Thursday, December 31, 2009

5 years and 500 posts

I can't help but feel like I should have something big to say today. It's a little like stepping up to the podium and finding you forgot your notes at home - or maybe forgot even to make some notes. I've been blogging for five years. This is post 500. I knew it was coming, planned for it, worked for it, and now I need to say something.

What was I thinking? Most often, we ask ourselves that after we have done something surprising (and not in a good way). Today I am wondering what I was thinking when I started this blog. At the time, it didn't seem like a surprising thing to do - not even a major challenge. It seemed like one more way to use the web to carry on a conversation with clients and colleagues and prospects.

Five years ago I think I thought I was building a business, that I was doing the groundwork for something that worked the way businesses work. I thought that people would take our courses, give us referrals, that we would begin working in businesses and that we would find our way.

We have been finding our way but the path has been more winding than I expected, and it's maybe not the path I thought I was on, Looking back, it looks less like building a business and more like building a community. I want to say a community of learning, and it is - but it is learning in a much broader sense than I would have meant it five years ago.

Five years ago, I thought of adult education the way it is taught in Masters of Education programs and carried out in Continuing Education departments. I thought of taking courses as something people did to develop technical skills (for which they could be paid) or to pursue hobbies - as if the role of education was to allow people to build better collections of interesting knowledge. I thought education for adults was really about changing what they knew.

Now I think there is another way to think. I think that what we do is to work with people who are curious about how they know and how they get things done and how they could be more fully alive and aware and satisfied. I think of people who are intentional about the shape of their lives and eager to explore the great mysterious land of their whole self (mind and body, conscious and unconscious, spirit and personality).

We are a community because we share the value of being more fully awake and aware and more able to make choices about when we are intentional and when we go with the flow. We are also a community because we are all so different - we come with different perspectives, different skill sets, different fields, different experiences, and different dreams. Some of us get along, and some of us do not. We create interesting tension when we put all our ideas and attitudes together.

So this blog is now one way that I speak to a community that wants to grow. We want to grow as individuals and we want to grow as a community. I do not feel entirely like a founder (Chris started it, after all, and he was carrying on from someone else's start) and I do not feel like a leader. I do feel like I am learning what it means to create something human and dynamic. My role in the community is to look at each person and appreciate what that person brings to the community. Most often, I give up being personal so that I can see how each different person stretches the community and changes it and creates the difference that allows us all to be more aware - if we want to be more aware. Even the people who are choosing to be less aware change the fabric of the whole, creating new choices for everyone else.

Some of the community have a deep, real, joyful impact on me as a person. If you are reading this, you know who you are (if you think you might be, then you are right), and you know that I am celebrating what you bring to my life and my work. As a person, I am pleased and grateful and eager for our next connection.

As the writer of this blog, as one builder of this community, I have fewer plans and more curiosity than I had five years ago. I no longer feel that we can fail (as businesses can fail) - or even that we can succeed (we are not doing something with an end date). I feel, instead, that we can grow with intention and precision and awareness that we haven't had yet. And I look forward to seeing what comes next.

It's a new year. It's the next step on a long and winding path that twists and turns and climbs and sometimes, sometimes, offers the most breath-taking views.

Take a good look. Take a deep breath. Keep moving!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas

This year, we had friends for dinner on the 20th, which became a sort of 1st day of Christmas for us. While we have not been out or entertaining every day since then, we have had company for dinner twice more, drop-in guests, eaten out, had a birthday feast, and gone to the movies as a family.

Twelve days is a lot of celebrating. Partly because celebrating involves a lot of work - shopping, cleaning, cooking, cleaning, serving, cleaning. But partly because twelve days is a long time to step away from satisfying work and pleasing routines. I love my sons and I am glad to have them home. But I will confess that I am a little weary of needing to make each day special. I am ready to eat simple foods and watch television and go to the gym. More than that, I am ready to get back to work.

Work is never far away - this blog is evidence of that. This week has tempted me with quiet morning hours at my laptop (young men on vacation don't wake up much before noon). I have been reading again, and planning courses, and writing a little. I have been dreaming dreams and thinking. I have been waking up to how much I want to immerse myself in the work I do.

I have been missing my work people.

Tomorrow is the twelfth day of my Christmas and the last day of this year. It's the final day of my blog challenge. In the morning, I will write my 500th post, and then get back to work on course descriptions and web site writing and the newsletter. It's almost time. All twelve days of Christmas have been lovely. I am glad I connected with family and friends and grateful for the beauty and abundance we have shared.

And soon I will be glad and grateful to relax back into work.

Three wishes

If you could have three wishes, what would they be? There are always rules on wishes. The first rule is that these are wishes for yourself: you can't make wishes for other people. The second is that these are your only three wishes. There is no way to make more.

What would you wish for yourself as a new year begins?

I wish for clarity of purpose: to know what meaning I am trying to create through my thoughts and actions.

I wish for kindness: to be gentle with the people around me and to add something sweet or lovely to their lives.

I wish for - and the third wish is the hardest. The one that excludes all other possibilities. I wish for strength; I wish for grace; I wish for persistence; I wish for whatever it takes to move forward with imperfect strength and imperfect understanding. I wish to be in the presence of beauty.

Choosing one does not necessarily mean not having the others. But it means not wishing for them. It means letting go of certainty and trusting I will find them on my own.

I wish for faith.

Three wishes to change what is in me so that I change who I am and how I am in the world.

What would you wish?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The cost of education

My sons are both Art Sci's. That means that one is a grad and the other is a student in a program at McMaster University designed to allow a select group of students to explore what it means to adopt different models of thinking. Grads of this program typically go on to further education, so it's not surprising that the cost of education - and who bears that cost - comes up often in one form or another.

I forget who it was who said, "If you think education is expensive, try the alternative."

Education is expensive. Learning is a resource-intense activity that requires all of our attention and energy and, quite often, also our money and other stuff. It's also a wasteful process: we can spend hours learning something that we may have to unlearn just weeks or months later. It's hard to tell what will be useful until after you have spent time and effort and attention on learning it.

My sons were dismissive tonight when I said that part of the cost of education is an opportunity cost. When you decide to go to university (I was there for 11 years), you give up all the learning you might have done - and the money you might have made - if you had made different choices.

The advantage of short, intensive, targeted learning is that while its cost might be high, its opportunity cost is relatively low. When I take a course for a weekend (as I will next month), I give up one weekend. It could be a weekend when I might otherwise be training others, but it's probably a weekend of getting the laundry done. The laundry will get done anyway (there will be less of it since I will be packing light to fly to the States).

The cost of the internet is the inverse - there is very little upfront cost but since I spend hours and hours searching for information that I may or may not learn and may or may not feel helpful - those hours are gone and the value I got in exchange is hard to determine. That doesn't mean that I should not be reading and writing on the web. It does mean that there is no free lunch when it comes to education.

Education requires resources, mental energy and attention. In return, it promises nothing - except that your brain will be active and engaged (and therefore healthy) and that your relationship with yourself and the world will be different because you have learned something. Sometimes, you will wonder if you got a good exchange for your efforts.

The hidden cost of education is that it gives us choices - and makes us responsible for the choices we make.

Education is expensive. But it is also rich and deep and better than the alternatives.

How do you know you want to change?

Maintenance is hard work. Whether you are looking after your waistline or your car, maintenance means looking after something that is not breaking and is not making any claims on your attention in the belief that paying attention now will cost less than paying attention later. It takes effort to keep things the same.

At any given moment, if you are not taking action to preserve something, you are allowing it to change. Some of that change will be so slow that it is undetectable - like the wear and tear of the wind on your house. Unless there's a huge storm, you won't notice that the wind has any impact at all. But the wind has an impact.

So the choice we make is really between exerting effort to change or allowing change to happen - a choice between directing change and letting change direct us. Staying the same is not really an option.

The new psychologies of choice are suggesting that making a decision to change is probably harder than whatever change we decide to make. The hardest kind of decision requires that we choose among many options.

Imagine you are sure that you want to lose weight. Are you sure enough to withstand the pressure of having to choose between many, many possibilities for how to choose what you eat, how you exercise, and how you maintain your psyche during the process of losing weight? Barry Schwartz, Dan Gilbert and Dan Ariely (you can find them all at www.ted.com) are among the many researchers who report that having to choose is possibly more difficult than changing what you do to lose weight.

Even if you know that the option is to stay at an uncomfortable weight until it changes 'naturally' (usually it goes up, not down), that option can seem less painful than making the choice to change.

But just thinking about this, also allows you to see the problem differently. Suddenly it is not about whether or not you can lose weight - it's about whether or not you can summon the congruence to make the choice and (this is another tricky part) allow that choice to play out without second guessing yourself continually.

If you were removed to a remote location where someone else controlled what food was available and gave you a schedule for exercise, however convoluted, you would make the change with less angst and settle into it more reliably. You would find that losing weight felt good (unless you are already much slimmer than most North Americans), you would be stronger and more able to move, and you would have someone else to blame for any discomfort caused by the process. It sounds good, doesn't it?

The leverage point for change is the decision. The logistics, the support, the feedback - all are important but the leverage point is making a decision.

And - if you've made a decision, the reverse is true. You are through the hardest part. Once you accept the limitations you have chosen (all decisions limit our possibilities), you can let go of the effort it takes to decide and turn all that attention and emotional energy to the much simpler task of carrying out the decision you made.

You know you want to change when you know you have decided to make a change. Deciding is hard. Change is easier.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Identity, partnership and community

I have always been a private person. When I was young and small, I was shy. Somewhere during my undergrad days, I became someone who took some effort to know. Later, I grew into private.

The head of my college at Trent knew about me through English tutorials and Master's dinners. When someone told him to mention my soccer skills at a dinner, he thought they were trying to embarrass me. He knew the me who had a quick mind and a quick tongue in tutorials. He didn't know I could take a hit on the soccer field - or kick the ball farther than girls much bigger and stronger than I was.

I've always been hard to pull together and fit into a box - even for me. So it is harder and easier for me to fit my identity into larger entities. I stick with the groups I join - often for a long time. I let myself be part of things I do not own and cannot control, even when it means I drag myself, kicking and screaming - through bad meetings and bad decisions. I am good at honoring what works.

When I agreed to join two partners in a business, I felt a little like I had agreed to bungie jumping. It meant playing my part and allowing the whole of the partnership to determine whether I crashed or soared. It meant trusting someone else to keep the other end of the rope secure. It didn't come easily but it felt like the right thing to do.

Seven years later, we are a partnership of two that has grown to be a community. We talk about 'our' company, but increasingly we mean that we belong to a community that depends on us for some kinds of nurture. It means something to be the voice of a community - it means something to be part of its heart. It means that I have influence without the illusion of control, and that I act in the presence of other needs and other hopes. It means admitting that I am not entirely private any longer.

This is the line we walk in this work - the line between what can be kept private and what is necessary to nourish a whole community.

Because I said so

If you're a parent, you have heard yourself say this at least once. Generally, it happens when too much has been happening and you have more than one thing on your mind. You tell someone to do something and they ask why. And you say, "because I said so." When you're the kid, this sounds pretty lame but it also indicates that you are very near to crossing a line.

But "because I said so" sounds differently when it describes our own behaviour. Why are you doing that? Because I said I would do it. What are you loyal to him or her or that organization? Because I said so. How do you know you'll follow through with that? Because I said I would.

Everything we say is only words, and we all know that it is hard to predict the relationship that words will have with the world they represent. Sometimes we say what we mean with our words, and sometimes the relationship between what we say and what we mean is more difficult.

Yet, still we say "because I said so." We say it as if what we say changes something, as if the fact of saying something at least begins the process of making it real. We say it as if words are a commitment to action or change.

How do you know the difference between the times when words are only words and times when saying it makes it start to happen? It's a good question as people think about the changes they want to see in themselves in the next twelve months. What's the difference between making a resolution you know you only half mean and making something happen because you said it would?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Making mistakes better

I have been playing Sudoku again. When I first learned to do the puzzles, I thought that the point was never to make a move that you were not certain was right. Many of the puzzles I did were constructed that way: there was always at least one right move, however hard it was to spot, and each right move would lead to the next until the puzzle was complete.

Then I started doing harder puzzles. And I learned that, at least in some books, there was a point in each of the harder puzzles where there was no way to know the right answer. The best strategy seemed to be to use what was knowable to narrow the puzzle as far as possible and then to guess and see what happened.

The faster you make a mistake, the faster you can correct and find the answer.

Often, the right answer unlocks the rest of the puzzle relatively effortlessly. But sometimes, this will also seem to be true of the wrong answer. One after the other, the answers appear until, suddenly, it becomes clear that you've taken the wrong path. There are too many of some numbers and not enough of others.

At this point, because it is a game completed for enjoyment, you have two options. You can quit and go on to a fresh puzzle. Or you can retrace your steps and make a different choice without regret or hesitation. Your new choice might or might not unlock the whole of the solution.

The faster you get used to making mistakes, the more puzzles you can solve.

Last night I wrote about spring

My last post ended with spring and today the weather is spring-like. It's mild and the sun is half-awake and gentle. Another day of in-between time. A time for gathering and weaving the dreams that will grow in 2010.

It's a little overwhelming, in Canada, to think about big dreams as January looms. Most of us are so caught up in getting through the winter that it's hard to clear the way for accomplishment. The snow we clear from our driveways is not as heavy as the snow that slows our mental footsteps. It takes an almost heroic denial of the obvious for Canadians to believe that nature is a natural environment for human well-being.

So today is a double blessing. Clear and mild, it is an invitation to dreaming, to feeling comfortable enough to turn intention and attention away from the winter. A day to believe that what you want is possible.

So, what is it you want to do next? You don't have to have a really big dream - no matter how big the dream, you have to start with the first step. So start with a step that feels right.

You might even put a little spring into your step.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Winding and unwinding

The patterns of language are often hard to understand. Think about the word "wound." Without hearing it, you cannot tell whether I mean the result of winding something up or the result of hurting someone. In some way, it seems, getting all wound up is close to being hurt.

And yet sometimes it feels terrific to be all wound up, to be wired, to be on the edge of something exciting. And sometimes being unwound is like being deflated, a draining of potential energy.

Wind. Another confusion. The breath that turns and spirals, creating both tension and life.

Without winding, no energy. No potential for the spiral to create or generate. No spring.

Spring. A leap. A season of growth.

Without winding, no spring. Without spring, no fall. Without fall, no wound.

The patterns of language are strangely intertwined.

Twice a day?

It's Boxing Day. I've been sitting quietly with tea and reading, occasionally stirring to clear away some of the gifts and paper still strewn festively over the living room. It's December 26 and this is my 490th blog post. To make the magic 500th post by 2010, I'm going to have to blog twice a day. Hmmm.

It's possible. Everything seems possible in this brief period between Christmas and January 4, when the world starts at full tilt again. I have lost track of how many days I worked in a row in October and November and December. Now, for a few days, I have a little time in between. As I relaxed yesterday, I felt the stirrings of creative thinking.

Creativity requires a rhythm, a pulsing between the beat and the rest. When the space in between is too short, there's no room to interrupt patterns and create possibilities. Much can be accomplished, but nothing can be born. Ideas are born in the relationship between movement and stillness, in the tension between the word and what it represents. They require that we think - and that we listen to what we are thinking.

These are the days in between. One year effectively ends with the burst of celebration that is Christmas (for those of us who celebrate Christmas and even for those who don't. Because the rhythm of Christmas and Boxing Day - that sense of building to a finish - is part of our collective experience). The next year really gets started on the first working day after January 1. What comes in between is opportunity.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Maybe I'll start in September next year

It's the night before the night before Christmas. There are many, many cookies here that were not in the world this morning. I made 5 kinds of cookies today. They all seem to be very tasty. I also made 2 kinds of fudge. And started the appetizers for tomorrow's dinner.

This year, my mom and my sister and I have agreed that we will KEEP IT SIMPLE. In a strange way, this means that instead of shopping online for stuff, I am baking cookies for everyone I know. Simple means the house smells of vanilla and cinnamon and it will take an hour to get the kitchen clean enough to start again.

Simple is not as simple as it was in the days when my kids were little. In those days, simple meant hand made gifts for family, hand made, kid-crafted gifts for dozens of teachers and helpers, running a Sunday School pageant and, frequently, reading at one of the Advent services at church. Simple was miraculous. Or - at least- it now seems miraculous that I found a way to organize myself to have a Christmas that was - simply - meaningful and lovely.

The way I remember it (it's a bit hazy, to tell the whole of the truth), I started Christmas much earlier in the days when it was simple. I lived toward Christmas from the time school started (sometimes from the days I collected shells on the beach so I could make them into Christmas candles). When the kids were the centre of my days, my days moved naturally toward the celebration of birth and beauty.

My kids are still central in my life, but my days revolve differently now. Without a baby in my own arms, the baby in the manger seems much farther away. It's harder to imagine Christmas in September than it was when I knew that the countdown was coming and I would have to portion out the excitement so that it did not grow faster than the calendar was moving. In those days, getting ready for Christmas meant having a little bit of Christmas every day for months in advance.

It's harder. But I know how to unwind the skein of memory and follow its path backwards. Maybe next year - maybe the year after that. I will grow younger and start earlier. I will start when school starts and live Christmas a little bit every day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Forever lights

That's what my family calls those stop lights that take a long, long time to change. They are forever lights.

You hit them sometimes when you're driving home late at night. You stop at a perfectly quiet intersection and wait and wait and wait in the stillness.

That's how it is with forever lights. They make everything still around them.

It's funny to think that so many of us are rushing and rushing and rushing towards that moment when everything will stop.

Because of a forever light.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The recipe books are out

I don't often cook from recipes anymore. I use a recipe as a sort of rough guide for baking, but I very seldom pull out recipes just to make dinner. Unless company is coming. And then I pull out recipe book after recipe book, testing dozens and dozens of meals in my mind.

Dan Gilbert, the psychologist who wrote Stumbling on Happiness, says that our happiness simulator only takes us so far. When we say, "If only. . . then I would be happy," we are usually at least partly wrong. Sometimes, admittedly, the same is true for my dinner simulator. The recipes don't come together exactly as they did in my imagination.

More often, however, my dinner simulator allows me to enjoy dozens of treats without gaining an ounce. It allows me to imagine being relaxed and comfortable and it allows me to imagine that for my guests. I think about who is coming and what I know of their likes and dislikes and I plot a strategy that will make for a whole evening of treats.

Quite often, having imagined a multitude of possibilities I make the thing I had planned all along, something tried and true and much anticipated. That does not negate the process - it proves it. It's one thing to be stuck with your first choice. It's another entirely to know that the thing that came to mind was precisely the thing you wanted most.

Tomorrow I will cook, knowing what I am making is much-anticipated by my sons. I will plan, knowing there's a really good chance that what I think will make us happy will create an experience that will - for an evening - make us all happy.

Friday, December 18, 2009

When you just want to get your work done

Have you been that person - the one who just wants to get on with work while everyone else seems obsessed with the holidays? The one who drags him/herself to another Christmas concert or stands at a party, wine glass in hand, fervently wishing you could be doing something productive? I'm not talking about poor souls compelled by Scrooge-like bosses to work while everyone else plays. I'm talking about people who would genuinely rather be doing something other than celebrating the holiday season.

It's a good thing this is a blog. If it were a lecture, there would be an awkward moment now while everyone decided whether or not to put up their hands. Everyone would have to decide, because only a very few blessed souls feel like celebrating for the entire holiday season. Almost all of us have days when we wish the holidays were safely over and we could (genuinely) relax into our real work.

There was a time when my real work was baking cookies and doing crafts and inventing ways to wrap presents that would stand up to little boys' exploration. In those days, Christmas lasted at least six very active weeks and I loved it and even then there were days when I couldn't wait for it to all just go away and give me less on my calendar, less on my plate.

The real problem might be one of attention span: we just don't have the staying power to celebrate holidays that take more than a month. We can't handle extra lunches and drinks and evenings out and home-decorating and note-writing that lasts for more than a day or two. We can only pay attention to what makes us happy for an evening, an afternoon, a day or two at most. After that, we need to get back to having the life we have been celebrating.

The universal holiday emotion is one of being over-committed and over-tired. There is no cure. Except to label what you are feeling when you are impatient with lights and food and socializing. Label it. Consider your reasons for participating and then get on with it. Not liking the whole of the holidays does not mean you are incapable of appreciating the warmer things in life. It might just mean that the holidays demand more of us than we can cheerfully give.

That's it. I don't have advice on how to make it all go away or make it all better. It's the holidays. You are too busy doing too much for reasons that are not always evident. Take a deep breath. Decide what you want from this particular day. And be kind to yourself and all the human beings challenged by events that last longer than our attention spans.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Feasting with friends

This is traditionally a time for feasts. In northern climates, it's a time when the harvest is complete and we are much less weary of winter than we will be six weeks from now. There is still some magic in fluffy snowflakes. And, in the world where pioneers lived, there was a better chance of having food for the feast than there might be later.

Feasts suggest abundance and they suggest thoroughly enjoying each other's company in a way that the more formal 'dinner party' does not. At feasts, there is so much food that food is not the only point. Feasts remind us that food is best enjoyed in good company with good music and good stories.

Sometimes it is said that enough is as good as a feast. Most of the time, it's not true. It is true that a feast can be created with will and imagination and only just 'enough' ingredients.

Tonight I am making a feast because I have been working too hard and too long not to thoroughly enjoy a break.

Want to come?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The importance of celebration

Today we got such good news that we had to go out for dinner tonight to show our gratitude and appreciation.

Appreciation can mean thankfulness - and we were thankful. But appreciation means something else, too. It means noticing the value of something with some precision. It means enjoying the details.

It's possible to get good news and get right back to work. It's not a good plan. It means that you have failed to enjoy or appreciate something of value to you. It makes it easier to miss out on something valuable next time.

We ate our way from micro brewery ale and baked brie through gingery scallops to lemon cheesecake. We were sleepy and happy. We laughed and talked and hoped together.

We celebrated good news today.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Getting the outcome you want

Yesterday, we held a party to celebrate a great year of training. Some people filled a room with chatter and laughter, food and hugs and stories. We had a lovely afternoon.

More people could not reach us yesterday. Some had hoped to come, and couldn't. Others had other plans.

As I connect with the people who couldn't come to the party, I realize again that the party served my outcome in several ways. It is almost as nice to hear the good wishes from people who didn't get there as it was to connect with the people who shared our afternoon. My outcome was not so much to throw a particular kind of party as it was to make a particular kind of connection with people as they think back on this year and look forward to the next one. All the nice notes remind me that just inviting people made that connection.

They also remind me that I am lucky to have so many people I really enjoy making a connection with as I celebrate 2009 and look forward to 2010.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Keeping the lights shining

It's the beginning of Hanukkah and Christmas is coming soon. Today, we hosted a really lovely party for NLP practitioners who have trained with us. The party ended just as it was getting dark outside. The darker it got, the brighter the lights on the Christmas tree seemed.

Sometimes clichés work that way. You know it's a cliché, and yet it is also tangible, a reality that catches your eye and your attention.

The lights on the Christmas tree look brighter in the dark. The shining eyes around you shine brighter when times are tense or scary. The flashlight that shows you just one step gets more of your attention than the fluorescent lighting in your office.

Lights shine when it is dark. People shine when we need them.

If we want to see them shine, we must allow ourselves to notice that it's dark out there. And we must notice with more vividness that the people with whom we are really connecting are already shining.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Running a great team

A friend is coaching grade 6 kids on a school team. We've had some deep and wide discussions on strategy as they approach the championship.

There are essentially two ways to go about being a winning team:
1) play only the best players
2) play all the players, looking for ways to take advantage of everyone's strengths.

It is less trouble to play only the best players and to play them until they drop. That's how most businesses run. Hire the best you can find and work them until they leave or get stuck or no longer fit your needs. Any coaching is only superficial: after all, you put the best players out there because they already know what to do.

It is more trouble to figure out how best to use all the resources available. It means paying attention to each of the players to discover how each player - even the weakest - can help the team. It means paying attention to when the best players are at their best and when a break or a word of advice could make them better. It means managing not only the individuals playing, but that hard-to-define force that arises when everyone on a team feels like a contributing part of something bigger.

When you are coaching kids, there is incentive to play every kid because you are coaching the kids you see and the kids they will be in the future. When you make a 10 year old a contributing member of a bigger team, you change the way that kid will respond to teams and challenges for a long time into the future.

If your employees are simply "resources" that you can use and dump at will, then there is less tangible incentive to play every member of the team. It is not immediately apparent that the right thing to do is to provide breaks in which the best players break state and the weaker players discover their strengths. It's harder to see why training or coaching makes sense in a world where everyone has become a de facto free lancer, playing to strength and disappearing when that strength falters or needs change.

Training and coaching make sense in business for the same reasons that they make sense in a team of kids approaching their first championship. Business players play better when they feel like they are making a real contribution to something bigger than their own careers; they last longer when they are able to take time to refresh their perspective or gather new energy; they are loyal to a team that enjoys team spirit - the force that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts.

It's not good enough for the good players to be good. You need a good team - and that means everyone contributes and everyone gets the support they need to function at their best.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Days go by so quickly in December

I am always surprised how much difference it makes when daylight is in such short supply. We do not actually need daylight for most of what we do: we have lots of ways to make light when we need it.

Yet it seems that days fly by when it's only light from 7 until 5. As much as we should be able to work as though nature is unimportant, we remain sensitive to sunlight.

Today the sun was shining - at least briefly. At lunch, I sat in a sunny window and felt warm.

Later, I walked the dog in the wind. It was not warm.

At the end of the day, those moments of connection with the natural world are more vivid, more memorable, than the hours spent on email or working my way through the Christmas boxes in the basement.

It's interesting to take a moment to think about the uncontrollable factors that sit at the edge of our awareness and change what we see.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Surprised by beauty

Tonight I went to the World Premiere of a new composition by Phillip Glass. I didn't know much about his work. Most of the time when I have heard new compositions at the symphony they have been edgy, a little challenging. That's what I was expecting.

It's not that the new piece doesn't have edges. It's just that they were much smoother than I had anticipated. I was surprised by the beauty of it. Just as I was surprised in the opening notes of the evening (a different piece) by how lovely the violin really is. I had forgotten how it sings.

It is easy to be surprised by problems, by irritations and by inattention. (Don't ask about the email I received from the Prime Minister's office promising, helpfully, to forward a letter to a minister who was copied on the original). It is harder to be surprised by things that are right.

It helps to be sitting next to your favourite people (I was out with my sons tonight). It helps to be sitting still and forced to be quiet (very quiet - the programme advises that the audience should avoid quiet conversations during a piece).

It helps to expect that sometimes what surprises us will be beauty.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I hate marking

It's that time of the term: I have thick stacks of unsatisfying marking to plow through somehow. By next week, I'll have the rhythm of it, and I will have given up the idea that anyone will read the comments I am writing. It will be mind-numbing, but it will move more quickly.

Tonight, I am still trying to teach while I mark. It slows me down. I write questions I suspect students will never read, much less answer. I wish they had clearer heads and a better eye for detail. I hope, a little, to prod them into thought.

And I wish, a little harder, that I could read them writing about something that pulls at them, something that inspires them, something that they believe is important in a way that they cannot pretend to believe this assignment in this course could ever be important.

I so want them to present their best selves to the working world. Not for the world - which will not care very much. Not for the college - which I think could try harder to draw out those best selves. For them.

Because under the drudgery, I really like my students.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Baking Christmas cookies

There are cookies in the oven as I write this, and more cooling on the table. They smell sweet and fresh and tempting. But they are not quite as tempting as they were in the day when the house was full.

Tonight, my husband has a cold and cannot smell the cookies. He's not especially fond of them anyway. I am baking for the office tomorrow, knowing that the treats I bring to the office coffee hour are always appreciated, usually with glee. I enjoy that.

And still, the cookies are not as much fun without boys in the house barely able to wait for the cookies to come out of the oven. I swear cookies smell better when they are baking in a house where they are eagerly anticipated.

By tomorrow, I will have made six or eight dozen cookies. Over the next three weeks, I will bake four or five times that many. I will make interesting variations on shortbread and I will make decadent squares and I will make healthier biscotti and I will make sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies that remind me of the days when my house was full of kids. I will decorate some of them so that they are truly lovely on the sweets trays in mid-afternoon or after large dinners.

And I will remember cookies, lopsided with icing and thickly coated with sparkles and candies. Sometimes perfect is just a pale imitation of what we really treasure.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Blogging when words take more work than usual

Apparently our modem is sick. We have had inconsistent internet for several weeks and today we have none. So I am blogging from my iPhone. It is not ideal although maybe my Ityping will improve.

At almost the same time that I am writing this I am marking assignments. The frustrations of typing on my phone remind me that many of my students write English with difficulty. For them each assignment is a risk. They know that their writing is imperfect and that their work, however hard they work, is unlikely to make them look good. Yet they want their diplomas and they write their assignments.

Of course I struggle with reading and marking their mangled phrasing and hesitant paragraphs. But I also respect the courage it takes to put something in writing when you know the effort will reveal and make permanent your imperfect grasp of what others take for granted. It is hard to work when language is distorted and thoughts cannot be precise.

If my students cannot always proofread long enough or well enough I think I understand. It is hard to stare unflinching at our errors.

I could forgive them. But language won't.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Working for your voice

Today I went to a party and was lucky: a mom was willing to share her two-month old baby boy. He was lovely - bright and alive and so eager to speak.

It's wonderful to watch the joy and intensity of a baby finding his voice. He gathers all of himself into the sounds he makes: you can watch this gathering as his face puckers and his body squirms and then - suddenly - joyously - there's a sound.

This is how we begin. Not with ideas. Not with concepts. With the desire to join the party, a desire expressed in energy that flows through our whole bodies, a desire etched on our faces.

And then - the smile that starts in the eyes and moves through the mouth to squirm its way into a whole being. A smile that begins because someone was listening.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Buying one of a kind

I just got in from shopping at the One of a Kind craft show. I love the connection you make when buying things that have been made by hand - and I'm also aware that the 'craft' in the show is the ability to make something reliably and well.

Not all crafts live up to that of course. Some, even at a good show, are flimsy or trendy or meant to be enjoyed briefly and then forgotten. But others are lovely and elegant and durable and enduring.

But what makes a handicraft one of a kind is not that the artist created only one from that pattern or idea; what makes it one of a kind is that it has a unique flaw. Every hand-made article is unique and that means that each is a little different than the ideal pattern.

Machines make things perfect. People craft them to be just a little unpredictable. Without their flaws and distortions, crafts would be just more consumer product, just more finely-tooled clutter. Instead, they are often keepers.

That's why I love things someone made by hand.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thinking about loving a goal

I am not a great believer in writing long lists of goals so that I can check them off as I achieve them or be pleasantly surprised when I retrieve a long-forgotten list. Actually, I am suspicious of wanting things for the sake of filling out lists or feeling productive.

It's not that I think it won't work; I am confident that searching for things to want will always result in a list of things that I could chase or do. In my mind's eye, I can write that list now, without even changing screens.

But. . . so what?

The most significant goals in my life didn't need to be written because they were always with me. I remember knowing by grade seven that I wanted to go to university on a scholarship. Knowing that shaped who I was, who I became, what I thought and what I did. I remember wanting to raise my sons to be smart and wise and loved (they are). I didn't have to write that on a list - I needed to be the mother who could do that every day (for twenty one years so far).

The goal I suspect is working with me now is one of becoming a published writer. I am not sure it is necessary or practical - except that thinking about it begins to feel like the right kind of dance. The relationship I have with the goal feels like those other relationships. It is a goal that is working with me now - not a goal that only works when it arrives in full bloom.

I wonder what goals you have that will hold you and challenge you and change you in a deep and interesting dance.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

When the sky is blue

I just looked up and noticed that the sky is blue this morning. Covered with wispy cotton clouds, but blue.

It's a moment for gratitude. It's December 2 and what we can expect is a sky that is grey. Blotchy grey, uniform grey, rainy grey or unsatisfying bits of snow grey - but grey. November and December are grey.

Not this morning. This morning the sky is blue. The sun is cautiously optimistic. The day is cold enough to promise that holidays are coming and that soon, the Christmas lights won't just look silly.

I'm going to use this patch of blue sky to energize a newsletter and then float me through internet trouble-shooting.

What will you do with your patch of blue sky?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

30 posts in 30 days?

I noticed this morning that if I post every day until the end of December (I can even take Christmas off), I could complete my 500th post by the end of 2009. That seems like a worthy effort.

So let's take a moment and think about what it would take to make it happen. Yes, I have a computer and a data-capable cell phone so even if one is off-line, the other could serve in a pinch. I don't have much time, but it doesn't have to take much time to post. I have lots of ideas and I know more will come to me when I am writing more.

Necessary resources: check!

So what's the next useful question. Is it "what strategy will you use to ensure that you blog every day? " Or is it "what back up plans will you put in place to support you?" Or even, "what other resources will give you what you need to get this done?"

These are all very good questions. But they are not the next question I will ask myself.

That question is: "Can you imagine yourself writing a post every day this month? Can you see and hear and feel what it will mean to sit down every day and talk to the people who read your blog?"

Because. . . if I can imagine it, then I can use strategies and resources and back up plans.

It begins with imagining. With creating patterns of thought that include this achievement. With weaving it into the way I see myself and my world (and hear and feel) for the next thirty days.

As I am imagining, I can pull in useful beliefs and I can tell myself useful stories about how and why I will do this thing and what will happen as a result.

It starts with imagining. Not reasoning or resourcing. It starts with imagining.