that the squeaky wheel does get the oil, but it gets the better quality oil if it squeaks politely. I have learned that most people are immeasurably kind when they put their minds or rather their hearts to it. And when they are not, it is usually not intentional. It's so important to keep hope. Keep positive. The reality is that there is no crystal ball. So while things might not be what I want them to be at the moment, that doesn't mean they can't improve. I have learned that some people in worse situations than me have improved and done well. Why not me? I can't think of a reason. So I will keep moving forward. And trying to enjoy as much as I can until the day when I have the joy in my heart knowing things are better.” Anyone can benefit from these life lessons she shared.
5. Humor. You could always count on her for a good chuckle—it sometimes came from something witty, or something corny—sometimes it was both. She offered it freely and easily as a gift, with no pretense. Considering all the humorless people out there in the world, she was refreshing. Over the holidays she came up with her own version of the 12 Days of Christmas: On the 12th day of chemo, my doctor gave to me: 12 counts of blood cells 11 nurses cursing 10 ports to access 9 checks of vitals 8 pills of zofran 7 veins a-warming 6 wigs a-spinning 5 siiiiiideeeee efffeeeecccctttss 4 combo drugs 3 sets of scans 2 perky boobs and a benedryl iv naaaaapppppp” Who wouldn’t smile reading this? Humor can be a salve for meeting life’s challenges if we let it.
6. Faith. It doesn’t matter whether you are spiritual, or subscribe to any particular faith, or which faith you follow. It’s up to you. As sentient beings, we have our own personalities and our own set of values. The important thing is that we live whatever values we claim to represent. Whether we like it or not, people will perceive us as either a good or bad example. No one expects perfection, but according to her, consistency and effort is key: “I do not claim to be Christ-like, for none of us are that divine. But I do claim to be a follower, which obligates me to do the best I can to live up to the values of my faith. These include love, compassion, respect, honesty, hope.” It’s not just about being an example. It is also what grounds you when you’ve done everything else in your power. After that, all you have left is faith. In a time when her faith was tested, she sought refuge in it and strengthened her belief.
She taught me these lessons and many more, by simply being her authentic self, living her life. Whenever I needed to put my perspective in check, I thought of her and what she was going through. She took life’s challenges like a champ. Cancer was a defining experience of her life, but she was so much bigger than that awful disease.
Last week, Nicole Briamonte Malato returned to heaven after a 3+ year battle with cancer. She was too young to go. In her brief time on this earth, she touched many lives, including my own. What I do from here on out is a testament to her legacy, because she taught me so much. She leaves behind a book, a blog, and many friends and family. Now everyone can learn from her, and she will never be forgotten.
© 2014 Co.-Design of Work Experience
In recent days, my in-laws have enjoyed music at sunset on a beach in California. The musicians are there for the pure enjoyment of making music for others to experience, an offering of sorts to everyone in their community. This old piano has been put out for pickup—and a pickup of another sort occurred. Other musicians have joined in, a bassist, guitarist, saxophone, etc. It’s unplanned events like these that remind us of beautiful happenings in the world. Sadly, this will be short lived when the piano goes to heaven. For a brief moment in time, it fulfilled its destiny.
Check out this article that offers some ideas on how to find creative inspiration, as suggested by some well-known artists…
Random Thought: Ever notice how they never really ask non-artists? How do “non-creative” folks find inspiration? The good news is, any one of us can become an artist, and we can all agree that everyone could use creative inspiration regardless of their walk of life. Still, I wonder how people in other fields would answer this...
"That is one of the tricks of OPPORTUNITY, it has a sly habit of slipping in by the back door, and often it comes disguised in the form of MISFORTUNE, or TEMPORARY DEFEAT. Perhaps this is why so many FAIL TO RECOGNIZE OPPORTUNITY."
This quote (published in 1937) describes why I have learned to appreciate setbacks—it brings opportunity. I’ve had a few curve balls thrown at me in the past few years. They didn’t feel so great in the moment, but they forced me to think more broadly, consider other angles, and to come up with other options I otherwise would not have pursued. While we all have our destinies, the fun comes in how we get there and what we learn along the way.
No, I don’t mean the the Charlie Sheen kind of winning…
It’s been too long since I posted, so today will be a two-fer, starting with this one. A friend of mine reminded me of something I said a while back: You are not winning if you allow a less-than-ideal situation at work get the better of you. People usually get frustrated and quit. While that is a perfectly natural response, it is also creates a notch on your proverbial belt of things you gave up on in your career. It becomes a memory of a failure that you carry with you going forward, perhaps even as a regret. Now I am not typically the type that sees things in adversarial terms, but when it comes to letting things get you down, I do see winning and losing. Quitting before you make lemonade out of lemons is losing. Take a bad situation, get the best thing out of it. Then you can quit on top, and leave the situation on your own terms. If you quit before you learn something, contribute something, positively affect something, then…you wasted your time, and that’s on you. What will be your legacy when you move on? If you feel like you’re not sure how much more you can take of it, then that tells you how urgently you need to make that lemonade happen. There are going to be things out of your control. No matter how dire the situation, there is always something positive within your power that you can do. If this applies to you, hang in there, keep your eye on the prize, and get busy! YOU CAN BE A WINNER!
Check out this pretty powerful video on Vimeo.
Follow Your Dreams.
This has been said by many before, but shockingly few follow its advice. Those who do what they love have a certain peace about them. I’ve asked the few friends or family I consider living their dream jobs, and they confirm: they never felt like their jobs were “work”, and they never did it “for the money”, but always had enough. I’m about to join their ranks. :)
Thankfully there are lots of stories out there of how individuals made courageous choices in their lives in the pursuit of happiness. I myself have the tendency to ask myself once in a while whether I continue to be on the right track, what I’m trying to achieve, and why. It doesn’t mean I always have the answers, but if “our worlds are formed by the questions we ask” (my favorite quote from David Cooperrider AGAIN), then the world where these questions are asked is the world I want to be in.
At a recent conference I attended, I as an audience member asked the executives on the plenary panel what it meant to “get there” and once they “got there”, what they felt they still needed to learn. To be honest, I was unsatisfied with their lack of answers here. It led me to think that they hadn’t thought about it. I asked because so many people (me included) spend so much time, energy and focus on the journey (whether it’s career goals or other) that they don’t know what to do once they get there, or what it means for their identity. Good reasons to stay reflective, I think.
Back to this link—it’s not this particular story that strikes me—in fact, there are probably better ones out there. However, it’s the quote that I particularly find inspiring: ”I know a lot of you are looking for your first big break. Others are assistants trying to climb one more step up that infinite ladder. During this journey…work towards what you love. Try not to be tempted by jobs that won’t get you there.” Work towards what you love….great stuff!
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