Today I went to work expecting a great day. My young friend Chris Merris was coming back to TheraDoc, and it’s always a good thing to have sharp people around you.

The mood of the day suddenly shifted as I found out that Jeff Knell, another new friend at work had died over the weekend. I felt extremely sad all day, not so much because I’d lost a close friend (although I thought that Jeff and I were going to be good friends).

Instead I think it has more to do with the loss of that growing friendship, and the reminder of the transience that is life.

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Serenity
Serenity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

A project manager has to be able to be in the moment and calmly react to any situation in order for a plan to succeed. Reacting to everything that might go wrong, or things that don’t help to achieve the goals of the project doesn’t get us to the product of the project (our “ends” or project goal).

 

Because a project manager’s biggest job is keeping everybody communicating, it’s easy to get distracted with all the chatter and worries of everybody on the team. You have to weigh the value of the cries of the Chicken Little‘s on your team in order to figure out whether the sky is actually falling or not, and if so, what to do about that fact.

 

For me this is a bit like the Serenity Prayer (written by American theologist Reinhold Niebuhr):

 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

 

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1967_Dead-Eye_Rob
When I was in third grade, we lived in Fairbanks Alaska, and I wanted to be a grown up. Because Alaska is frontier wilderness, a lot of the activities I remember were around doing things in the outdoors with the family.

I wanted to be grown up, so I got a paper route (at eight years old I was the youngest one they’d ever had). I remember that I had to borrow my Dad’s typewriter to write the circulation department telling them why I wanted to be a paper boy.

I also remember my parents making me take my little brother with me so I wouldn’t get into trouble and getting into trouble anyway (but that’s a whole bunch of different stories).

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I was struck by the power of unintended consequences while watching a show about the science of dyslexia.

What hit me the most was a segment of the show where they were talking to a successful business man who had struggled with dyslexia his entire life and found a place he could succeed in the high school shop. His business was started by buying up the equipment from that same shop as the high school did as most schools have done: cut “non-essential” programs.

What struck me was that because the schools have chosen to cut the broadening curriculum like art, music and shop, there are kids today who will potentially never know success. And even worse, the kids who do well in the remaining classes, will never see that those kids who struggle with the college prep classes have abilities in different areas.

From my high-school experience, I distinctly remember that there were kids who just didn’t do well in the standard classes, but luckily for us we had art, music, home ec and shop. Because of those classes, I got to see some of those kids do amazing things that I simply didn’t have the skill to.

I saw incredible cabinetry built by a kid who literally couldn’t read (today he’d probably have been diagnosed with dyslexia and learned to read).

I recall other kids who built beautiful hot rods from piles of junk, amazing metal contraptions, and people who were able to shine in all sorts of ways that aren’t readily available to kids today.

So as an unintended consequence of “saving money”, we’ve cost our society the chance to expand the social interconnection that happens with recognition.

Those kids may not get the chance to sing in front of the rest of the school and gain the respect that they deserve. That quiet kid in the back of the room might just be perceived as angry and sullen, instead of having the respect as the guy who can do something amazing with a piece of wood.

We weaken our community by not supporting the search for that potential. Those kids frustrated by subjects they have no talent in, who won’t as easily find the joy in something they can do well, and won’t be as likely to go on to be pillars of our community.

I am going to break one of the rules of social media and talk about politics. I’ve had lots of conversations with people I know who generally share my views on issues, but being disenfranchised and fear based, have the strong feeling that politics should never be talked about.

And to a point I agree. People are so strongly aligned along party lines, that if you say the wrong thing, you will alienate many people. The weird thing for me is that most people don’t even know why they follow those party lines.

I spoke to a very smart young man a while back and asked him which party he belonged to.

“The X party”, he said.

“Why did you choose that party?”,  I asked assuming he would have a logical reason for why he joined that party.

“Well, I guess mostly because my parents were in the X party”, he replied.

And even stranger, the lines shift based on what the other party is saying. An idea that one party comes up with is immediately opposed by the other, even if that idea is a plank in the opposing party’s platform.

Take the recent rhetoric about the healthcare reform work. From everything I’ve seen, what is being proposed is almost exactly the same thing that the Republicans proposed when Clinton was trying to get them to move on universal healthcare. A sort of modified version of what we have today that tries to fix the biggest fiscal problems with our current system.

But who is labeling this “Obamacare” and calling it socialism? It appears to me that it is the same people who caused Clinton to crash and burn, and who proposed the approach of universal health care combined with capitalism.

This is but one example, but there seem to be endless times that  opposition is simply a tribal fight. The Democrats reject all Republican ideas, the Republicans reject all the Libertarian ideas, and they all view each other as bad and wrong. It’s one reason I don’t declare a party, and would probably still be independent if I didn’t want to vote in primaries.

I often wonder if we just got rid of the parties, could we have an intelligent discussion about the issues. Are people just naturally unwilling to consider other viewpoints?

For me, health care is broken, and there are simple things we could do to fix some of the big problems. By making sure people could actually see doctors when they need to, we would reduce the burden on emergency rooms and hospitals caused by people who have either had to forgo care that would have been less expensive.

Add to that fixing some of the corruption in the insurance industry (which also prevents people from getting care early with things like “pre-existing condition” clauses), and not only would  health care costs go down, but productivity would go up, due to a healthier population.

It’s not rocket science, it’s what we need, and anything is better than the current system that is bankrupting the country.

I was reminded today of the peculiarly clever way that grief occurs over time. I was watching a documentary on Teddy Kennedy yesterday and was struck by the depth of feeling I had to his words at his mother’s funeral. He spoke about how she would be greeted by all the other family members who had gone on before, and I felt that profound grief for every loss that I’ve experienced in my life.

The greatest (and most recent) of these for me was my dog and companion Bo. I lost him a couple years back after 14 years of loving companionship. I grieved as deeply and profoundly as I ever have for him, but from the very beginning, I noticed that the grief came in waves.

At times there are the pleasant memories, then some consolation from kind words about how dogs wait for us in the after life. Other times, there were simple pleasant memories of times with him, things he did to amuse and warm the heart. And sometimes there was the pain of the fading recollection of what he looked like, or how his fur felt under my hand.

But always the relief and sadness taking turns, with each stretch of sadness being more manageable and more level with the good memories.

My belief about this is that we had to develop this way in order to survive. If we simply grieved until we were done being sad, we wouldn’t be able to do anything for months. If we “cried a river“, we’d die of dehydration or starvation. Our minds give us the reprieve from the grief so we can deal with the business of living, and to allow us to continue to connect with the world.

For me, also faith helps in this, since it gives us a way to view death as a transition rather than something final. Feeling that there will be a time to see your loved ones again, takes away the sting at times (although that comfort doesn’t seem to be available at other times, when your heart feels as if there is no point and faith has no power).

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I think a lot about how negative thinking affects the world, even more so recently with all of the depressing news reports.

Take the example of a financial advisor telling people to cut back on their weekly coffee in order to put more money into their savings as a hedge against hard times. A well intentioned attempt to educate people on being fiscally responsible.

But there’s no thought to the down side of this act: When everybody stops going to their local coffee place, the coffee place goes out of business, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and gloom. What if instead that report recommended you go meet a friend at that same coffee shop? The coffee shop stays in business, and people are socializing, networking and creating new opportunities that definitely will not be discovered by staying home.

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I took the day off and spent it at my father-in-law’s house, watching all the excitement in Washington D.C.

I was still thinking about how emotional I felt watching Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the drive over the bridge. My wife hadn’t been there when King’s speech aired, so I pulled it up (iPhone is amazing) and read it to her as she was driving. Reading the text aloud, once more underlined for me the power of the words. There were times that I had to pause in order to get the words out because I was so choked up.

I was once again taken by the fact that Dr. King could be so optimistic with all the rage and oppression surrounding him. Listening to our new President speak, I could clearly hear the determined optimism in his voice and words. I was swept up by the historic moment, and excited about the turning away from the culture of fear toward one of hope.

It is far too easy to look at all of the problems of the world, listen to the news, and give in to the fear of all things that could happen. Terrorists around every corner, economy collapsing, no work anywhere, global warming, and the USA on the verge of collapse. But for me, every problem appears more as something to be solved, every challenge is an opportunity for growth that can be solved by working together.

The words of Barack Hussein Obama II in his inaguaral address are filled with that, and I’m excited by the way he is using the bully pulpit already to rally us to service. This is a seminal event: the promise made to every small child, that they can work hard and grow to become President of the United States has moved closer to reality. Martin Luther King’s dream of a nation where children will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, is just a little more real.

I was moved in many places by Barack’s speech. Calling us back to the traditions of our founding fathers in continuing the great social experiment that is the United States. When he said that America was ready to lead, I just wanted to hear him say “follow me”.

When he spoke to the troubled nations of the world, challenging the despots, offering “that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”, I was again deeply moved. By speaking to our part in the world, that we could not be apart from it, he seemed to me to be reminding us that service goes beyond our nation. We can’t retreat inside our borders, nor follow some crusade to get every nation to be like ours.

At the end of the day, Barack and Michelle Obama crossed the threshold of the White House, across steps that were built by slaves, to lead our country in it’s ever progressing quest toward protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Today is Martin Luther King Day. One day before the biggest inauguration since George Washington, and only 46 years since the famous “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Unlike Steve Martin, I was not born a poor black child. I was however very lucky to be raised without the iron of racial hatred and prejudice that so many people have to overcome thanks in part to being raised in parts of middle America where discrimination was more hidden, and also thanks to having parents who understood that this hatred was wrong.

Perhaps because of how I grew up, I had a leg up on not developing predjudices. I know that anthropologically we generalize things: it’s a survival trait from before we even had civilizations. When you see a bear attack somebody, you generalize that all bears are dangerous.

So for me, living in the comfort of middle America, my generalizations likely came from being exposed to people who were also enlightened middle class people. My experiences with people my parents socialized with were always generally positive, which probably means I generalized all people that way. I think this is one of the more insidious aspects of prejudice is that people will respond to the way they are treated. Somebody raised to think that a certain race is not to be trusted, will look for things to support that idea, and subconsciously encourage that behavior.

When we first moved to Wrangell (a small town and island in the south eastern portion of Alaska), I think I had my first real exposure to the shame of America. One of my friends at school was a native American (he was of the Tlinget tribe). When we went from one grade to the next (can’t remember exactly which grade), they told us that all of our “Indian” friends would be sent to the Indian school.

It was confusing and disturbing, and I couldn’t understand why it was happening.  All I knew was there was some arbitrary rule that said if you’re part of this tribe, you can’t go to the same school with the other kids.

I lived in Alaska from the time I was in third grade until I was in sixth grade (1967 until 1970) when my Dad got a job for (the now infamous) Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. We made the trek across Canada on the Candian National Railway, down the coast to Washington, D.C. and  to our new home in Alexandria Virginia (pronounced Vuh-gin-yuh after you’ve lived there).

When we got to Washington D.C., we wanted to drive through and see the capitol and all the sites. I remember it was evening, and we drove into the city, but at some point we came to some barricades. We were told it wasn’t safe to go into the city and were turned around to go out of the city.  Later we watched the news to hear that there were “race riots” going on (I’m thinking now that it must have been related to the Jackson State killings).

We moved to Alexandria, Va. which was for the most part a suburb of the seats of power. You could take a bus to Washington D.C. (which I think my Dad did every day) and it was about as lily white a place as I had ever lived. I was in junior high by now, and the middle school I went to did not have a diverse population (out of a couple hundred kids, there were two black kids, one indigenous American). Most of the kids at this school were from fairly affluent families, and from what I could see there wasn’t any obvious prejudice there.

As I finished with middle school, and was preparing for high school, some of my friends started talking about how the “bad” kids would be getting bussed to the high school next year. I didn’t know why, or who these “bad” kids might be, but I was a little worried.

The first day of school arrived, and to my horror and surprise, I saw first hand who the “bad” kids really were. I saw kids from my old school, yelling and throwing things at the buses that were arriving. The high school was one of the first to integrate, and the so called “bad” kids they had been talking about, were the black kids from the ghetto. I was horrified to learn that my friends had been afraid of these kids because of the color of their skin.

This was a culture shock: I went from a middle school that was 100% upper middle class, to a high school that was suddenly 70% low income kids. Here were kids who thought that getting a job as a garbage man was the equivalent of being President. I was from a background where a college education was assumed to be part of the plan, they were from a place where staying in school was something you had to do, and only until you could find a job. There were language differences too: the first time somebody asked me to borrow a “prunsel”, I had no idea what it was (they were asking for a pencil).

So today, on the eve of the amazing accomplishment of the inauguration of Barack Obama, I am truly grateful (and impatient) for the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke so eloquently about. It’s still a dream, but with our first non-white president, we have a little more proof that all things are possible.

Can we realize the dream (and overcome the insidious nature of hateful prejudice) ?

Yes we can !

This Saturday, Joel Deceuster presented his 7 strategies for planning your career. Joel created these seven focusing strategies as something he’s learned in his business. You can learn more about Joel and his work at http://www.focusyourbusinessnow.com/

Listening to Joel talk about these strategies, I was struck by how similar the first strategy was to the steps in a 12-step program. The 12 steps are a process for going from a spiritually bankrupt position to an action plan that ultimately works by spurring the hopeless addict to a place where they can find the promise of a better life. By following these 12 steps, the goal of “the promises” is achieved, and addiction (and hopelessness) is left behind.

Joel’s approach starts with becoming accountable (the first strategy).

#1-Focus your commitment to be 100% accountable for your career.

  • Follow the steps to accountability
    • See it (admit / recognize the problem) – In a 12-step program, the first step is admitting that we have a problem.
    • Own it (know it is your problem, and remove denial)  – We realize that what we’ve been doing before isn’t working, and that we need help (steps two and three)
    • Solve it (plan) – We take inventory of our wrongs, and make a list of what we need to do to correct them, and share that with somebody else (steps four through eight)
    • Do it (take action) – We make amends, and take action on a daily basis to correct our mistakes (steps nine and ten)
    • Don’t play the blame game (be responsible for your own career) – In the recovery programs, they often preach about being responsible
  • Find and accountability buddy – Joel recommends finding an accountability buddy.

This is somebody to whom you can keep track of your progress (very similar to a sponsor in the 12-step programs) as you progress through your plan (work the steps).

In a 12-step program, you need a sponsor once you get past the first three steps, which also seems to work for Joel’s list above.So for me, his first strategy is a way out of the doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (the definition of insanity).

His next strategy is to focus your goal. This is to overcome the lack of planning we put into our job search, which is also the point of the 12 steps: focus the effort on achievable goals by breaking things down into manageable pieces.

#2-Focus your primary objective to envision your ideal job.

  • Visualize your ideal job
    • One year from today …?
    • Discover your unique ability
  • If you can see it, you can acheive it- Joel suggests reading this book immediately if not sooner.
  • Transform your limiting beliefs that hold you back
    • They’re stories not truth

#3-Focus your employment strategies to direct your search.

  • The Goal Implementer Process
    • Obstacles inspire solutions – In the twelve steps, we take inventory of all of our wrongs, and plan to make amends.
    • Milestones – Setting milestones helps you to recognize progress.
  • The Core Employment Strategies
    • Assessment; What’s working, not working? – In the twelve step process, we continue to take inventory which helps us find out what is working and what is not.
  • Prioritize your strategies
    • Create a one page employment plan
    • Vision/mission/goals/strategies/action plans

#4-Focus your actions to optimize your efforts and resources.

  • Create prioritized action plans
  • Always know what’s next

#5-Focus your week to make it powerfully productive.

  • Use planning tools
  • Weekly planning ALWAYS
    • 3 crucial results (what do you want to feel by the end of the week)
    • Top 20 phone calls/connections (identify 20 people who can help you get to your goal)
    • Top 10 Strategic projects

#6-Focus on measuring your progress to stay on plan.

  • Daily dials (success indicators)
  • 3 Personal guidelines – rules for yourself, lessons learned ( e.g. – stay networked) around biggest disappointments
  • Positive focus

#7-Focus your energy to demonstrate your best you.

  • Physical fitness
  • Spiritual development – the twelve step programs are all about spirituality, and the process is really focused on achieving a spiritual awakening to guide us toward our true purpose.
  • Mental growth
  • Social engagement
  • Financial stability