Learning from Vacation…about Work

The first two weeks of August my family went on a camping road trip from our home in Maine to my brother-in-law’s wedding near San Diego.  It was the first two week vacation I’d  taken in at least five years.  It won’t be that long before I do it again.

Here are are a few lessons I learned  (or was reminded of ) while on the road.

You see differently close up and open.

I’ve come to think of myself as a homebody because I spend so much time in and around my house.  I am NOT a homebody!  I’m an introvert who telecommutes.  I love new experiences, traveling, and being with people.   Attending to inner and outer worlds is important for balance.   Daily routines need shaking up with adventure.

There’s so much adventure to be had out there, in the real world, without an internet connection or device.  In 15 days we  drove 7,463 miles and were in 24 states.  Though we had a destination every day, we were totally open to the experiences of the road- good and bad.  We had our share of both. Getting out of “my” world helped me see the rest of it more clearly.  It’s all so beautiful and interconnected.

We saw purple clouds in Pennsylvania and a brush fire in Indiana.  We toured Mount Rushmore with hundreds of bikers and traded  stories with a couple from Quebec. I saw bathroom with graffiti that said, “You’re Beautiful. Love Yourself”, and a road sign to No Name Rest Area.  Our car was surrounded by sheep in Wyoming and corn and clouds in Minnesota.    We saw prairie dogs, elk, and fireflies.  My eyes welled with tears at the ancient majesty of the Rocky Mountains and the ecological misery left by mining operations.   We camped in Kentucky!

A few bits of beauty

A few bits of beauty

My favorite place is outside.

I’ve always been an outdoorsy kind of gal.  I grew up camping, hiking, cycling, and playing in the dirt. For the better part of 2 weeks we slept in our tent with the top off, feeling the breeze and watching the stars. Being close to nature brings me closer to myself.  I  forget this because there so many other “important things” needing my attention indoors.  Returning to indoor life was unexpectedly difficult.  I had to challenge my own assumptions and habits about being inside.  With the help of extension cords, the deck is a viable morning office. Lunch–take it outside, maybe have a picnic. Card games, board games, puzzles, reading, crochet- all possible outside.   It feels good to end the day by stepping outside, taking a deep breath and saying good night to the stars. Try it!

All the "entertainment" I need.

All the “entertainment” I need, especially those sheep.

Less stuff brings more ease.

In two weeks we camped, visited family, and attended a destination wedding at a fancy-schmancy resort.  Everything we needed for these diverse experiences fit in the back of our small car. Our house was a tent and the “kitchen” fit in a milk crate.

We ate simply and packed healthy snacks. Though we had some fast food,  we usually found  grocery stores for supplies, making sandwiches for lunch and dinner in camp. Our camp dinners were delicious: spaghetti and meat balls, brats on the grill,  shrimp gnocchi. (OK, once the day went horribly wrong and we had to choke down canned “Chinese” “food” in the dark.  The dark was a blessing.  Let’s not speak of this again. )

One small duffle bag and carry-on sized  suit case carried clothes my daughter and I. We still had more than we needed. I enjoy having  limited clothing options when we camp and have since gutted my closet.   This feels good.

I use research to help people.

I brought only three books and didn’t open any of them the first week of the journey.  The second week (on my birthday, actually), I read a decidedly work-related book.  I kept track of every instance where the authors identified the need for more research, a gap in knowledge, or an opportunity to translate research from one setting to another.  Highlight after highlight my excitement grew.

After finishing a book about personal talents and passions that I’d started and stopped months ago, something occurred to me.   Every job I’ve ever loved has involved research. Much as I love conducting research and learning about new theories and approaches,  generating new knowledge is not enough.  Research should help people.   This is why I connect so strongly to the applied social sciences and scholar/practitioner professions.  Action researchers, evaluators, designers, social workers, nurses, writers, teachers, librarians. We all use research to help people.  So simple and obvious. It felt profound at the time. Perhaps it was from spending so much time at elevation.

Being away from my job for two weeks reminded me that there are any number of work related experiences that would serve others and bring me joy.  I don’t have do this work,  in this way,  in this organization.  As it happens, I enjoy what I do, how I do it, and the people I work with.  They’re bright and wise and thoughtful and creative  and daring and caring and dedicated and fun. We help brilliant people find new ideas, work together, and take risks.  My job is to help us do that better.

It’s an adventure worth coming back for.

By posting this picture I do not in any way condone drawing on rocks, even to make a smiley face.

By posting this picture I do not in any way condone drawing on rocks, even to make a smiley face.

What did you learn on your summer vacation?

What’s your posture?

Have you ever felt total safety revealing your heart to strangers?

No?

Me either.

At least not until I took what felt like a daring leap and joined a coaching circle through U.Lab.

The coaching circles are groups of 4-5 people who meet weekly for 75 minutes.  Each week a different person presents a case that is current, concrete and important.  The case giver is a key player in a scenario that can be explained in 15 minutes. And, if addressed, the case clinic can make a big difference to the case giver moving forward.  While one person gives the case, the others listen deeply.   Otto Scharmer calls this kind of listening, Level 4 listening.  The intention is to connect with other person and listen so deeply that you (and maybe the other person) are transformed by the experience.

 

CC License by the Presencing Institute - Otto Scharmer  http://www.presencing.com/permissions.

CC License by the Presencing Institute – Otto Scharmer http://www.presencing.com/permissions.

In the video introducing the case clinic process, Scharmer describes the two ways we could present our case.  One way is the typical way we ask for  feedback in a professional setting.  The other is the REAL case. Presenting a REAL challenge puts us “one down” in a position of vulnerability (see video about 2:44-3:00 for how this looks).  THAT is the case clinic posture.  THAT is serious.

We were given a handout to on the process, a way to connect with each other through the Presencing Institute site and meet via Google Hangout. The basic structure is: 15 minutes for case presentation, a few minutes for clarifying questions and then 3 minutes of silence. Following the silence each of the coaches offer the images, thoughts, feelings and gestures that arose for them while listening to the case.  Then there is time for generative dialogue and NOT trying to fix/solve the problem.  The case giver then reflects on his/her situation and next steps going forward. The case clinic closes with each person expressing gratitude others and taking a few minutes to capture learning points.

Simple, right?

This has been a profound experience for the women in my circle. We didn’t know each other before the course.  We come from different countries,  backgrounds and professions (a coach, a scientist, a consultant, and me, an evaluator).  And every one of us presented a case from the heart.  I’ve learned about these women and learned to see myself in new ways through their eyes. We’ve decided to keep meeting even after the official end of U.Lab.

The vulnerable posture is NOT the one we bring to our lives most of the time, but I believe it is the one we need.  We get different results when we talk about REAL issues as REAL people, not the people we think we should be, but the confused, complicated people we are.

I’d like more opportunities for conversations like this and I’m rather certain I’m not alone.  Goodness knows we don’t need any more conversations about the cold and snow.

What do you think?  Would a structure like this work for conversations between friends, colleagues, family members, stakeholders?  Would you be willing to try it?

 

 

 

Seven Silence Strategies

Tomorrow at 9am Eastern, ULab participants are joining in a collective moment of stillness. The intention is to reconnect to the global community many of us are experiencing in during the course.

Stillness is radical.

Our world and habits teach us to fill the space of each moment, meeting, and meal. The chatter in our minds reflects the noise of the outer world. Practicing silence and stillness is counter-culture and can feel intimidating. There’s good news. You don’t have to develop a 30 minute a day meditation practice to experience more stillness and silence.

In honor of the global moment of silence tomorrow,  here are seven  simple silence strategies to try during your day.

Silence Strategy 1: Take a private moment of silence for yourself early in the day.

This can be as quick as taking 5 intentional breaths before you get out of bed or as long as a half hour meditation session, or anything in between. You can be silent with your cup of coffee, breathing in that roasted goodness. Experiment until you find something small that works for you.  This is also an excellent practice to use before a meeting or presentation (see #4).

Silence Strategy 2: Notice nature.

This is one of my favorite ways to find silence and solace.  Even the most buttoned up corporate headquarters has a plant somewhere. Find it. Pretend to tie your shoe and spend a few seconds filling your field of vision with living green.  Even better, find a window or go outside and find a tree, shrub, flower, ant or bird to watch for a minute or two. I’ve done this during conferences when I cannot stand one more minute inside.  A few deep breaths outside does wonders. Any water source bigger than a water fountain brings  peace.

silence

Silence Strategy 3:  Seek silence in public.

We can’t always be alone when we need to center ourselves and find a pocket of peace. No problem. You can be silent right in front of everyone and no one will notice. Half the people will be on their phones and not paying attention anyway.  Those who look your way will take whatever visual cues you provide and assume you are doing that activity. Hold whatever prop you have- your phone, tablet, notebook, laptop, magazine- in your hands. Set your  gaze so that you’re looking over the object and down in front of you rather than focusing on your prop. This is my favorite way to meditate when I can’t be alone.  No one has ever been the wiser.

Silence Strategy 4: Build silence into meetings.

Some workplaces have incorporated contemplative practices into their corporate culture. The rest of us have to be more creative in bringing stillness to work.  After giving yourself some silence before a meeting, share it in subtle ways with others.  Before the meeting starts, look around the room and offer a smile (or nod, or whatever other acknowledgement feels most natural), to the other people in the room. Do this with the intention to really SEE them.  You’ll be surprised what you notice.  Take a deep breath and use what you notice to begin the meeting. Between agenda items, provide 30 seconds to 2 minutes for people to reflect and write down any notes or ideas they have. Tell them you’ll save time at the end for these items.  See if you can extend the silence after people stop writing.

Silence Strategy 5: Take a deep breath (or two) before speaking.

This one can be HARD  and works in any conversation- even online ones.  So often we’re deciding what we want to say before we finish listing to what is being said. Pausing before speaking takes practice and you’ll be amazed at the results. The first few times I tried this in my work was when I was supposed to be “running” a meeting.  By pausing before I spoke I hardly said a thing after the introduction.  The meeting went along beautifully without my intervention, we accomplished everything we needed to, and I was able to listen deeply to the conversation. Added bonus, I freed myself from the burden of coming up with something smart to say all the time.   Ahhhh.

Silence Strategy 6:  Practice silence between tasks.

Some days I can be chugging trough my list of things to do and not even notice how much time has passed.  To be more present, I take a minute or two to relax between tasks.  Sometimes I recognize the next item on my list is not the most important task do or I’ll remember an idea I’d neglected to write down. Sitting with a sense of accomplishment for the small things is motivating during the times when it feels like nothing big gets done.

Silence Strategy 7: Have technology remind you to be mindful.

If you’re not up for self-propelled stillness, the editors of Mindful magazine have a solution. You can sign up for “Mindful Interrupters” delivered to your inbox or Twitter feed. Interrupters change frequently and are a playful way to bring you back to the present moment, which is really the whole point of stillness and silence. You can also find the interrupters on their web site.

Join me in 5 minutes of silence tomorrow at 9am Eastern. Those in the Pacific time zone can use the 5 minutes to try out Silence Strategy #1.

How do you build little moments of silence into your day? What do you learn from stillness?

Lighting a Fire in the Blood

I continue to be in awe of the Theory U process and the experiences and reflections brought about by ULab. This is not a lighthearted romp.  It’s captured me and many others. Writing is part of the journey so here goes.

Smartly, the course designers set us up with a full week (Week 0) of orientation.  Our work centered around setting goals and intentions for the course, connecting with other participants to form a case clinic coaching circle, and creating a shared experience through watching the documentary Fire in the Blood.

A little background…

The beginning of the U process about is breaking out of habitual patterns and seeing a system from others’ perspectives. A “sensing journey” is one tool to facilitate this shift in awareness. You can think of a sensing journey as a field trip designed to open the heart.  For ULab, Fire in the Blood was our sensing journey.  Film maker Dylan Mohan Gray generously allowed ULab participants free access to the film.  Fire in the Blood chronicles the systemic dysfunctions that prevented millions in Africa with AIDS from accessing life saving medications long after the cost of the medications dropped.

Image by DodgertonSkillhause from morguefile. http://mrg.bz/yfvrFO

Image by DodgertonSkillhause from morguefile. http://mrg.bz/yfvrFO

Rather than taking notes and gathering facts as I tend to do, in the spirit of ULab, I watched and listened with as open a heart as I could. The two hours I spent watching Fire in the Blood was a journey through the emotional landscape:  anger, disbelief, sorrow, hope, aching, compassion, relief.

It reminded me of seeing Roméo Dallaire speak about Shake Hands with the Devil, his account of being the force commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda during the Rwandan genocide.  My friend Andrea and I read Dallaire’s book and attended a talk he gave years ago. I was grateful for the ULab discussion boards after watching Fire in the Blood and know Andrea would have cried along with me this time, too.

One of the moments that brought me to tears was when medical staff told how they were forced to decide who would live and die because there was not enough medication for everyone in need.   If doctors determined I was the most appropriate person to receive the medication it would mean my family members would die.

Let me say that differently.

For you to live, people you love will die.

STOP. BREATHE.

It’s unthinkable. Our hearts cannot bear that thought for long. It hurts too much.

Medical staff explain the situation to one man and ask if he will accept the medication.  He replies, “I accept with my whole heart.” His face and voice will linger long in my memory. I wonder what happened to him, to his family.

Here’s something beautiful so you can relax after all that. But don’t push that feeling away entirely- it’s instructive.

Image from Unsplash.com

Image from Unsplash.com

 

How do tragedies like this happen? How do these stories go unnoticed and untold? Lots of reasons.  It happens because our world is large and complex. It happens because it’s hard to ask questions, to connect, and to find the silence to discover what we know to be right. It happens because it feels like too big a job to create a world that does a better job at producing results more of us want and need.  It happens because knowing hurts.  We’re “busy”. It’s easy not to know. I didn’t. Not about this story. I might might not have known about Dallaire’s story had I not been living in Canada when the book was released.

The encouraging lesson from Fire in the Blood is that real people were able to make a difference. Some of them are  recognizable: U.S. President Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu.  More of them are everyday brave people like you and me.

That’s what the Theory U process and the ULab experience is about. It’s about uncovering these divides between how systems operate and what we want to bring about in the world.  Sitting with that disconnect and discomfort is part of the deal.  Importantly, we don’t stay there. The rest of the process is what we DO with what we learn.

The filmmakers let thousands of ULab participants see Fire in the Blood for free because sharing the story was more important than recovering the costs it took to make. I wholeheartedly (and brokenheartedly) recommend watching Fire in the Blood.  You can see the trailer here and can read more about how this story seemed to choose Dylan Mohan Gray here.  You can rent the film for the cost of one cup of coffee shop java ($1.75) and buy the film to stream and download anytime for about the cost of a latte and cookie ($8.25).

Watch with an open heart and have your hankie handy. If you have friend to cry with, even better.

We all have experiences that shift our understanding of the world and this was one of mine. What have you learned or experienced that allowed you to see the world in a different way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Collage

Do you do anything special to start a new year?  I usually spend the first week of every year engrossed in post-conference survey data analysis and adding my tasks to our team’s work plan.  This year I only worked half time over the holidays and got to do other things.

One of the things I did was unexpected and full blame credit goes to my sister.

You see, my sister shared a Facebook post from Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things describing Gilbert’s love of collage as a tool for reflection and planning.  (I  recommend Eat, Pray, LoveThe Signature of All Things is on my “to read” list.)

Have you ever created a vision board for personal or professional purposes?

It’s been years since I have.  Part of the reason I stay away from vision boards is I dislike the term “vision board”.  It’s too hokey, even for me. (If you want to call it a “vision board”, that’s OK.  You make a “vision board” and I will put quotes around it.)

My sister and her friends were enthusiastic about this and Elizabeth Gilbert is sassysmart.  It sounded like fun and I was surprised by that. I had time, supplies, and old magazines.  Why not? There was no plan or theme. I knew I didn’t want words- only images and patterns.

One of the first images I cut out was a butterfly with a pencil body.  I had to have it! It connected to my desire to come out of my cocoon and write more…and more elegantly.  I found a Keebler ad with three elves in a tent called to mind the joy our family experiences on our backpacking adventures.  The picture of one girl with her arm around another reminds how much I cherish my sister and friends and the importance of compassion, gentleness and taking care of each other. Some of images I liked and didn’t know why (A lace clock?!).  It didn’t matter. I collected them anyway.   The dining room was littered with magazine confetti and I was having a blast long after the official child in our house lost interest.

The next morning it felt incomplete.  I promptly added asparagus, eggplant, ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, and running shoes. Also, more trees.

There was not a single obvious image related to my job. I felt terrible.

Chart scrap glued on and guilt averted, I appreciated the result.  (My scanner wasn’t big enough for the whole collage and the chart scrap got cut off. You’ll have to trust me that it’s there on the real thing.) I still felt bad for leaving my job off the collage in the first pass.

2015Collage

After a week pondering this image I see the reasons WHY I do what I do on the page. The collage expresses what I value most.  Connection…of people and ideas. Recognition… of  what matters most deeply and how hard it can be to know if and when we’re moving in the direction we intend.  Sparkle…from colleagues and committee members who liven up my working world with their insights and personalities.  Space… for growth and learning, reflection and action.  Balance… between multiple forces (the epic battle of asparagus and eggplant vs. ice cream and chocolate cookies).  Fun, silliness, a bit of design.

I like this possible vision of the year- or whatever it is.  What I see will evolve over time as visions tend to do.

What’s images and patterns would you like to see in YOUR new year?

I know you have scissors, glue, and old magazines…

P.S.  Sharing the collage was NOT part of  my plan.  One of the reasons I created this blog was as a place to explore new ideas and things that matter to me. This qualified and I plan to do it more.

One Year, One Thing

 
Image from page 410 of "St. Nicholas [serial]" (1873)Internet Archive Book Images.

Image from page 410 of “St. Nicholas [serial]” (1873)Internet Archive Book Images.

Today Facebook provided  me with my year in review, saving me the trouble of reflecting on the year myself.  (Ha!, nice try, Facebook!)

Facebook’s look back at my year bears little resemblance to how I experienced it.  Facebook missed many high points and all of the low ones. Tis the season for looking back over the year and thinking about the next one. Despite it’s flaws, Facebook’s version of my year had me smiling. It had me sighing, too.

We smile for all we accomplished and sigh for the times we fell short.

We smile for the joys and sigh at the sorrows.

We smile and sigh out of relief, too.

 
This sighing and smiling is important.  We ought to reflect more often. Better, we ought to put what we learn from reflection into action.

Resolutions are not reflection in action. Resolutions are culturally encouraged self-flagellation, lists of the many ways we fall short as professionals, parents, people.

Skip resolutions. Skip the harshness.

The only resolution worth keeping is to no longer make resolutions.

For 2014,  I decided to do ONE THING  I believed would improve my life. I committed to developing a meditation habit again.

In January  I set a target number of meditation minutes I wanted to achieve each month.  (Yes, that’s my evaluator side showing.) To support my practice I completed a series of weekend meditation retreats.  The first one instructed us in the importance of gentleness. Obsessive tracking is anything but gentle.  I stopped  collecting data. Instead, I decided I wanted to sit every day, even for only  5 minutes.  It didn’t always happen, but I didn’t give myself a hard time about it.  I also didn’t pat myself on the back too much about consistency.  I meditated more days than not in 2014.

I haven’t participated in a research study to conclusively document the benefits of my practice,  or measure whether my telomeres are in better shape, but I have seen them and felt them.   Part of meditation is noticing and being gentle about when the mind goes off on one of its tangents.  This is what minds do.  Though I hadn’t anticipated it, being gentle with myself on the cushion allowed me to give myself a break off the cushion.

Gentleness is not permission to be a slacker- it’s simply permission to be a human being with all the glory and grit that comes with it.

My unsolicited advice for 2015 is to pick one thing, ONE THING, that you believe will have a positive impact in your work or personal life and do it.   It could be anything- ANYTHING.  It could be cooking vegetarian food one night a week, or taking a walk around the block, or coloring in a coloring book, or re-learning the language you took in high school,  or taking photographs, or writing 500 words a day, or trying ballet, or mastering a computer language, or keeping a gratitude journal.

Your ONE THING  doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. All that matters is it matters to you.

Do that one thing consistently and with gentleness and see what happens.

I haven’t decided my ONE THING for 2015. Have you?

 

P.S. Yes, I realize the image at the top is crooked.  That’s how it downloaded and I embrace the imperfection of it.  Gentleness, remember?

Lessons from Dad on making a difference

It’s Fire Prevention Week so this post is in honor of  my dad, a retired firefighter and fire prevention educator.

fireprev

Herosim is about concern for other people in need, a concern for defending a moral cause knowing there is a personal cost or risk…and you do it without expectation of reward.

The quote above is by Phil Zimbardo, PhD,  President and Director of Research for the Heroic Imagination Project.  Zimbardo and the HIP team believe we’re all heroes in waiting.   We don’t need a uniform or special training. You can read more about what makes a hero here.

What I found most heroic about my dad was the work he did to prevent fires when not many people saw the value of this approach. Here are few lessons I learned by watching my dad simply do what he was called to do.

Lesson 1: Let yourself be affected by the world.

When I was about 3 my dad found a picture in a firefighting trade magazine that changed his life. A tragic cameo was left behind by a little girl who never woke up when fire stuck her home- her toddler curls silhouetted against the smoky remains of her bed.    Dad knew there had to be another way to fight fires than, “putting wet stuff on red stuff”.  He taught his first fire prevention class not long after he saw that picture- at my nursery school.

Lesson 2: Service is greater than glory.

Dad taught kids how to treat a minor burn, practice exit drills at home and the importance of having and checking smoke detectors.  It was work that lacked the  glory typically associated with the fire service- riding on fire trucks and running into burning buildings.   To be fair, he DID still run into burning buildings.   He simply thought it was a better idea if people didn’t have to do that.

Lesson 3: The unmeasurable matters.

Funding the fire prevention program was a continual battle.  The department leadership wanted proof that the program worked.  Dad’s struggles to justify what he did made me wonder, “how do you measure the non-happening of something?” By observation, I knew my dad made a difference because we couldn’t even get a gallon of milk from Wegman’s  without someone stopping him to chat about fire prevention.  Kids we didn’t know would come yelling, “Fireman Mike, Fireman Mike!”  It drove my sister crazy!  Parents might scowl at Dad, blaming him for having to spend  $40 on new smoke detectors to avoid being pestered to death by their kids.  I’m fairly sure Dad also collected other data about the programs, but this is the one  I remember.

Lesson 4. Be equal with your audience.

Dad studied engineering in college, not fire science.  He finds creative ways to solve problems and is a natural-born story teller.  He used an overhead projector (remember those?) as a kind of diffuser to teach kids the difference between a smell, a scent, and an odor.  He knew fire gear looked scary to kids. He put it on piece by piece so they wouldn’t be scared if a fire fighter ever had to rescue them.  Dad also got on the floor with the kids when he taught. He never talked down to anyone.

Lesson 5.  It’s OK to be many things.  In fact, it’s better and more fun.

Some professions do not come with an “off” switch.  First responders always respond- they can’t help it. Dad has been retired for years and still has a first responder mindset.  He was also co-leader of my Girl Scout troop. He knows something about everything from carpentry to Chinese cooking to the Civil War to cartography.  When I studied Earth Science in 9th grade, Dad took me and my sister on a hike and showed us an esker.  The great thing about Dad’s approach to life is that when he retired, he had no shortage of interests to pursue or ways to have fun.  He also didn’t completely lose his identity when “Fireman Mike” hung up his hat.

Lesson 6:  There are lots of ways to be brave.

Kids often thought it was cool that my dad was a fire fighter.  I saw dad at some “working fires” and witnessed a few emergencies.  It was exciting.  What touched me even more was watching my dad stand up for what he felt to be right even when it wasn’t popular or posed a risk to himself. Doing what you believe when it seems you’re the only one who believes it is brave- as brave as running into burning buildings.

Lesson 7: Be part of a team.

Research indicates heroes are more effective in a network.  Fire fighters are a special kind of team- they’re a professional family.  Police officers are the same way. Dad taught fire prevention with firefighters from other departments.  They partnered with and learned from teachers on curriculum design and content delivery.  They also engaged high school students and members of the National Honor Society to operate the puppets involved in some of the programs. A lot of people got to be involved in making a difference.

Lesson 8:  Always have two ways out and check the batteries in your smoke alarm.

Rather than take the next quiz to find out what brand of hipster you are, take this quiz  on smoke alarm safety. Visit the National Fire Prevention Association website for tools to be smarter about fire safety, or  stop by your local fire department.  Apply your learning and see how you can improve the safety in your home. Sparky the Fire Dog has great kid-friendly resources on his website, too.

Do these things and you’ll be a hero.  It’ll make my dad happy, too.