Saturday, December 25, 2010

What are you avoiding? Ok. Get it done.

Whether this is a hill or a wall is up to you.

Get up in the morning. Follow the script. Do what's expected. Attract no attention. Attention is dangerous. Might get in trouble. Follow all instructions. Don't make waves. The reward will come. That's a good cog.
Warning: If you're comfortable doing what you do, you will want to skip the rest of this column. It's pretty scary.
It's scary because you have a choice. You can choose to be safe or you can choose to matter. You can't have both.
Anything that puts you out on the edge is going to get shouted down. You're going to find excuses not to do the things that really matter. Those excuses will sound like the sweetest sounds you'll ever hear.
Don't listen to them. In trying to keep you safe those voices are keeping you stuck. Ignore the voices and finish what you started.
If you don't have much on the go then that resistance is even more important. That's what tells you where uphill is, and that's where the work will be the scariest, but also the most rewarding. (Who was the first person to walk around Mount Everest? - Who cares.)
When you discover what you're resisting, ask yourself these questions:
What if I fail? Failing is scary because you will have to accept that you came up short in some way.
What if I succeed? Succeeding, counterintuitively, is scary because it means that something in your life will fundamentally change. You won't be able to go back or hide anymore. 
What if I never really try? This is the easiest option, but also the scariest by far. You could languish in obscurity, never really making anything of yourself. You could have been a contender. And you didn't do it.
Start now. Follow your fear up the hill. Recognize the resistance, use it to set your compass, but do not let it stop you. It's hard. Desperately hard at times, but any other path is a cop-out.
Merry Christmas. See you on the hill. 
This column was inspired by Seth Godin's book Linchpin. More gamechanging ideas per chapter than most entire books. 
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Keeping in touch: the safety net (almost) everyone neglects

Where are they now? Come to think of it, where are you now?
For staying the same size, the world is shrinking pretty rapidly. Between Google, cheap telecommunications, cell phones, and Facebook, there are lots of ways to stay in touch with old friends.
Remembering to do so can be the bigger problem. Remember those friends from high school and college? They would have been happy to stay in touch with you, but now that you've let them drift away, it's a little tougher to go back to them again.
Insight: It's more important to stay in touch with your friends from college than it is to remember anything you learned there. The network of upwardly mobile, like minded friends is that valuable.
Your network is like a bank with lots of different accounts, that disappear if you don't keep paying attention to them. If you pay attention, they'll become more and more valuable, as the people you're staying in touch with move on, move up, and have more experiences.
Staying in touch with people is worth the effort. Make a point of it. It's much easier to have a support group to call on when you need help than to need help and have to rebuild the network. It's also a really good feeling to be able to help out friends. 
You're not the only one changing. Other people are growing and changing too. As their connections, experiences, and spheres of influence expand, they become more valuable.
Whether you like it or not, you're swinging on the trapeze. You might even be very good at it. That's no reason not to spend a little time taking care of your safety net. You never know when you might need it.
Bonus tip: Be nice to everyone. Another upshot of the shrinking world is that you never know when you'll run into somebody again, or when something you did for (or to) someone a long time ago might come back to haunt or reward you. Even if you're calling a company to complain about lousy service, be nice to the person on the phone. It's almost certainly not their fault, and being nice might even get you better service. It certainly won't make things worse.
There's homework this week. Get back in touch with at least one person you've been neglecting, who you think might be happy to hear from you. Christmas cards don't count.
Bonus Web Only Content: This column was inspired by the Manager Tools Building a Network podcast. If you're looking for practical, actionable information that will make you far more effective in business and in life, I highly recommend their Manager Tools and Career Tools podcasts.
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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why decoration is relevant

Decorations change the environment, break us out of the routine, and help us recognize the significance of the occasion.
Winston Churchill said "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." It's not just buildings that shape us. Churchill could have been even more broad. It's our environments that shape us, both larger and smaller than buildings.
This column has devoted many inches to the large scale issues like the fragility of the environment (we rely on it completely and must take care of it) and the shape of the city (living closely together comes with social, economic and environmental benefits that sprawl can't match).
This week though, we're going to talk about decoration.
On one level, decorations are a complete waste of effort and money. They don't do anything. They clutter up the house. They're a waste of money, and you have to store them all year so that they're ready when they're called upon. Why bother putting them up? You're just going to take them down again.
On a deeper level, especially decorations that change are an outward way of indicating that an occasion is special. Whether it's decorating for a birthday party, christmas, or just changing with the seasons, changing the nature of the environment changes the event.
This is a time of year when many people intentionally change the look of their houses, both inside and outside.
People don't usually have trees in their houses, for example. But at this time of year, lots of them do, complete with lights and ornaments.
People don't usually have coloured lights decorating the outside of their houses. In the midst of a cold winter it brings a warmth and an external reinforcement to the feeling that this time is special. It's nice to feel like we can celebrate together. Although we often don't know our neighbours as well as we should, there's a bond there that helps build and shape the community.
Even if we don't believe in decorating, the way others change the environment helps us recognize the significance of the event. Even if you weren't involved in changing the environment, it's changed. You can't help but respond.
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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Responsible Christmas Shopping Guidelines

'Tis is the season where the consumers go a little crazy, buying holiday gifts for all sorts of people.
Here are some guidelines that will help keep you out of financial trouble, while making sure your purchases are good for your community and the planet.
Live within your means.
It's easy this time of year to be swept up in the sales and buy expensive things to demonstrate how you feel about other people. This often leads to buying on credit and the inevitable christmas hangover: the credit card bill.
Spending with credit cards feels less like spending real money, and subtly encourages you to spend more. Keep your spending under control this Christmas. The misery that comes from overspending isn't worth it.
Now that we've taken care of you, let's take care of your community.
Here's how: Shop locally. Whenever possible, keep your money in the community by shopping at locally owned, locally operated stores.
It's easy to shop at huge big box stores and major online retailers, but most of that money heads straight out of town.
Obviously, local shopping helps keep those independent local stores in business. That's good for you too. 
Local businesses are the engine of the local economy. They employ local people and they buy lots of their goods and services locally as well. That keeps the money you spent on gifts in the community, helping your community thrive.
Those particular dollars might not come directly back to you, but the more money that bounces around in your community, the more of it will find its way back to you.
Now that we've taken care of the community, think about the planet.
Recognize where your purchases come from, and where they're going. Consider basing your decisions on things like excess packaging, fair-trade, recyclability, and the long term usefulness of what you're giving. Avoid things that are likely to hit the garbage soon or have negative social or environmental impacts.
Keep these guidelines in mind as you complete your christmas shopping and you, your community, and your planet will have a Merry Christmas.

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