Thursday, 31 January 2013

3 Words You Should Know The Difference Between

You probably never cared that I gave up Twitter in the first place.  That's fine.  I feel like I'll probably stop talking about it soon.  Please don't stop reading my blog. Heck, who knows, maybe all this spare time will make me more profound!

So, reconnecting with the biological people in my life has kind of been an interesting experience for me.  First of all, it turns out that they are amazing, and why would I ever have ignored them to look at my phone?!  From playing with my son to going for drinks with some really enjoyable and interesting business peers, I am blessed to know a lot of really REALLY cool people in the natural world.  I bet the people I knew on my phone would be pretty cool too in real life, but isn't that kind of the point?

Anyway, after getting over the immediate-gratification-attention withdrawal I had after quitting Twitter, I've come to realize that we have a tendency to draw too short a line between the words popularity, importance, and significance.

Popularity: We love this one.  I think it's beaten into us by the trauma of high school.  This might be level one of influence.  It means that people like you, and you have the ability to swing people's opinion.  Any number of things can make you popular. Is your dad rich?  You might be popular.  Are you clever?  Are you attractive?  Do people see you around a lot?  You might be popular.  Do you have a lot of followers on Twitter?

Here's the thing about popularity.  You can be a total IDIOT and still be popular.  You don't have to watch TV for long to know that's the truth.  Movie and TV stars, athletes, musicians? Seriously.  The plus about popularity is that it's the easiest form of influence.  But this one is also the most easily abused form.

Importance: Okay, this one's a step up from popularity.  The word importance brings up a couple associations.  One is influence.  The other is accomplishment.  In order to be regarded as important, people typically have proven themselves somehow - won an election, built a successful business, gained respect based on quality art or other work.  It's a little tougher to be important than it is to be popular.  You still get some idiots, but there's a level of credibility that comes with importance. 

Importance is good, but it still falls short.  The world needs important people.  Important people do a lot of important work!  They move the community forward.  But there's this little nagging issue - status.  Importance also assumes a level of status.  While some important people do it for selfless reasons, there are a lot of people out there who just really LIKE being a big deal.  And you can still be an idiot and be important (Cough).

I was sitting in church last Sunday (did you know people still do that?) and they did a bio on a couple people I've sat beside for years.  One of them is Monybany Dau.  Take 2 minutes, watch the video.  His story is incredible!

Another is Lola French.  Lola worked for years as the director of the Central Alberta Pregnancy Care Centre, helping women who didn't have the resources they needed to deal with their circumstances.  After some time, she built a system to replicate what she had done here in Red Deer all over Canada.  Now, if a community decides they need a pregnancy care centre, all they have to do is contact her organization, and they have all the terms of references, resources, and board policies prepackaged and ready to go.


You'd never guess that Monybany is the champion of a village in Sudan if you bumped into him at Superstore.  You'd never guess that Lola has affected the lives of hundreds of women in extremely vulnerable situations if you were pumping gas next to her.  They're not trying to be important.  They're not doing it to win recognition.  They're doing it because they're passionate about it! Because if they weren't, then who would?

See, significance isn't concerned with being a big deal.  Know what I'd love?  I'd love to know what I'm passionate about, and then give myself wholeheartedly to that cause, because I was uniquely positioned to move the needle in a way that no one else could.  Significance is about being a big deal to the people right around you.  It's about giving yourself to what you believe in - not because of the credit you receive, but because it's important.  More important than popularity.  More important than importance.  It means that you are the hero of the people that mean the most to you - the ones who need you the most.

When it comes to influence, don't equate popularity to significance. It's the difference between McRib and Prime Rib. 

Monday, 21 January 2013

Healthy Discomfort

As my last post discussed, I gave up Twitter last week.  Today I hit the red button.  In 30 days, my account is gone for good.  How nice of the twitter people to store my account cryogenically for a month in case I wimp out.

I'm starting to realize how much time it actually consumed.  I got really accustomed to a lot of quasi-social interaction in a day.  The bear's not poking me back anymore.  I really got used to that.  I'm trying to minimize the tremors in my hands.

Funny thing though, I've had time to exercise every day since I quit Twitter.  And that made me realize something about becoming a person who is stronger - physically, emotionally or mentally.  When you've really committed to strengthening your muscles, you embrace the pain of exercise.  Your mental self-talk changes and you realize that the discomfort you feel is the very mechanism that will strengthen you. 

I've understood that about exercise for a long time.  But in a lot of other areas of my life, I'm still totally averse to discomfort.  I dread it in relationships.  I fear it at work.

But listening to some cynical music today, I realized it.  You need the discomfort. It's the whole point.  Smokers will never quit smoking till they give themselves permission to be in a foul mood.  They need to expect it, anticipate it.  Even embrace it.  And it's going to happen.  You don't get the reward of health without going straight through the pain of ignoring your craving.  And you don't whistle your way through that process.  The thing that relieved your misery and frustration before? THAT's the exact thing you're giving up.

If I ever want to improve on areas I stink at in life, I need to kill the 'onward and upward' attitude.  I'll still be going that direction, but I need to allow myself to be truly disgusted, frustrated, and angry with myself for behaviour I'm not happy with.

Overlooking that step is like letting a wound scab over before cleaning it out.  The infection is still there, under the closed skin.  It can grow into an abcess and poison your blood.  Just open it up - expose it to the air.  Don't hide it.  Deal with it.  Nut up and clean it out.  Then it can slowly heal.  Properly.

Comfort is the opposite of progress.  Doesn't that suck? It's the same for muscles as for relationships, as for your character.  There's no easy way.  You burn off your character flaws one gruelling sweaty calorie at a time.

Now... can someone post this on Twitter for me?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Why I Love Twitter, and Why I Have To Leave

I'm not big on the whole 'family position' branch of psychology, but if you buy into it, my position as the youngest kid might help explain my obsessive desire for ATTENTION! That's probably why I love twitter so much.

If I've got something funny (or even just mildly funny, or just stupid) to say, and I send it to a friend on a text message, they probably won't message me back right away.  People are busy, and we're always in the middle of something else.  But when you post it on Twitter, anyone who's NOT doing anything might respond to it right away.

You poke the bear.  It pokes you back.  You poke the bear.  It pokes you back.  It's called positive reinforcement.  You get a good response when you do a certain behaviour, so it solidifies that behaviour in your mind.

Who knows?  Maybe I even got kinda good at it.  People interact with me regularly, and are entertained enough to retweet or favourite or respond.

But then something happened.  How do I explain it?

Many (maybe most) of my twitter interactions are with women.  Call it a demographic thing (are there more of a specific gender on twitter?), or maybe it was an unintentional consequence of the way I tweet and interact.

Add to that the fact that I have a tendency to disengage if I get stressed out.  Guess what it looks like:

If I have a stressful day, I check out and go interact/joke with a bunch of lovely women on Twitter.  I'm not saying that's what was happening.  I'm saying that's what it LOOKED LIKE.

And you know what?  In a relationship, we need to feel SAFE to have a bad day.  You shouldn't have to feel like your spouse is having all their fun without you involved.  It feels like you're getting phased out.

See, Twitter is this funny thing.  In my last blog post I wrote about our underlying motivations. I don't know why the person I'm interacting with is on Twitter.  Or why they're interacting with me.  Twitter is half real and half fake.  And that makes it more dangerous than if it was all one or all the other.  Because my 'persona' interacts with someone else's.  And maybe it comes off as flirtatious, or maybe it's just really...nice.  But the person behind that other persona may be in a lonely place.  And maybe the interaction with me is fulfilling a need that they should really be getting filled in real life, by the people in front of them who they're ignoring.  This isn't the case for everyone, of course.  The point is, I can't tell when it IS the case.

But here's what I know:  When I discover that I've been doing something that goes against some of my most important principles: loving my wife and making her feel cherished, and being PRESENT for my family, things are going to start to change.  And I don't want to be a stumbling block for anyone else either.

There's no person or group of people I blame for this other than myself.  It's just a shift I saw happen as I shifted my account from a professional one to a personal one.  And I wish I could be a model of self restraint and phase out the negative behaviour, but I've tried that for a while.  And I know my limitations.  And self restraint?  Yeah....

I realize that I'm doing this at a great cost.  Every day I see ways that Twitter could add value - DM'ing my coffee order to @CoolBeansBus, putting out a request for volunteers for a non-profit work bee, or posting a really uplifting story are all examples from the last day alone of all the value that I'll be leaving behind.  Call me a fool, but there's nothing I would not leave behind for the sake of the most important relationships in my life. 

So, you still know how to reach me.  I still work where I work.  I still blog.  I'm still on Facebook (less addicting/appealing).  And you can DM me or comment below if you want contact information - I'll be happy to stay in contact if we established working relationships on twitter.

And maybe one day I'll be back again.  And maybe not.  For now, I need to find healthier ways to get the attention I crave, and stop trying to make myself a celebrity one follower at a time.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Why you should do 'little things'.

 Sometimes Facebook is creepy because old acquaintances from high school look you up.  But then sometimes, something like this arrives in your inbox, and totally makes your week:

"I actually looked you up because I wanted to tell you that half a million years ago, when I was a seriously picked on and unpopular kid, you were one person who was really kind to me. You wrote me a letter once, telling me to always stand up for myself and be strong, and not to listen to all the kids who told me I wasn't cool. I still have that note, I keep in it my wallet. I can't believe how long I've hung onto it. Anyways, I just felt like I should tell you that you really made a big difference in my life, and I've always appreciated it. I hope you know that that little gesture, that you probably don't even remember, really meant something to me and still does. Thank you."

Friday, 18 January 2013


Know what the crazy thing is about people?  We are these totally complicated things.

Back in the good old days, if your computer broke, you could pull off the cover, jiggle a wire, replace a 'socket', and you'd be up and running again.  These days, if your iphone starts wigging out on you, you're toast.  We aren't tech savvy, we're tech dependent.  But the software and hardware are so integrated and complex that we don't have the first clue how to fix the damn things.

I always laughed at my mom cause she couldn't figure out the VCR.  Now, we're all the same way.  If we push play, and it doesn't work, we're lost.

Funny thing is, we should be used to that.  Because that's the way that humans work.  We only have such a small glimpse into our own consciousness.  So much of our motivation, our desire, comes from deep places that we don't know or understand.  Even the most self-acutalized/aware people only understand that there IS a deeper side.  Even they don't have access or insight into it.  They just have tips for controlling it (ie. try pushing the play button again...).

What's your WHY?

You don't have to listen to CDs or read self-improvement books long to realize that everyone says you NEED to know your WHY.  Call it your motivation, your meaning, or your definite major purpose in life - they all agree.  If you don't have that driving force in your life, you're likely to do a lot more coasting or aimless wandering than you'd like to admit.

I agree, but that subject has been thoroughly explored.  I'd like to talk about a different kind of why.  As in, why do you do what you do?

Ever done something nice to someone RIGHT after someone else has done something mean to them?  YES, it makes them feel a little more special than they did before, but I bet you got a pretty sweet benefit from it too.  It kinda makes that person look like a total jerk, and makes you look like a hero - even more so than if you had done something nice to someone different.  Extra points for you.

I had a really interesting discussion with my wife (and after that with my conscience) about why I was spending so much time on Twitter recently.  There's no intrinsic harm in playing social media.  But the question I found myself asking was not about whether I should be on twitter or not.  It was, WHY am I on there?  Was I using it as an escape - a way to check out from reality during a stressful time in my home life?  Or was I just playing on it the way that people watch survivor: just to pass time - a leisure activity?

I think people are often just really un-self-aware.  We don't know WHY we're doing something.  Sometimes we do really nice things for people.  At a conscious level, we might know that it is a kind deed and feel good about ourselves.  But at a slightly more instinctual, subconscious, base level, perhaps it's an attempt to manipulate - to see what we could get, or just... see... whether we can exert power over that person - get them to think, act or feel a certain way in relation to us. 

How often do we evaluate our motives?  I could buy a coffee for the same person 5 different times with a different motivation each time.  Do we play fast and loose with those motivations?  Because sometimes I think we intentionally overlook them.  Pretend our actions happen only at face value.

But suddenly we can find ourselves down a road we didn't really want to be on.  Because we did nice things for people with the wrong motivation.

So yes.  We certainly need to know our major purpose in life.  Our WHY. Our reason to get up in the mornings.  But I think we'd all do well to be a little more aware of the little whys too.  Why we said that.  Why we're interacting with the people we choose to.  Why we do or don't adopt certain behaviours.  Because if we're doing good deeds for the wrong reasons, we may still end up as bad people for doing them.

Does anyone talk about this stuff?  Is this a thing, or am I an evil genius who's tendency to overthink things has taught him how manipulative he can be?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Strength in Weakness

I wrote a blog a little while ago called, Your Greatest Strength is Your Greatest Weakness.  This post is kinda the opposite.

You know that feeling you get before you go out to a party full of strangers?  It's a little dread, and a little intimidation.  Feels like everyone else is perfect, and you feel like you're faking it?  Your fancy shirt has baby puke on the shoulder, and you just feel like an impostor.

The reason we feel that way is because we're all jerks.

We all hide our weaknesses and failures.  I hide mine because everyone in a group of strangers looks so... TOGETHER.  But they're doing the same thing.

And that's crap.  Here's why:

Your greatest struggles, your toughest weaknesses, are what makes you so important to these people.  See, we are all humans trying to fumble our way through life too.  Some of us are struggling with the same thing you are.  And we NEED to feel normal, like we aren't the only one in the universe dealing with this.  And some have just started their struggle.  And you know every square inch of the battleground.  And they could sure use your experience.  You could save someone a lot of the same heartache you've gone through. 

Whatever you've been through, whether it was a health issue, a professional decision causing you stress, or a relational hardship, imagine if you'd had that person, who was vulnerable enough to be open about their struggles, who could've been a lighthouse to you while you were in the thick of things.  Imagine if we could all swallow our pride and offer that service to each other.

Cause here's the thing: any struggle you are living through feels like weakness, but it turns into strength as it fades into the past.  You don't need to be finished with them - unfortunately that's not really how life works most of the time.  But if you can live through those struggles with a soft heart and a learner's mind, those struggles become your history, your experience.  Those struggles become your wisdom.  They testify to your strength and resilience.

So, how about we all forego the whole 'got it together' thing, and just be honest about the stuff we struggle with?  Honestly, it's probably some of the best real estate we have in our minds, if we're willing to share it.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

I could get behind this quote:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, 7 January 2013

Why Social Programs Fail

I had a friend approach me today and ask me an interesting question. 

See, we work alongside each other on the issue of poverty and homelessness in Red Deer.  Her job requires her, among other things, to spread the word about the issue to stakeholders and citizens of this town. My experience in the private sector has provided some interesting perspective to a group that is predominantly made up of people from service organizations.  Her question to me was:

What are 3 to 5 key things I need to remember when trying to engage local business?

So, it happens to be a bit of a sore spot for me.  I've been a little surprised at the slow progress of the committee I sit on.  I can tell I've been indoctrinated by the private sector.  In our world, the approach tends to be, "ready, FIRE! aim."  In the world of public services and social support, we try to get everyone's finger on the trigger at the same time.  So much time is spent gaining consensus that precious time for action is wasted.  In my mind, you're better off to accidentally solve the second most pressing issue than to waste the extra months and years getting the data to such a fine point that you know exactly what recommendation to make.

Another observation: when you hold a forum on a social issue, guess who shows up: the social support agencies.  And bless them - they do such important work.  But their role: they are on the razors edge of the issue, embroiled in the controversy.  They can tell you every nuance of the problem.  But they are so steeped in it that it's hard for them to see outside the current methods.  They're experts.  Experts have such ingrained patterns - they're really good at solving a problem.  The way they always have.  Their neural passageways are totally entrenched.  They provide a really valuable perspective.  They will tell you all about the need.  But they might not be able to find a new way to fix it.

So, who do we need at the table?  The creative class, the entrepreneurs.  The ones who can come up with a totally new method.  Or at least provide a new perspective.  Problem is, these people RUN when they sense consensus gathering.  Because you will never. have. consensus.  There are too many people.  Too many perspectives.  The problems are like fish in a barrell.  The solution isn't to ponder how you're going to kill all the fish, because there are so many.  The solution is to start shooting.

So, how do you engage business-minded people in your social concerns?  Think like them.  Here are the 3 answers I gave my friend, expanded (with her permission):

1.  Make it human.  The issue that I'm involved in relates to poverty and homelessness.  Specifically, the eratication thereof.  When business people think of homelessness, they think of the chronically homeless.  Drug addicts and panhandlers, who pester them for change in the grocery store parking lot.  What they don't realize is that there is a VERY LIKELY CHANCE that a co-worker or employee lives below the poverty line.  Poverty is not a distant, abstract concept.  We work daily with people who are one financial incident, one missed paycheck away from losing their residence.  If business owners understood that these programs are made to help people JUST LIKE THEM, they might sit up a little taller in their chairs.  I know it was a wakeup call for me when I realized that.

2.  Be results oriented.  Forgive me if this sounds callous.  Business owners have all had an employee who drove them crazy with sob stories.  "I'm late because my car wouldn't start." "My sister was having a breakdown." "Another one of my uncles died." The reason business owners can come off as unsympathetic is that they've been taken advantage of by employees, and have been given every excuse in the book as the offender tries to get out of the consequences.  So if your 'pitch' comes off even remotely as a plea for pity or sympathy, you might find them getting impatient or just checking out.  Spare them the sob story.  Business owners work hard for what they have, and they take a lot of risk.  What do they pay attention to?  Results.  Tell them what you plan to do and how.  Tell them how far you've already come.  Show them that you are getting stuff done.  If they offer you a job, you're on the right track.

3.  Give them action steps.  Don't raise awareness.  Believe me - anyone who has walked downtown is aware that there are homeless people in town.  They don't need to be made aware of the problem.  They need to be made aware of the SOLUTION.
Anecdote time.  There's a business I really respect in town, who does a lot of work for local charity as well as charities abroad.  Recently, I watched the owner of the company host a luncheon for about 70-100 of her peers - local business owners.  She told them about a recent trip she had made to an impoverished area of the world, and shared her experience and the impact it had on her.  Then she told them what she planned to do when she brought her staff out to the same area in 6 months.  She reminded them how far their donation would go there, compared to what it would mean to them here.  Then she asked.  And for the cost of lunch and a room, she probably raised about $70,000.
She gave them a simple action step: "I'm asking you to do this..."  Included there was a suggested donation.  It was simple - they could write a cheque and forget about it - it wasn't a time commitment or a request to change their priorities.  If someone felt so convicted, I'm sure she would've been happy to speak with them after about how to get further involved.

It's not that business people aren't 'bleeding hearts'.  I believe that there are many wealthy people in this town with HUGE hearts for local and international issues.  But the issue is that you cannot appeal to them by emotion.  They make decisions analytically - they've had to learn that over time, one money-losing emotional decision at a time (at times when they couldn't afford to make them).  And now, they don't have a lot of tolerance for fluffy stuff.

But I also believe that these business minded people are an absolutely essential ingredient.  We need free enterprise's innovation, creativity, and resources.  We need to facilitate their involvement, and make it worthwhile to be in the business of solving societal issues.  Because there's money to be made in free enterprise, it attracts some of the best brains.  And we need those to solve these complex and challenging issues.  We need to find ways to get caring entrepreneurs to the table. 

I don't profess to be an expert here.  So please, if I've missed something, go easy on me.  I'm new in this field, so teach me something I don't know.  Tell me if I'm off track.  But tell me if you agree, too.  What we need more than anything is a little more progress.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Goal attainment - Lumberjack style

Who wakes up on a Friday morning and thinks, "Maybe I could write a blog before work?"

I stayed up late last night finishing off my new years goals.  I did something interesting this year that I learned from a great book I read on personal development, called The Compound Effect. You should read it.  It's very good.

One thing I learned (and I'm not sure it was from the book, but it was from the author, Darren Hardy) was to take your goal setting a few steps further than most do.

When you set a goal, they can be pretty abstract.  Pay off debt, lose 15 pounds, buy a car. And not only that, but attaining those goals seems like a binary operation - either you do, or you don't.  That's it.  You haven't achieved your goal.  Until you drive home with the car.  Or tip the scale 15 pounds lighter.

The problem is, you don't have to change your lifestyle to hit a goal that way.  You just get your goal, and then stop sprinting.

So, this year, I did things a little differently.  I set my goals.  Then I made them bigger.  Then I took half an hour per area of my life (personal/professional/business), and I considered and wrote out WHAT ACTIONS I could take WHENEVER I WAS THINKING ABOUT IT that would get me a little step closer to my goals.

Now, when I look at my goals, I don't think, "ah, shoot, I can't buy the car today.  Guess I'd better save a little more." and then walk away and forget about it.  Instead, I think, "Who could I call? What could I do today? Right NOW? To get closer to my goal?"

It's like I went through the forest and marked all the trees I wanted to chop down, but then I also bought an axe.  And now, even if I don't have time to cut down a whole tree, I'm walking around with an axe.  And it's pretty easy to find time to take a few swings.  Especially when you know which tree you want to chop down, and you know there's a couple chunks out of it already.

Will you try it with me this year?  Let me know what you think.