Friday, September 21, 2018

32 of 58 for 58: Keep on Battling

I thought I had it. What I wanted professionally. The pay was good. The position appeared to provide a modicum of stability in the form of a multiyear contract.

I could finally exhale. Relax a bit, kick back, and do my job without fear of how I'd be earning a living in six months--much less afterwards.

It didn't happen. I didn't get what I wanted. The uncertainties remained. 

I pouted. I sulked. I withdrew. I summoned various vendors from my past and threw myself a good, old fashioned pity parade. 

Woe is me, I thought. I'll never get what I wanted. 

Today I'm saying enough. Enough with the wallowing in what I don't have. Enough of basking in my self-proclaimed underdog status. 

I've had enough. It's time to return to battle. To keep pushing ahead for what I want.

I need to keep learning that no one is going to give me exactly what I say I want. Nor will it otherwise magically appear in my life.

I need to work for every bit of it. Just as I have done throughout my life.

This week someone described me as resilient and courageous. I asked him to explain as I have never considered myself as such.

He pointed to my dogged persistence to pursue a career as a late career academic. He highlighted my ongoing willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve that end. 

Which led me to think of the little things I do daily that add up to results. No one has to tell me to do them. I just do them. And they produce the things I say I want in my life. 

In other words, I must continue to battle. To work hard. To be proactive in asking for what I want. As I have done during the best parts of my life. And as I must do today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

31 of 58 for 58: Follow Your Own Advice

I've written 30 blog posts outlining lessons I've learned--one for every year I've been alive. I have another 29 to go to meet my commitment. 

It seems like a tall order. I feel like I've run out of things to say. Then it dawned on me.

The sum total of what I've written are just that--words on a screen. Am I doing what I share here?

In other words, am I following my own advice? Consistently? That requires constant reminders. I've seen how the vagaries of life threaten to undermine changes I've made. Every day. Changes you're read about in my previous 30 blog posts.

These changes don't entirely obscure old patterns of thought and behavior. They lurk in the shadows, ready to emerge with a vengeance when I turn my attention elsewhere. That's why I need to remind myself what I've learned and shared here.

I want to follow my own advice. 

I will follow my own advice. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

30 of 58 for 58: Learn to Deal with Your Mistakes

Sometimes the spotlight finds you even when you do your best to avoid it. Regardless, you need to be ready. You need to conduct yourself with aplomb. And you have to display a sense of humor even when you feel like fighting what’s happening.

I learned these lessons the hard way.

I was an account executive at a public relations agency in the late 1980s. I was representing a major computer hardware manufacturer. I oversaw their product review program. That required me to persuade publications to write about the company’s products.

In this instance, I was proposing reviews of a new Postscript Laser Printer. It offered desktop publishing capabilities for any user, not just professionals. Thus, I targeted print publications catering to the small home office user.

Among the publications I identified was a newsletter published by a woman located near Seattle, Washington. I called her to learn more. She mailed me a copy of her newsletter. I read it. A review of the printer seemed to fit its editorial focus. I arranged to send her one. I called her again to confirm its arrival at her office soon afterwards.

When I was promoted, I passed along my work on that account to someone else. I updated him on my efforts, including which publications were then reviewing printers. I quickly began on my new assignments. I forgot about printers and other computer hardware.

Nearly six months later, I was handed a phone message from Detective Asa Bricker. He worked for the Snohomish Police Department in Washington. At first, I thought a colleague was playing a joke on me. The name “Asa Bricker” sounded like it was taken from a detective novel. The phone number was in the 206-area code, so that checked out. I returned the call. Much to my surprise, the real Detective Bricker answered.

He was currently engaged in plea bargain discussions with a suspect. She was accused of soliciting computer hardware from major companies and selling it. She did not review the products; her newsletter was a ruse.

Detective Bricker found my contact information in the suspect’s files--along with that for individuals who worked for other aggrieved companies.   

Detective Bricker asked me questions about my interactions with the suspect. I repeated what I've outlined above. Later during our conversation he explained that if the suspect didn’t accept a plea deal, I’d have to testify during her trial. That meant I would be flown up to Seattle, etc.

To make matters worse, the copy of the newsletter I had reviewed and filed was nowhere to be found in our offices. The perception was I had sent a printer to the editor of a nonexistent publication.

Then a colleague elevated the potential impact of this unfortunate episode. He called a reporter who worked for a local computer industry news wire service to pitch a story about the episode. She bit. An hour later she called. She interviewed me despite my best efforts to convince her not to do so. The story was published later that day, again over my protests.

As an employee of a client’s public relations agency, I wasn’t supposed to be in the spotlight. But there I was. Because of something I had done wrong.

I was mortified. Embarrassed. Ashamed. How could I have made such a bonehead mistake?  

I thought I was going to lose my job. I thought my name would live on in infamy. I believed people would remember me as a misguided public relations practitioner. One who couldn’t differentiate a fake publication from a real one.

It all blew over in time. I never heard from Detective Bricker again. So I assumed the woman accepted the plea bargain went to jail.

As I learned in this instance, sometimes you need to take your lumps. Publicly, if need be. And you can’t take yourself too seriously.

And, bottom line, remember that no one thinks about you as much as you think about you.

In other words, the impact of bad and good deeds alike quickly passes. Long term, no one remembers your mistakes. That’s assuming you apologize and attempt to make things right.

I indeed wore a hair shirt for some time after this episode. I learned that sometimes my enthusiasm and energy got the best of me. I learned I needed to slow down and be even more scrupulous in my work.

Finally, I learned that sometimes you’ll find yourself in the spotlight when you least want or expect it. And you have to deal with it professionally nonetheless.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

29 of 58 for 58: Get Clear About Your Story

I've long struggled to craft a compelling and coherent professional story.  I grappled with how to explain disparate experiences in my career. I didn't quite know how they fit together in a way that made sense, even just to me.

I suffered as a result. Consider this example. I had an interviewer comment negatively on a significant professional choice. I started consulting in public relations after a relatively short stint in the field (4 years). That decision struck her as ill-advised. I hadn't given the matter much thought, and didn't have the words to explain why I did what I did when I did it. I was not asked to interview further for this job. 

It took time and many false starts, but I've since gained clarity about the arc of my career. I now have the language to confidently explain specific choices I've made. 

Yet I continue to polish my story. I can make it clearer and more compelling. It's an ongoing challenge because as the world changes, I must continue to adapt.  

The bottom line is that I know I need to be clear about my story. I know I need to continue to work on it, lest I fall into professional irrelevance.  

Monday, September 10, 2018

28 of 58 for 58: Get Clear About Your Why Before You Pursue Any Goal

I've studied three languages in school: Spanish, French, and German. At one point I could read all of them. At present, I can get by conversationally in Spanish. That's it. 

I entertain visions of achieving fluency in French and Spanish at some point. I've dreamed of ways to do so (e.g., immersion programs in countries that use the languages). Have I acted on any of them? Not yet. Why? That's the problem--I'm not clear about the why.

I have no compelling reason to invest the time and energy to learn either language right now. And I'm not willing to make the time. I'm not ready to give up other goals to expand my capabilities in either language. 

It took me some time to come to this conclusion. I had several false starts. I bought books. I signed up for classes. But I avoided major misdirections of time and money because I knew I didn't know the why. And that feels fine.

I grapple daily with feeling like I have too many interests and not enough time to address any of them well. Redirecting my focus towards identifying the "why" helps me enormously to focus on what truly matters. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

27 of 58 for 58: Catch People Doing Things Well

It was likely a typical Sunday afternoon to employees at the Philadelphia International Airport. To those of us waiting out a storm to board a delayed flight, it most certainly was not.

Babies were wailing. People crowded around the check-in counter. The tension in the air was palpable.

The gate agent responded to all of it with aplomb. She remained calm throughout the tense moments leading up to the boarding announcement. She responded to each question with full attention and kindness--no matter how harsh or anxiety-filled it might have been. The gate agent had encountered this situation many times before, but you couldn't tell. There wasn't an iota of bitterness and sarcasm in her interactions, as far as I could tell. 

In short, the gate agent was unfailingly polite. And at times I even saw a smile on her face.

I noticed. I noticed all of it. In a situation that's all too commonly labeled as unpleasant, she made it pleasant. She did her job well, and with alacrity.

As I boarded the plane I turned to her and said, "Great job."

She smiled.

I added, "And I gave you a shout out on social media."

She said thank you.

I don't know if the gate agent regularly received such kudos, if they were intermittent, or never at all. 

All I know is we had a moment. WE hadBecause I noticed her doing her job well.

It's easy to criticize the bureaucracies that dominate our lives. Some of us even take great pride in doing so. 

The fact is that on the whole, they work pretty well. And the unsung heroes who get things done do many things right, day in and day out. 

That's why I'm always looking out for them and others I interact with to do things well. Every day. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

26 of 58 for 58: Leave the Drama to the Theater Majors

For much of my life I relished gossip wherever I could find it. I latched onto rumor and innuendo with an alacrity that I wasn’t applying to other areas of my life. They provided excitement.  It They led me to deal with anything other than what I needed to tend to.

I’m different now. I have serious work to do. The clock is ticking. I no longer feel I can fritter away time.

More importantly, relationships matter a whole lot more. Relationships grounded in candor. In clear, open, and honest communication. In the here and now. In what is more than what could, would, or should happen.

Trafficking in gossip no longer suits me. Conjuring up and getting lost in drama takes me away from who I need to be and what I need to do.

That’s why I’ve decided to quit the drama and leave all that it entails to the theater majors.