Friday, September 16, 2011

Mysterious Careers

So many clients want to be writers, and I’m always happy to help them launch their endeavor – for laughs, part-time, or jump-off-the-boat full-time.

I’m at a mystery writers conference.  At each panel discussion, I’m struck by the writers and how they’ve crafted writing careers.  A few are like Charlaine Harris (creator of True Blood’s Sookie Stackhouse character and author of two dozen mysteries), a doyenne of this conference, who has spent 30 years writing in her upstairs office. 

Many of the authors in attendance have kept their day jobs.  Gianrico Carofiglio is a member of the Italian senate and till he was 40 prosecuted Mafia crimes.  He writes crime novels (Involuntary Witness, among others).  Dennis Tafoya (Dope Thief) is an industrial salesman who crafts novels in his head while on long drives between customers, captures his thoughts at night.  The other published authors here are also professors, writing teachers at senior centers, bartenders, nuclear engineers, parole officers, television producers, union organizers, dancers, retired journalists, Episcopalian priests, ex-cons and carnival workers.  Quite a group, eh?

Some, like Gianrico reached a time in their lives when they said, “If not now, when?” and picked up the pen.  They’ve disciplined themselves to pursue this love by making the time to write and then doing it.  Like Michael Kahn (eight books about attorney Rachel Gold), an intellectual property attorney by day, mystery writer by night.  He writes after dinner.  A client who writes non-fiction sets a goal of a page a day when she’s working on a book.  Another sold his company so he’d have the time to put out his business book.

At the conference are hordes of wannabees, admirers of the genre who reallyreally want to write, but don’t because they fear the blank page, they claim to have no time, they decry the tectonic shifts within the publishing business.

The unifying truths for all of us at this conference are the shared fears, blank pages, time demands, publishing challenges.  What separates the authors from the wannabees, though, is the push through the fear, the time in the writing chair, the march forward despite the fact that everyone knows you can’t do this.

So, dust off your writing quill, crawl to your garret and write that first word.  You could be the next Charlaine.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Surrender to the Model

Experienced in the coaching profession, I was in a coaches’ certification program and getting bad grades from my supervisors. I saw myself as a crackerjack coach, and resented the “just okay” assessments.

“You need to surrender to the model, Rose,” a supervisor said. “You may be a great coach. We don’t assess you on that, but on how skillfully you’re using OUR model. . .and you’re not.”

The same goes for you. You got here because you’re tough, independent, and results-oriented; bulling through is usually a workable strategy for you. It is not your nature to surrender to anything. You like when it’s “my way or the highway.” But sometimes you’re there as part of a bigger whole, and bigger dogs than you are barking about what’s to be done (you can see the fangs, too). Somebody bigger than you said, “You all have to make this work,” You came as a champion of your organization, but other champions similarly fighting to do what seems right to them are just as loud as you.

Sometimes you just have to surrender to the model. Do it with grace, and you just might win the day when toughness wouldn’t. You may have to swallow anger at analysts or say the sound-bite without flushing with anger at the reporter who doesn’t have a clue about your business and didn’t bother to research the issue. You can get into trouble when collaboration, cooperation, and compromise are the order of the day, and you’re behaving like a bijon frise yapping at all the ankles entering the room and tempting the “accidental” kick.

I learned this at one of my first corporate-wide meetings and sat next to an experienced plant manager. The presenter, Mr. Big, was speaking English, but I couldn’t see the problem or the decision that needed to be made. “What are we supposed to do here?” I whispered to my table-mate. “We’re supposed to say, ‘What an excellent program you’ve designed, Mr. Big!’” my colleague replied. It was our job, not to critique or approve the project, but to surrender to his model. It wouldn’t be the last time I would growl about such a colossal waste of people’s time and energy, but that’s the way it was, and still is.

You can probably find plenty of examples of how your knowing-better, impatience, and bullheadedness saved the day. There are also times where these fine qualities stymied the project, slowed progress, derailed fruitful discussion because you wouldn’t pay attention to what was going on around and above you, or look for the opportunity beyond the easy pot-shots you could take at the puffed-up suits. You surely cut yourself off from learning, from finding the clever way, from the relationships you nicked in your rush to be you.

The nature of your job is political. Just acquiesce and go with the program from time to time. Surrendering to the model can move you in the direction you would like to go.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Russian Coach

One day she was just the student splashing next to me in the water aerobics class.  The next she was our instructor, and boy did that class change!  She’d been a swimming coach in Russia.  She had trained kids for the Olympics, and she meant business in these Y waters.  Suddenly this was hard work as she paced the deck, cajoling and sweet-talking us:  “Come, my darlings!  You can do this!  Do one more!  You are wonderful!  More!  Harder!"

It was fabulous.  I was doing More! Harder! and getting better and having more fun than with the Jazz Hands vanilla routines we’d been doing.  While I could barely strut, the bod was also looking better.  Then she was gone after a few weeks – no explanation – and we were back to our mild Muzak moves.  Sigh.

I never forgot how great she made me feel about my possibilities in the water.  She had performance standards and a belief that I could meet them.  She was relentless and I got better than I thought I could be.

Clients learn quickly that I push and believe in them.  I don’t mince words about their reality or their truth. These are scary times, and hand-patting just won’t get them safely through thrashing waters:  the 4000 resumes that are their competition, the fewer jobs that require clever or elbow strategies, getting to the desired next level where the game plays rough.  You have to be able to compete in this environment.  Come on, my darling!  You can do this! 

If you have a coach, I hope it’s a pushy one.  If you don’t, but you need help with an uber challenge – getting a job out of town, changing careers, deciding whether to keep your faltering business open – enlist the aid of your own Russian coach, someone who will push and believe and never let you off the hook.  That’s what gets you to the Career Olympics.

You’ll be a better fishie for it.