There Are No Shortcuts

There Are No Shortcuts

Tea room

Earlier this week my son and I traveled down to see my daughter. The three of us traveled to Newport, Rhode Island to see the mansions there, a collection of “summer cottages” of the rich and famous from The Guilded Age.

And guilded they were, incredibly extravagant, more like little palaces rich in marble, Louis the 14th furniture, gold gilt and crystal chandeliers everywhere, each house a  jewel box, each one trying to outdo the other. Time after time our jaws hung open as we rounded into the next room, sure that nothing could outdo the room we were in, until we moved to the next room.

My favorite room. The one in the picture above. It’s called the Japanese Tea House, a small replica of a temple built on the edge of the grounds of one of the mansions. One room. So simple. So peaceful after the magnificent assault of my senses in the mansions themselves.

That kind of simplicity calms our soul, calms our spirit.

There has been a movement towards simplicity in our society that largely back to Apple’s creation of the I-Pod. Music had once been something that, if you wanted good music, was built from a rack of gear with dozens of knobs and meters. And Apple reduced it to a little thing you stuck in your pocket, taking your music collection with you. Anyone could use it. It was reduced to only the essential controls.

From that, point, simplicity, which has been something only a few old hippies who had spent too much time on the commune talked about, became mainstream. Design became more minimalist. We began to simplify business practices and procedures, reaping loyal customers and higher profits. And we began to crave it in our personal lives, even our spiritual.

We began to discover, as a culture, the values of simplicity.

We also discovered simplicity is not easy. It is not merely removing things from our lives. That is easy. But removing things doesn’t always create simplicity.

No, simplicity involves an understanding of what is vital, what is important, and what is not. It involves a close and honest look at ourselves, or our customers, or the people who work with us, or in our own lives, and realizing there is a trade off for everything.

And that means a constant look at our priorities.

And THAT is hard work.

I learned this the hard way. Nearly a decade ago, when I separated from my now ex-wife, I moved to a small apartment. I took a few things with me, but left behind the vast majority of what I had spent nearly 25 years accumulating with her. And I found I liked life simple. I had forgotten. I had a simple life before. And I had a simple life again. Life since them has been focused on keeping that simplicity, and not letting life, and stuff, overrun the peace of a conscious choice of simplicity.

Once I learned it in my personal life, I found that applying it to my professional life had serious payoffs.

I began to hire differently. I took more to making sure I understood what was essential in the people I brought into my work teams. No longer was I dazzled by a golden resume. I came to understand that the best people were defined more by character than skills and experience. You can teach skills. You can’t teach character.

I began to design differently. I discovered that often my clients were happier with facilities that did a little less, but did the important things amazingly well. And so I had happier clients.

I began to apply the same principle to my faith life and my creative life, finding the essences that gave them both life, and not allowing them to be cluttered with stuff that didn’t matter.

But it’s not easy. In fact, it may be harder than complexity. Complexity happens easily and on its own. The house fills. The closet fills. Designs get crazy complicated because we can. Business processes become messy and fragmented all too easily. Faith becomes church and committee meetings, not connection. Our art and passions get lost in the cacophony of everything else.

But simplicity. Oh my! It’s hard work and diligence. It takes sifting through priorities, making choices, saying no. It involved an honesty about what is important, and courage to live it. There are no shortcuts, and there is no end to the work of maintaining it.

It’s hard, but it’s worth it. Here are some things I’ve discovered about the value of simplicity.

  • It reduces stress. Whether it’s is in our lives or in our work, simplicity reduce stress, making what, how we experience work and the things we do  we do a joy.
  • It makes us more efficient. I used to believe that if I had systems and stuff around me that I was ready for anything. And theoretically I was. But it also means that I didn’t do the 95% of things I did nearly as well because I was always thinking about all the less important. Science has proved that simplicity is more efficient whether it’s in life, running a business or running a TV studio.
  • It leaves room for the new. Often we claim we can’t take on the new, can’t pursue that passion, can’t add a new division to our company, can’t take on a new project because life is too full. But what is it full of? Simplicity creates space in our lives and work to expand.

There’s lots of other values to simplicity. But maybe the biggest one I have learned is that people and companies that value and do the work of creating simpler lives and workflows, always seem to be happier. You can’t measure that, but I find it to be universally true.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. It takes work. It takes mindfulness. No more auto pilot. No more “that’s how I’ve always done it.”  There’s a process. Follow it, and you reap the rewards. Don’t follow it, and you don’t.

I’ve tried shortcuts, and so have some of my more impatient, insistent clients. Shortcuts don’t work. The process works.   With all its hard work and self-honesty and courage to let go.

So today, whether I am working on a poem, designing a control room, managing a project, or coaching an individual or company to claim their own simplicity, I don’t allow shortcuts.

Life’s pretty simple. Trust the process. Do the work. Good stuff happens. No matter what you are doing or what you want.

And the next time I go to the Newport Mansions? I’m visiting the tea room again.

Be well, Travel wisely,

Tom
BusinessCardTemplateSMALL

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Emotional Safety

jamrd

This past week I moved my 17 year old son from Virginia to live with me in Vermont.

I would love to be vain enough to think that he loved dear old dad so much that he would leave behind the life he’s always known, the friends he has had since elementary school, and all the activities that have brought him such joy to move here. But that is not the case. He moved here because living there was not an emotionally safe place for him to be, and Vermont is. My daughter made the same choice when she was sixteen.

Despite the pain of the leaving, It worked out well for her. She recovered her emotional balance, moved forward, finished high school, finished her Girl Scout Gold award (like Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts), went on and graduated from college in a field she loved. I loved having her here, no matter how or why she came. And I am praying that my son finds his peace and moves forward just as well.

The past few years have been like one giant lesson to me about emotional safety. It is one of those things that we all sort of know, but we don’t talk about. At least we don’t give it the importance I believe it deserves.

I am part of a creative group that was started years ago by Jon Katz, the bestselling author. He’s a neighbor and over the years has become a friend. He had this thought of a group of creative people who were simply supportive of each other. He calls it “The Ministry of Encouragement.” There are writers, artists, fabric artists, photographers, all sorts of creative endeavors. Most had held back on their creative side for their entire lives, almost keeping their creativity in the closet. Jon’s creative group gave them a place to share their work, their experiments, their failure and their wonderful successes. A few years on since it’s beginning, we have seen these people grow, seen their art grow, seen books published, art displayed and sold, seen courage flourish, and seen people expand far beyond what they thought possible.

Because they felt safe there. They had a safe place to grow.

I have seen the same thing in the professional world. A fair part of my career has been spent as a manager. I have to confess to not loving being a manger. Not nearly as much as the other parts of my work. But I dearly loved hiring and growing employees. I had a habit of hiring people not really qualified for their jobs, and then nurturing them to a place where they excelled. Watching them grow, giving them a place where they felt safe growing and seeing how that that safe place allowed their confidence and courage to move forward is without a doubt, the greatest reward of what has been a wonderful career.

I have seen the same thing in my faith life. When a church or other religious faith family is a place of nurturing instead of condemnation, there is a healthy spirituality there that is joyful, that infuses the people with strength and comfort, that allows them to project that joy and strength to others, and draw them into the family. When a church or faith family is a place of fear and condemnation, that joy that God wants for us withers. There is bitterness and fear instead of joy and acceptance.

And I have seen it in marriages and relationships. When a couple feels safe with each other, there is the kind of intimacy that holds them together. When they no longer feel safe, the relationship slowly dies.

Many things in my life are in a constant flux. In the past 10 years I have gone from married to divorced. I have been single, a single parent again when my daughter moved in, to single again when she went to college, to, as of this week, a single parent again. My work has shifted. My art has shifted. I moved from Virginia where I have lived all my life, to Vermont. I have taken on the duties of pastor, something I have always fled, feeling not worthy and temperamentally not suited. My parents have died.

But this need for safety, I have noticed, remains the same. It seems to be built into us.

I used to laugh at the idea that we are all children inside. But I don’t any more. I have seen it play out consistently for decades, particularly the last decade. And I have learned something. When we do not feel safe, be it in our work, our relationships, our faith or our art, one of three things happens:

  • We shut down and close ourselves off to protect ourselves.
  • We become crushed.
  • Or we leave.

THAT is how important safety is to us. So important that when it is not there, it can only destroy. Nothing good comes of an unsafe place. Ever. But when people are in a safe place, this is what happens:

  • We open ourselves, and our life and circle expands.
  • We flourish and grow.
  • We stay, joyfully.

I don’t have many universal laws in my life. I run my life and faith with a few basic principles. But the need for emotional safety, and the desire to provide that for people in my life is one. I have not, and don’t always succeed in creating safe place for the people around me, but it is something I work hard at. Because that’s what I want for myself. And because I have seen how it affects others. The desire to provide a safe place for my family, for the people who work with me, for the people I am in relationship with comes from my own need for emotional safety.

It’s hard to make our own safe place. We can isolate ourselves to create that place, and that is a path many of us take. But there’s little joy in it. And expansion is slow.

Living in a place of faith helps, if our faith sees God as a loving God who wants the best for us and loves us no matter what. If we see the universe as benevolent.

But the biggest factor, I have learned, is the people we surround ourselves with. Negativity kills. It stifles. It smothers. It builds fear. Positiveness builds safety, allows us to reach out, experiment, fail with grace. It reaps what it sows – joy. The more I have surrounded myself with positiveness, the more I have grown and flourished. And I have seen the same in literally every other person I know.

I am in a good place in life. No, things are not perfect. Far from it. There are demons to fight, mountains to climb and things are very foggy ahead. Sometimes I feel my whole life is one big science experiment. But I am a place where my heart is safe. The people who love me are kind and forgiving. My God is kind and forgiving. My readers are kind and forgiving. The people closest to me, even when they have a concern or a conflict, are unfailingly kind and loving and gentle, and never let me forget how much they value me.

Seriously, I can ask for no more.

If you are not in a safe place in your own life, I wish you safety. Seek out friends who love you in a supportive way. Surround yourself with them. They are all over, just as the negative people are all over. We have a choice. That’s what we forget sometimes. We have a choice of who and what to surround ourselves with.

That’s right. We have a choice. That’s what my kids discovered. That’s what I discovered. I wish the same for you.

Be well. Travel Wisely,

Tom

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

On Being Important

dandelion 1

I have been at school for the past two weeks.

At my age, you rarely get the opportunity to disconnect from the world and focus on learning new things for that long. Life is full. We have responsibilities, work, clients, family, to-do lists. There’s stuff to do. People need us. We’re IMPORTANT, dag nab it!

My world did not fall apart without me. I still have my clients. My family is OK. The to-do list is still there. Things that had to get done got done without me. The ones that were left I’ll get done this week now that I am home.

I am transitioning some of my work and life. It’s been a slow progression over the last year or so, and a conscious one. Every few years I stop and rethink. What do I like about my life? What would I like to do better? Where can I make the difference I want to make. Sometimes when I do this, there are few changes. Other times, the changes are largish. This round is largish, and to get where I want to go means more than just making some changes. It means a lot of education.

Part of me has been a little scared of the education portion. I love to learn, and always have. But the last decade or two, I’ve done it at my own pace. Most of my learning has been self-directed. No grades. No judgment. But this last round, and what’s to come will be done at someone else’s pace. Classes and events past two weeks have started at 7:30ish and run till 10ish. I sort of expected my brain to be mush at the end. I’m almost 60. My last formal education came when I was in my forties and I did my Doctorate.

I needn’t have worried. We tend to rise to expectations when things are important to us. That’s why it’s important to constantly challenge ourselves…. so we can rise. I am exhausted, but I got through it all fine. I haven’t gotten my grades yet, but I can say with confidence that I did fine on the final.

And, as I said, my world did not fall apart.

So often, we choose not to take care of ourselves. We choose not to do the work, take the time apart, take the leap to grow. because it’s hard. We’re important.

And we are, but maybe not in the way we fool ourselves into thinking.

The day to day stuff we use as an excuse to not do, to not give ourselves the time and space to do in our lives, is not where we are really important. Oh, we think it is. I’ve made that mistake often in my life. And I was wrong ever time. Because when we give ourselves the space and the time to feed our souls and minds, we become something, someone….. better. Better able to love and care for the people around us. Better able to do our work. Our minds and hearts become softer, in a good way, better able and better willing to see and grasp and put new ideas to work.

And that is important.

That has proven itself to me over and over again in life. When I have not given myself that time and space, I have dried up. I got the work done, but not with the love and the passion and the power I could have done it with. When I give myself the time and space, I am better for everything and everyone that is important to me.

Every part of my life will benefit from my being away these past two weeks. Not just the part of my life and work I was going to school for. Yes, the grass is extraordinarily high. Yes, I have a backlog of work. But I have been renewed, challenged, grown. I have been energized, infused with passion, fired with creative ideas.

Friends, find the time. Get away. It might be classes. It might be a retreat. Or travel. Or a week at the beach (or two weeks at the beach). WHAT we do depends on what fuels our hearts and souls and minds.

Your world won’t fall apart. And you’ll discover you are important in ways you never thought of before.

Be well. Travel Wisely.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Beyond Communication, Connection

CNN Control A 8_resize

I feel some days that the whole world is trying to communicate with me. I get a couple hundred junk emails and a couple dozen real emails every day. I get newsletters and ads and tweets and posts. I get drawings and questions from clients. Phone calls and instant messages and chats. It’s a barrage from more people and companies than I can count.

In the big picture, only a few of those count. There’s a few that are just information I need (or need to share) to do my work. And there are a few people and companies whose communication matters to me. The rest? I either ignore them, trash them or try to find some way to make them end up in my spam folders.

What’s the difference? Is it because the information these disposable communications offer is useless? No. Is it badly written or designed? Rarely. No, the problem is that a lot of communication is technically very good, well written, well designed….. but fails to connect.

At this point in our civilization and culture, we know a lot about communication. We’ve studied it, dissected it, done a/b testing, crunched numbers and for the most part we have reduced communication to a formula. Writers of books and blogs give us ten bullet points to communicate, sell or lead. We’ve tried to reduce it to algorithms and formulas. And, for the most part, if we want average results, those algorithms and formulas are good enough. They can take us from doing it badly, to doing a pretty good job.

But what if that’s not enough? What if we don’t want to do a pretty good job but a spectacular job? What if we want to design the perfect Television system for our client? Or a sustainably powerful marketing system? What if we want to grow extraordinary employees, children or relationships? What if we want to take our work to truly better places? Then we have to move past communicating well.

We have to learn to connect.

And there is no algorithm yet for real connection. But there are, fortunately, some principles. Here are a few…..

  • Connection is individual.
  • Connection is intentional
  • Connection takes time and takes maintenance.
  • Connection takes listening.
  • Connection is more about the other person than ourselves.

That last one is often the hardest. When we try to make it about ourselves, our ideas, our history, how we do it, what we’ve done, what we think needs to be done, connection rarely happens. Because connection happens not just when we SAY the other person (the client, the customer, our friends, and family.) are important, but when we actually MAKE them important by listening. By looking past what someone says in a survey to having a real conversation, to listening. And to listening over time.

Because listening over time, we learn the things that are come up again and again and again. Many times, no matter what my work is, the first time or few a client will tell me certain things are important, but over time, I see a shift as they think about it, as they mull it over in their heads, as they talk it out with others. Slowly the real priorities show themselves. We’ve gone from talking and listening, to connecting with each other through shared values and truths, through the process. Connection improves everything that we touch – work, family, faith, and our own lives.

Making connection is slow. It often doesn’t feel like “the work”. But it can be the most important part of the work. Once a team, a family, a workgroup… has connected, then there is passion in what we do together. There is power and momentum and because we are connected… a desire to make things work out that far outstrips mere professionalism or mere duty.

Over the years, I’ve written hundreds, maybe thousands of pieces. Proposals. Marketing pieces, Social media blurbs. I know the formulas and I can design and create a fairly good product or design by following the rules. Or I can do a spectacular job for my clients and relationships if I spend that up front time connecting, not merely communication.

And so can you.

Be well. Travel Wisely,

Tom

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Investing in Ourselves

bf1

Ever been stuck? I have. At different times in life, I have been stuck professionally, creatively, relationally and spiritually. It’s a place a lot of us come to.

I know a lot of stuck people and a fair number of stuck companies. They are all people and companies and organizations of value and talent. They produce good work. People like them. They have people who are loyal to them, who recognize their value, but somehow, they rarely move past where they are, despite professing a desire to grow. Since, in all the different things I do, empowering others is at the heart of my work, I have spent a lot of time looking into the the people who pushed past where they are to greater things, and the people who basically stayed where they are. I am constantly looking for the things that help people and organizations push past and move beyond.

There are several commonalities that I have come to see, but today I am focusing on one in particular: investing in ourselves and our growth.

There is a famous story about a tightrope walker of amazing talent and skill. All over Europe, he did tightrope acts at scary heights. Then he would do his acts blindfolded. Then he would go across the tightrope both blindfolded and pushing a wheelbarrow. An American promoter read about the tightrope walker in the papers and wrote a letter to him, saying, “I would like to challenge you, for a substantial sum of money, to do your act over Niagara Falls.” The tightrope walker wrote back that he had never seen the Falls, but he would love to accept the challenge. The day of the event, the tightrope walker was to start on the Canadian side and come to the American side. He had a blindfold put on and he made it across successfully. Then the tightrope walker said to the promoter, “Now do you believe I can do it?” “Well, of course, I do. I just saw you do it.” “No,” the tightrope walker said. “Do you really believe I can do it?” “Yes,” the promoter said, “I believe you can do it.” “Good,” said the tightrope walker, “then you get in the wheelbarrow while I go across.”

That is often the way we behave when it comes to investing in ourselves. We believe it has value…. but….

Why don’t we invest in ourselves?

We don’t really believe investing in ourselves works – In my life as a broadcast technology consultant, I’ve had many a client tell me that, despite studies that consistently report that investing in a consultant early in the project typically saves $3-$5 for every dollar spent on the consultant, that they did not think they could “afford” the consultant. But that is a belief. The facts say otherwise.
We don’t think we are worth it. This is all too common with us as individuals, particularly artistic individuals. Often we are so wrapped up in the value of people around us, and caring for others, that we diminish our own value. We invest in everyone except ourselves.

We focus on the cost, not the return. Every investment does have a cost, be it money, or time, or both. If the cost is where we are focused, then it’s not worth it. If the return, and where we want to end up is the focus, then it is worth it.

We think paying for help shows a weakness. The common image of people paying for a life coach, for instance, is some loser who wants to break out of that loser mold. But the facts are much different. Statistics show that the people who invest in a coach (and the same is true for organizations investing in a consultant.), are almost always already quite successful, but want to move to the next level in their life or business. They understand that investing in themselves is the fastest path to where they want to go.
We are afraid of change. Even good change. This is another form of focusing on the cost, rather than what we get out of it

The thing is, investing in ourselves works. It doesn’t matter what form that investment takes – lessons, tools, coaching, making time for what is important to you – investing in ourselves is a path that has you purposefully moving towards what you want for yourself, instead of merely hoping it comes. When companies invest in people – the people they have do better. When they invest in infrastructure and technology, work gets done more efficiently. When they invest in the right consultants, they take short cuts to their goals, and reach them more efficiently and cost efficiently.

The same is true of us as individuals. Whether what we want for ourselves is to be more artistic, more spiritual, more balanced, more… whatever. Investing in ourselves, carving out time to do what we want, or classes, or art supplies, or a mentor, or whatever, pays off.

Investing is not the same as simply indulging ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with indulging ourselves. But investment is purposeful. And there are some rules to it if we want to make it work.

There has to be a goal or goals in investing in ourselves just as there are goals in investing financially.
We have to see a clear relationship between what we are investing, and those goals we set.
We have to invest regularly. A single day to go painting is an indulgence. An afternoon every week to paint is an investment. Doing it regularly allows us to work and build towards what we want for ourselves.
Measure the results. This is easy to do in some cases, Less easy in other cases, but measuring the results is the only way we know if things are working. So every so often, a few months into things, do a self-assessment. Ask what has changed? Ask if you see a positive shift in the direction you are moving. If you are, great. If not, then reassess. You may need to invest differently.

Savor your improvements. Yes, there is change, but it is change towards the good. Remind yourself of this.
Give it time. Financial investors know that it’s a long-term game. The same is true in other investments, and in the investments we make in ourselves. They take time to blossom. Be patient with yourself.

There is one last positive in investing in ourselves, whether we are an organization or an individual. Investing in ourselves regularly give us a sense of value. The investment makes us feel the importance of what we want to do. It ceases to be a wish and becomes a reality. In organizations, an investment builds morale and loyalty. In an individual, it builds self-esteem and purpose.

None of this is new to most of us. But at times we need a reminder. Consider this your reminder.

And ask yourself… Have you invested in yourself lately? And if not, what would make a difference? It’s never too late to begin building a better life, whatever that might look like for you.

Be well, Travel Wisely.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How We See

th (1)

“We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are.”
What we see depends as much on ourselves as it does on the world around us.

Seeing is subjective: Each of us sees the world differently.
Seeing is active: Our eyes and brains construct the world we see.
Seeing is interpreting: Our brains “shape” what we see to fit what it thinks it knows.

Think about it.

Be well. Travel Wisely.

Tom

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Learning to See

2013-02-21 07-52-11

I was working with a PBS station in the Mid Atlantic. They were planning to update their control room and studio and had been bombarded with sales people telling them what switcher (the heart of the production process, for those of you not in live television.) I thought he should go with.

“I don’t know.” I told him.

That was not the answer he was expecting and he asked me why not. “It’s simple” I told him. “I don’t know enough about how you work.”.

He was a little indignant. He had just spent an hour telling me about their process, explaining the things they wanted to be able to do. “That’s a good start,” I said. “But I want to sit and watch you work. I will learn more about what you need in a couple of days of watching than in anything you tell me.”

So that is what I did. I just sat and watched how they did things. I got to see, first hand, the bottlenecks. the things that worked, the conversation that revealed what people loved and hated about what they were doing. I ate lunch and talked about things that don’t show up on spec sheets and marketing materials. I was able to tell them with confidence what was the right switcher (For the record, that one was a Ross Video switcher.).

Years later, my client still tells me how happy he was with the decision, and how he loved how I saw things he did not see.

Seeing.

I have often thought it would be interesting to do a class on “learning to see.” There could be be a technology version, a business version, and an artists/personal version. Each would have some aspects that would be unique to their work, but there are a few things that they would have in common.

  • Seeing takes time – Sherlock Holmes aside, to actually see what is going on in a situation takes time. We can see things on a surface level in an instant. But to see what is going on underneath takes time. Too often though, in television, in business, and in our own lives, we don’t take the time to look at anything but the surface. Sustainable success though, only comes when we see how things connect and interact, and often that is not obvious at first. In fact, I find that often my first impression of the solution, be it in technology, business, marketing or coaching, is wrong. But time watching and learning helps me get to the right place for me and my clients.
  • Seeing takes mindfulness. Yes, we can see the surface without thinking, without examining what we are seeing. But to see the things that make the difference between “it works” to “It works perfectly for me.” takes being very conscious and thinking as well as merely seeing. In my work, and in life, it’s about helping people find solutions that don’t just work, but that are a good long term fit, and that means watching with my brain engaged, constantly ask myself what I am seeing.
  • Seeing looks for connections. – Nothing in our world lives as an island any more. Anything we buy, use or do intersects with other things. Other equipment, other people, other elements of our internal psyche. If you haven’t seen a rich web of connections, you haven’t seen yet.

Most people don’t have the patience to see, I have learned. We are happy with our vision, our ideas. We want to be right more than we want to get it right. And not seeing doesn’t mean everything goes wrong. Far from it. But, if we don’t just want a system, a business process, our lives, our art to just be OK, but instead want it to be something wonderfully right, we have to learn to see.

Some day I might actually create a learning to see workshop, but till then, just remember, take the time, be mindful, look for connections and you will be on your way.

Be well, travel wisely,

Tom

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized