Sunday, June 26, 2011

Finding the words

I was never the popular kid in class.  I was quiet. Blending in was not my goal; disappearing was.  I didn't want anyone to notice me, or speak my name. I was terrified, of what, I do not know to this day. This fear of being noticed followed me through elementary school and into high school.

My school experience was predictable for the 70's.  I went to the elementary school in my neighborhood, and then to the high school right next door.  There was the guy who laughed all the time from Kindergarten to Grade 12 (he still does) and the guy who was smarter than everyone else. There was the guy who seemed to be misunderstood and the guy who got picked on. (In high school I remember him being "inserted" into a garbage can in the school cafeteria.) There was the girl who was, and still is, remarkably beautiful.  There was the confident girl. The quirky girl.  The girlfriend.  There was the guy nobody noticed.  And there was me. Invisible me. Frightened me.

I was married at 19 to the only person who made me fail safe and OK to be . . . me, or figure out who "me" was.  We moved away to Calgary where my husband went to school and I worked. I made friends there, and a lifelong home.  Even though we moved back to Saskatchewan in 1983, every time I go to Calgary, I feel like I somehow belong there. Like there is a piece of me still there.

Through my life travels, as a frightened child and an awkward, introverted teen, writing was my secret outlet. I wrote stories, poems, songs and imagined things on paper, where it was safe. I used to keep them in a trunk in my room.  I eventually destroyed them in case someone should find them.

Although I did not understand the meaning of my need to write, it was as natural as breathing to me.  I believe now that I was searching for my voice, or at least the words to speak out loud, some day.  Over time, writing became a powerful force in my life at every turn.  

When my husband was in University, there was a constant fight for funding. I discovered that I had a gift for writing letters that got the attention of government decision makers.  

I decided to become a writer, so I came out of the proverbial closet to study English and Journalism at University of Regina.  I was ignited by the history of writers who found freedom in the written word to express concerns in society. Their words were part of the conversations that led to the liberation of people, and installment of rights and freedoms that we enjoy today. It was like I discovered where my soul had been living all this time. 

Writing is as natural and as necessary as breathing is to me.  I use my gift of voice and my passion for the written word judiciously and with purpose. In my professional, corporate and philanthropic life, writing to create plans, reports, presentations, and other forms of communication have helped create and articulate futures that are being brought to life, thereby creating jobs, economic prosperity and social change. I continue to write poems, stories and articles in an attempt to articulate and document what I have learned along the way, and what it all means.

The writing process is one of listening, learning, feeling, and observing what is being said, and capturing what the audience needs to hear and know.  I write to instigate thought and to ignite reaction.  Sometimes I write so that others can be free of what contains them. Often times, writing is a "catch and release" experience. Once something is written, and released, there are traces of me,  but I do not recognize it as my own, because it isn't. It belongs to the world after that.

I could not chose a better time in history to be a writer of a human experience.  With the power of the Internet, blogs and a litany of social media opportunities, the mind boggles as to how many stories can be told, how much experience can be shared and how much insight we can gather about the human experience.  . . if only we would take the time to think about it.

I wonder if we squander this great gift of voice or take it for granted.  What would Shakespeare do with this opportunity if he could reach beyond the confines of single stage and audience?  What would Picasso have accomplished if he could express himself off the canvas?  Would we be further along in our understanding of each other if we could have shared in the written word earlier?  Would we have allowed the atrocities of our time to occur?

In many ways, I am still that invisible 5 year old, except that I am no longer afraid because now I understand that everyone has a story to tell, and my job is to write it down if they are willing. Writing has given me both voice and courage. It has created a passion for life long learning.

Other blogs written by yours truly . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Change the "F" Word

Change.  It happens all the time.  The weather changes. The wind changes.  The economy changes.  People change.  Lives change.  We change, as we age. We change as we learn.  Change is not usually fun.

We are so fascinated by change that change management gurus have documented the change cycle, beginning with  mourning and a sense of loss, followed by anger and rejection of the change, then denial, and finally acceptance.

Change can be a good thing, and usually is, at the end of the change process.  Change is a necessary part of the time and experience continuum. Like an ocean that never stands still, so it is for all beings, organic or otherwise. Even rocks change. When change is led with purpose, it can be a very positive experience.  But when change is denied, the experience is painful.

I would suggest that most change should not be a surprise. There are signs in business and in life.

Here is a scenario that we have all seen.  A company is established that includes a way of working, the products and services, and the attitude with which it is delivered.  Competitive unique strengths that the organization or individual possesses form the foundation for success. Four elements - quality products and services, delivery system, people and resources - ensure the company delivers on its promise. Success is measured by the level of usefulness to others.  As the company's brand becomes more successful, the more secure it becomes.

When one or all of the four elements suffer, the brand begins to erode and the cracks begin to deepen. Customers might complain more about the little things. Employees are less willing to take the boss at his or her word. Processes become weakened. Eventually, the bottom line begins to erode, and then it becomes obvious that something has happened, and that something needs to happen.

In the arena of change, length of time in business or size are irrelevant.  Giants fall.  Start ups fizzle.  Companies downsize, rightsize, merge, converge or disappear.

"What happened," everyone asks.  Why didn't we see this coming?  The quick answer is, "you weren't looking."

One can point to many reasons for this, but short-sightedness, either intentional or accidental, is short-sightedness and the outcome is the same. Eventually there is a head-on collision with reality. The question is why.  What is behind this masochistic perspective. Is it the "f" word?

Designer Milton Glasser, in his video: "The fear of failure" offers an explanation.  He says that if you have something that no one else has, and you become successful, the consequence of specialization and success is that it hurts you  . . . because it doesn't aide in your development.

Dove of Peace - Pablo Picasso
He says that fear of failure may hold us back, or that failure can lead to a damaged ego.  Glasser points to the artist Pablo Picasso who abandoned something once he became good at it.  He refused to stagnate.

Glasser says that one must embrace failure and admit what is, and find out what a person is capable of doing, and not capable of doing.  Unless one subjects himself to the possibility of failure, one never tests the hypothesis of brand greatness.

Understanding failure is to understand another "f" word  - fear.  Organizations or individuals who are afraid of failure cannot learn from the situation and run the risk of being stuck in that moment of failure forever.  Lost in that moment when someone - your customer, your employee, your employer - said, "you are not meeting my needs," "You are not good enough", "You are too expensive", or the ultimate "f" word - "You are fired."

I like to think that there is one "f" word that trumps all of the other "f" words - and that is faith in the human spirit to persevere, be passionate and find a way through.  Everything with a heart beat or a DNA structure, has a natural disposition to survive.

When things change, how do we persevere?  We hold on to our passion and remember every day to do that which we are passionate about.  I do not believe that one can become complacent or afraid if one is passionate.  We learn. We pay attention to the signs and signals around us. We change on purpose, and control that which is within our control and manage that which is not.

If all fails and you feel the need to use the "f" word, choose faith over failure and fear.

Sources and other articles of interest:

Pablo Picaso

Milton Glasser )

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Day in the Life, (Borrowed)

I read the news today. Oh boy. About picket lines in sunny Saskatchewan. And though the news was rather sad, well I just had to wonder . . .

I saw the future today.  Oh boy.  We are about to be a "have" province.  The economy is growing and there is hope for the future.  We have an opportunity to redefine Saskatchewan as a place to live, work and raise a family. The question is, what does that province look like? Can it be sustainable into the future?

Home is where the heart is.  I was born in Regina, educated, and raised my children here with the exception of three life - changing years in Calgary, where I worked the key desk at Alberta Mortgage and Housing in 1981 after the market in Alberta crashed and people could not afford their homes.

It was heartbreaking and devastating to see people break down and give up their homes.  I will never forget the image of a bike left behind. That experience was one of the reasons that we decided to live in Saskatchewan and raise our family here. However, for the first time in my Saskatchewan lifetime, housing is no longer affordable for low to middle income families.

Having a job is what every family is concerned about.  With the price and availability of housing, families are working to pay mortgages beyond the measure of two full time incomes.  The price of my first house (albeit a 750 square foot duplex) was $36,000.  Today, a first house will cost approximately $200,000.

When I look at those prices, I wonder how someone starting out can afford that.  I also wonder if we have the jobs in our province to sustain this kind of price tag.  If we want people to live and thrive in Saskatchewan, we need a plan that takes us into the future, rather than one that will force people out of our province as soon as other job opportunities present themselves in other provinces.

That brings me to education and the mind trust of the next generation.  Education is not just about books and curriculum. A good teacher is one that lives in your head and heart throughout your life.  Education is about providing our children and young adults with an experience that prepares them to be our leaders, our policy makers, and our workers.

Health care is the last pillar that defines us a a province.   There are no words to express what this means to a  family or person in crisis.  It's difficult to put a price tag on compassion or a person's life.

I see the writing on the wall today. Oh boy. Crowds of people have something to say. This summer, before the fall. It is no wonder then that people have something to say.