Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Getting a Grip

I once had a manager who, at the point of complete and total exasperation said to me, "It doesn't matter. We will do working that is meaningful." I will never forget that because it was one of those humbling moments of my career where I witnessed true honesty and humility. At the time, I was an analyst and she was a doctor and economist. I admired her to the point where I was almost intimidated by her brilliance. And at that moment of honesty, I knew that I could contribute something meaningful to our work. That moment changed my career. I started working for meaning.

When I think about the crazy that surrounds us, I want to stop. Get off. Stretch. Maybe have a sleep. Get a grip. So why don't we?

I think part of the reason is competition. Every one is racing to the finish line to have the first say, or the final word. Everyone wants to be seen as leading. When in fact, all they are doing is careening out of control, and creating a wake of competitiveness behind them.

Another reason for this phenomenon is planning. We don't take the time to stop and smell the roses and take stock of what is worth doing, and what is worth stopping. In fact, most of us can't break down the individual tasks that we each do in our jobs so that we can uncover the useless tasks that actually burn us out.

So here's an approach to getting meaning out of everyday:

1. Get a note pad, a pen and cup of coffee. Get comfortable. Turn on your favorite music. Settle in and prepare to get into your self.

2. Write down everything you do - absolutely every task, every action. everything you do. (this could take awhile, so start with a cup of coffee).

3. Stroke out the things you never want to do again. Chances are these things have run their course and they have lost meaning to you and others. Take a red pen and stroke it out. Done.

4. Chart your destiny. What are the important things that I should be doing. Be descriptive. Be clear. Be passionate. Avoid adjectives - they add nothing.

5. Who cares. Who will care about what I do? What will it help them to do?

6. Establish a deadline. When will you start.

7. Prepare yourself for success. what type of learning will you need to undertake? What type of tools to you need?

8. Commit. Write it down and share it with your coach / mentor or leader so they keep you honest and on track.

9. Be honest. Review progress quarterly. Make changes.

10. Celebrate. Recognize success. Celebrate it. Be proud of it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"I am because we are."

Last night I watched the YouTube video - "I am because we are." This is an African expression that means we are all tied together in our actions and reactions. We are the makers of not only our reality, but the reality of others too.

The movie is a series of interviews and stories told by real people who are living and dying before our very eyes. It is the devastating result of what happens when we turn away from the horror of our own making. The movie is about how the aids situation in Africa is leaving millions of children without homes and parents, and virtually crippling an entire nation. It tells the story of how ignorance reigns supreme without education and information, and how safety and security is virtually non-existent when human life is not valued.

At the time of watching, more than 98,000 viewers had already logged in. What struck me the most while watching this video is that this is completely avoidable. They make the point that health care, education, and a social safety net all go hand in hand toward fending off disease, and making healthy choices to live healthy lives. Malawi has lost its self esteem, and with every dying mother and child, it plods toward its own extinction.

When I see what is happening in Malawi, where Aids has taken parents from children, leaving them to fend for themselves, I am saddened beyond words. I try to imagine what it would be like to grow up alone. How my children's lives would have been different without parents; how my life would have been different if I grew up, steeped in disease, ignorance and abuse. One young man said that when he lost his parents, he no longer felt safe. I had no one to tell him it was going to be alright. In Malawi, millions of children are walking this earth alone, for as long as they survive.

Babies who will never remember their mothers. Young mothers who bury their babies. Babies raising babies. Babies burying babies. We rationalize that this is happening on the other side of the world and it's them, not us. And still we look away.

Here on the other side of the world, we have one of the most envied social systems in the world. Each and every person in Canada has the right to an education, heath care and social safety. Each person is born with the hope of a future. Each person can become whatever he or she dreams to be. Not even our neighbors to the south of us can say that.

Health care, education and a social safety net are our legacy. They help us to see beyond today because they are the way to tomorrow. They are the cornerstones of a society that is compassionate and humane. This is what I learned in school, so it must be true.

Yet, I have seen the other side of that truth. People right here are in trouble, feeling lost and alone in their poverty, disease or illness. Addictions and diseases rule their lives to the point where they may never recover. Young people fall through the cracks of our "system", until eventually they end up on the streets of our cities.

Kids drop out of school, forgoing not only their own ability to be self sufficient and free, but also the that of their future children and families. Children are abused and left to the streets at times when addictions take hold of their parents. Sometimes they land on the streets.

In the workplace, I am amazed and disturbed by the lost, the disengaged and the disenfranchised. Don't they know it's their life? Their choice? Their legacy?

The irony is that here on the other side of the world from Malawi, we have no excuse. Health care, education and a safety are the building blocks of our lives. But we also have people suffering from addiction, life cycles of abuse, and day to day living problems. We need to remember that we have the foundation to help eachother. Now we just have to act like we do.