leadership dot #3949: keep notes

I just concluded a professional development contract with a client I have been coaching for an extended period. At the start of our work, one of my recommendations was to get a notebook just for our sessions — lessons from our time together, reflections that occurred afterward, and prompts to remember scenarios that she wanted to discuss in the future. I did likewise, and in preparation for our last call, we both reviewed our notebooks. They provided tangible evidence of the progress that was made — reminders of things that used to be a struggle but now were not, enhancements that had resulted from some of the techniques she tried, and increased confidence overall.

Keeping such a record is a useful tool for almost any project. You may not think you are making progress on something, especially if it’s an intangible like professional development, onboarding, coaching, or parenting, but having something written down in a discrete format allows you to see the path your learning has taken. Just making a few notes about the issues of the day or your joys and challenges can go far in capturing a snapshot in time that can be compared with future moments.

It’s difficult to have a meaningful sense of time without everything blurring together. If something is important to you, dedicate a notebook to it. It doesn’t have to be lofty (I stock up on cheap spiral versions during the back-to-school sales), but keeping notes will become an invaluable tool for reflection and validation of your progress.

leadership dot #3944: don’t settle

“We’re entitled to and capable of much more joy than we have settled for.”

I’ve had this quote by Laurie Santos rattling around in my brain since I heard it. Where Santos’ quote is the kicker: “…and capable of” — pointing out that we need to work at it and that joy won’t just come calling.

It reminds me of the opening line in Jim Collins’ masterpiece Good to Great: “Good is the enemy of great.” We settle for “good” with so many things in life, joy included, because it’s less effort than seeking out greatness. We become complacent — about where we live, our friends, our job, our health, and our happiness — going through life without questioning our circumstances unless they become truly awful.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Think about what truly makes you happy. What brings you joy? And how much do you work to infuse this into your life? Don’t settle for less bliss than you deserve.

watermelon — one of the things that brings me great joy!

leadership dot #3943: be significant

There are over 3 million podcasts offering a total of 48 million episodes to a half-billion listeners. And one of those episodes features — me! I was invited by a former colleague to be a guest on his show and reluctantly accepted. I’m usually not a fan of thinking on my feet and being interviewed without preparation, but it was actually just a conversation about my leadership journey and lessons I have learned along the way. Who doesn’t like to talk about that?

The podcast came at a fortuitous time as I have recently been reflecting on my path (see dot #3908). As I said in the episode, we don’t make enough time to reflect and thus often miss out on the insights we can gain from looking at the themes of our lives. I’ve learned that I am hesitant about saying yes, but often when I do, I actually enjoy the experience and reap good things from it (just like with doing a podcast!)

The opportunity also reawakened my consciousness that people have different ways of learning and consuming information. I’m not a big podcast listener and much prefer the written word, but having varied or multiple means of communicating your message is a good thing. Don’t look for me to start a podcast anytime soon, but I do mix up the ways I share lessons in my classes and workshops and will be more cognizant of doing so.

I invite you to listen to the episode and see if it inspires you to reflect on the lessons from your journey. Whether you use a podcast or blog to share your insights with others, just thinking about your path is a valuable use of your time to help you craft your future.

Be Significant podcast with Beth Cook and Matt Rogers, May 22, 2023: Dr. beth triplett: All roads lead to Indianapolis

leadership dot #3928: purpose

Sometimes I have coaching clients that are seeking assistance in finding their purpose or next career move. They often stress themselves by trying hard to find “the” answer as if a life-defining bullseye will appear in the ether.

Instead of lamenting about the end goal, I encourage people to think about steps along the way. First, consider the “uncommon measures” that bring you joy and satisfaction. Rather than trying to ascertain what the big purpose is, become aware and pay attention to the little markers that give you some of what you are seeking. Write them down and then step back and try to see what themes they reveal. Love it when you’re able to see change? — maybe that is a clue. Get a dopamine hit when you are helping someone? — take note. Get jazzed up when you’re complimented on your problem-solving abilities? — another hint as to what you should incorporate into your life.

Second, think about how you’d like to define your role. Not your job or tasks, but what role do you want to play? I get satisfaction when I’m a connector — able to connect people with ideas or concepts that help them understand. I know someone who relished playing the role of “shit-disturber” and embraced his function of questioning assumptions and disabusing excuses. What role gives you satisfaction and how can you incorporate more of it into your daily routines?

I also advocate learning by doing. I think volunteering is a smorgasbord of opportunities where you can try things out and see what brings you joy and test how your role fits you. You can volunteer for almost any task and in multiple settings — see what resonates and then find ways to do more of it. Volunteering is low risk and can be a very high reward in a multitude of ways.

Finally, take some time for deep reflection, not just passing thoughts while in the shower or on your commute, but try to craft a block of time where you devote mental energy to thinking about your purpose in life. You may start by writing down “How I Found My Career” (dot #3908) and seeing what clues the past provides about your future.

Whether you are just graduating from college or nearing retirement, having intentionality about how you spend your days is a meaningful pursuit. Don’t let others dictate how you live your life.

leadership dot #3908: pivotal

One of my mentors, now age 80, is on a mission to document some of his life’s stories for his grandchildren. He bought a laptop for this explicit purpose and is committed to capturing some history and insights that he can share with others.

One of his stories is about “how I found my career.” I love that phrasing because it reflects reality — that a career often finds you, rather than you finding it through assessments, aptitude tests, or well-meaning advice. It also implies that landing on a career is a journey — not something that you magically know upon graduation from college, or heaven forbid, high school.

His story has also inspired me to reflect on how I found my career. I am not an elementary teacher as was my initial thought; I’m not an accountant like the tests recommended I should be, and my career wasn’t even in journalism as my college major suggested. There have been many twists and turns along my path but I think it all began with the “Usherettes” organization in high school — a group reserved for freshmen and sophomore girls who wore long polyester skirts and ushered at the annual school musical. Because of that “experience,” I joined the “Host and Hospitality” committee of the Union Board in college (ushering at events) — and my Union Board involvement led to an eventual graduate assistantship and then a professional position in student activities which kicked off my career in higher education.

Two takeaways from today’s dot: 1) reflect on how you found your career — not just your first job, but the pivotal experience that kickstarted your eventual professional journey; and 2) consider how minor or serendipitous that initial experience really was. For many, it started with a tap on the shoulder and someone suggesting you get involved in something. It wasn’t positioned as the starting point of your career, but rather someone seeing a fit between you and an opportunity. Be that someone for someone else. You may be the catalyst that helps another find their eventual life’s work.

leadership dot #3848: addiction

What makes more money in America than baseball, movies, and theme parks combined? That was the opening question posed by Max Stossel in his lecture about technology. The answer: slot machines. Technology and slot machines are both successful based on the premise of “variable rewards” — sometimes you get a “hit” and sometimes you don’t, but the intervals of the rewards entice you to keep trying, over and over again.

Stossel, the Founder and CEO of Social Awakening, a nonprofit organization that shares how technology and social media impact people’s lives, doesn’t believe that the use of technology is bad, rather he seeks to make people become more aware and intentional about how they use it.

“If we carried a bottle of alcohol in our pocket 24/7 and it was updated every day to make it even more delicious for us, we would all be alcoholics,” he said. The same addictive nature applies to smartphones.

Most people realize that social media is rampant with digital manipulation, yet every single aspect of the app is designed to garner more and more of people’s time. We know the stories about people who scroll for hours and hours, but Stossel said one of the concerns is that people jump onto their phones the minute there is a lull — at the table, at a stoplight, while waiting for friends, etc. — and then they get sucked in (by design).

He offered many suggestions on how to combat overuse, including buying a physical alarm clock instead of starting your day on your phone, turning off all notifications except those from a human, and considering what other options you have to fill in gaps of time in the moment so you leave your phone alone.

He challenged the audience to give up social media for a day or week and see how it made them feel. “Are you really the one using technology or is technology using you?” he asked. Something to ponder instead of scrolling through Instagram tonight.

leadership dot #3809: boxes

Back in the day, department stores used to provide free gift boxes with all your purchases. Boxes were so plentiful that we tossed them after each holiday, secure in the assumption that we could get another supply next year.

Today, the handy white paper gift box has disappeared, along with many of the department stores that dispensed them. Instead, we are inundated with cardboard boxes from Amazon, USPS, and many other retailers whose holiday tidings are delivered to our doors. The corrugated containers are great for shipping but lack something in the presentation area, even with tissue and wrapping. So, I hunt for my remaining gift boxes and lament the pile of boxes to recycle.

I also have boxes on my mind from reading The Christmas Box holiday tale. Richard Paul Evans writes about how the lowly box plays a significant role in our stories:

“From the inlaid jade-and-coral jewelry boxes of the Orient to the utilitarian salt boxes of the Pennsylvania Dutch, the allure of the box has transcended all cultural and geographical boundaries of the world. The cigar box, the snuff box, the cash box, jewelry boxes more ornate than the treasure they hold, the ice box and the candle box…The human life cycle no less than evolves around a box; from the open topped box called a bassinet, to the pine box we call a coffin, the box is our past and, just as assuredly, our future.”

I’m sure you have a holiday memory that revolves around a box: Dragging the box of ornaments down from the attic, the little box that held an engagement ring, the box Fed Ex delivered on Christmas Eve to rescue Santa the next morning, the box full of parts to be assembled in the wee hours, the box that entertained the toddler more than their gifts, or the box that held the special candy treat reserved only for this occasion.

As you prepare to open more boxes in the coming days, take a moment to reflect on the role they play. We are always wiser when we appreciate the underlying infrastructure instead of taking it for granted.

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans, 1993, pages 33-34

leadership dot #3803: manifest

I was involved in a conversation about Manifest — the television show where an airplane full of people presumed dead returns alive after five years. The talk turned to parallels between the show’s characters and detainees or prisoners — and how hard it would be for both to reacclimate into the world. At first, people thought “it’s only five years” but when we started listing out things that would have changed in that period, it became a bit more overwhelming to think of having missed most of it.

During the last five years was Covid, of course, but it would also cover an entire political administration, a new Supreme Court, Black Lives Matter and racial justice protests, the overturning of Roe, deaths of the Queen and many prominent people, Brexit, #MeToo, the war in Ukraine, wildfires, and an insurrection on the Capital. The world is a different place.

I’ll bet your organization is different as well. A new cadre of staff. Post-Covid life and more remote work. More apps and software programs than ever. New clients, new needs, and new ways of addressing them. As you turn the calendar to 2023, take a few moments to reflect on how you have evolved over the past half-decade. What would the imaginary plane passengers find that has improved and what would they be dismayed to see is still an issue for you?

We spend a lot of time looking forward and developing strategic plans. Sometimes, it’s good to look back in a longer time frame and see what we can learn from the journey — even an imaginary one.

leadership dot #3794: terminology

Today is the run-off election in Georgia to determine the final Senator for this year’s Congress. I handwrote 1000 postcards to encourage voters in this election, and I was struck by the diversity of names on my list. There were few Marys, Johns, or Joes; instead, I addressed cards to Jazmone, Echika, Latronna, Jalavious, Aeshatou, Daresha, Zenith, Tanvir, Yanneth, and many, many more variations.

It brought to light that I don’t use many diverse names in my case studies or as examples in training or classes. I’m conscious about varying the gender, watching the pronouns, and not stereotyping which gender is in the leadership role, but Sohail or Tavalya have never been my protagonist in a case.

The reflection on naming also reminded me of a Tweet from @magisternihil that said: “My wife made the point the other day that all these devices with assistants (Siri, Alexa, etc.) all come as women by default so we’re training a whole new generation to see women as “staff” and I can’t stop thinking about that.”

I can’t stop thinking about that either — or about the variety of names on the postcards I wrote. I saved my address list and pledge to do better when crafting examples. Language matters. Names matter most. It’s a small step, but we’d all be better served if we raised our consciousness and commitment to a more inclusive and sensitive naming protocol.

leadership dot #3761: hemispheres

I went to college as a journalism major and if you would have asked me what my dream job was upon graduation, I would have told you that I wanted to work for United Airlines and write for their magazine. At that point, I had never even flown on an airplane let alone read Hemispheres but somehow, I had it in my mind that United was a good company and their corporate communications was the job for me.

When I was recently on a United plane, I thought about this and all the ways my life would have been different if student activities had not impacted my career plans. I don’t regret the detour, but the nostalgia ignited a spark that now has me doing some freelance writing for the local lifestyle magazine. It’s not Hemispheres, but it has provided a surprisingly rewarding outlet for the writing bug that has been latent (apparently 3761 blogs don’t count!).

Think about the hobbies you loved or the work you thought you would do when you were younger. There’s a reason you gravitated in that direction and if you have veered off the path — even if your current course brings you happiness — see if you can’t find a way to incorporate an aspect of the earlier dreams into your life. Whether as a volunteer, hobby, or side hustle, rekindling those initial career interests can again infuse joy at this stage of life. As with my article-writing, it may be for only a few hours per month but still add a pleasurable new dimension to your overall slate of activities.