Last month the manuscript of my first book, Ground of Your Own Choosing, finally went to the publisher. You can't imagine the relief I feel to be approaching the completion of this intense, time-devouring project.
Putting your voice in the world in whatever form your creativity takes—writing a book, designing a bridge, developing a branding strategy—is exquisite agony. And how long it takes! My journey with writing began fifteen years ago in Bend, Oregon.
I was attending a training with Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute? He was leading us in a skills exercise, encouraging us to think outside the box, and at the time I thought I added the word "writing" to my list of skills simply because I had a pencil in my hand and it was a handy response. Today I would be more inclined to see it as divine intervention.
I was once invited to speak to a class of MBA students, and I started my presentation by asking them how much time they devoted to their jobs. The responses ranged between 40 and 50 hours a week. I asked how much time they gave to their studies, and they answered 10 to 20 hours a week. Then I asked how much time they spent managing their careers, and at first there was silence, then nervous laugher. Finally someone said, "Not much."
This was a group of busy, committed professionals who were adding graduate studies to already crowded schedules in the hope of advancing their careers. But they were not doing the spadework necessary to make real progress possible. Even worse, most of the questions they asked me were about relatively minor concerns such as what color stationery was best for resumes!
It's unfortunate that the only thing most people know how to do to take care of themselves professionally is to put together a resume. A resume is a necessary evil, but by itself it won't get you the job you want. It is only a starting point. Its real value is to you, not a prospective employer; in creating a resume you go through the exercise of articulating your selling points, which becomes the cornerstone of everything you do to claim the work you want to do.
Notice that I said, "claim the work you want to do," not "find your next job." This important distinction points out the reason for seeking out career assistance.
Small business owners and managers may not have the six-figure incomes, paneled offices and private jets of corporate executives but they have the same responsibility—leadership.
Top managers do not spring into existence out of nowhere.They are selected because they are suited for the job, and they are carefully groomed through extensive training and a highly structured career path. They don't just wake up one morning and find themselves in charge.
Small business owners, on the other hand, often do, and many of them are ill-equipped for it.
It is critical that a person who is thinking about starting a business find out how well she fits the leadership role she will have to assume. Corporations use tools to evaluate candidates for management, and small business owners should do the same.
Ask small business owners why some of them fail and they'll tell you it's because they don't make enough money. This makes about as much sense as saying that Enron went under because the price of its stock fell.
It begs the question, why don't they make enough money, and misses the opportunity to seek out fundamental causes like:
Volume 6 of the newsletter, January-December, 2007, consists of the serialized chapters of Ground of Your Own Choosing by Beverly Ryle.
Because the content of these issues is available in revised and expanded form in the book, as of December, 2007 it is no longer available online.
I was standing in line at one of those office superstores to buy a plastic file box as preparation (and motivation) for the annual ritual of cleaning up my files, and I happened to glance up at a huge poster with an incredible promise. There, within that very building, it claimed, was everything I needed to be "wildly organized".
Like all clever advertising, the idea had its appeal, particularly for someone trying to keep a lot of balls in the air, someone who felt just the opposite—confined and out of control.
But is it possible to be "wildly organized"?
I'm sitting in the cozy living room of a house perched on the side of a steep hill overlooking Skaneateles Lake. (Pronounced "skinny-atlas", it's the second easternmost of New York's Finger Lakes).
From my comfortable wide-armed mission chair I have a 180-degree view of the calm, glistening water through the windows that surround me on three sides. There is no sound except for the gentle lapping of the waves, the chatter of a kingfisher, and the clicking of the keys on my computer.
I am on retreat from the office, from my complicated schedule, from being flat out.
My decision to come here was a strategic decision, and I use the word "strategic" intentionally for three reasons.
First, because one of the best things I can do for my clients (and myself) is to leave them periodically.
Second, because how I "lead" in my personal life is just as much a function of being a leader as how I run my business.
And lastly, I have to use the same care and diligence in planning renewal time as I do in planning any other element of my professional life. It's the only way I can keep it from slipping away from me.
As I rushed home to catch Andre Agassi in the final stage of his transformation from tennis celebrity to endearing human being at the US Open last month, I was looking forward to the tennis, but dreading the commercials.
Yet much to my surprise, one of the ads spoke to me with the power and precision of a 130 mph ace about a phenomenon that universally limits human potential—labeling.
In the ad, we see an attractive young woman (Maria Sharapova) entering the Waldorf Astoria in New York, walking through the lobby, emerging from her room after a change of clothes, getting into a cab outside the hotel, and arriving at Arthur Ashe stadium.
She moves with a straightforward, I-know-where-I’m-going demeanor past doormen, desk clerks, elevator operators, business men, security guards, etc., and each person she passes sings, in his or her own cracking, out-of-pitch voice, Stephen Sondheim’s tribute to being female from West Side Story, “I Feel Pretty”.
Thirty-four years ago this month, I put my oldest daughter on a school bus for the first time. The emotions that were a part of that day come back to me every year when I see school supplies on sale, and when the first day of school comes around and I see kids congregated at the bus stop at the end of our road, I relive the experience.
You don’t forget how frightened and small your firstborn looks climbing aboard a big yellow bus that is taking her away from you. I can still see her bravely walking toward the steps in a new dress and shiny shoes, biting her lip and clutching a Flintstones lunchbox, a large name tag handpainted by her kindergarten teacher (it was tear-stained by the time she got back home) hanging from a purple wool string and flapping in the breeze.
I hid my feelings behind a camera, and when the pictures came back (we sent them away in those days) I discovered there were a dozen of the school bus pulling away that I didn’t remember taking!
Today you enter the Boott Cotton Mill at the Lowell National Historical Park the same way that the thousands who worked there from 1835 through the early twentieth century did—through the white wood Gothic-arched doorway leading to a five-story spiral staircase enclosed in a vertical brick tower.
Although the stairs are made of stone, they are worn by the steps of the countless men, women and children who passed up and down them for almost a century.
They went to work when the bell rang at first light and left twelve to fourteen hours later, depending on the season, when the bell rang again to mark the end of the day. It was grueling work, and many died.
For those of us who live on the outer part of this hook of sand known as Cape Cod, Hyannis is our “big city”. It’s where most of the big stores we shop in and the larger businesses and organizations we rely on are located.
To get there, you almost always have to deal with heavy traffic, especially during the warmer half of the year when the second-homeowners and the tourists are with us, but if you know your way around, you can avoid a lot of congestion and a good deal of aggravation by getting off Route 132, the main road in from the highway, and turning right onto Bearse’s Way.
On the Saturday morning last May I was scheduled to make a presentation in the conference room of a community bank, that was exactly what I intended to do.
I am often asked to present at large business gatherings, the kind that offer ample opportunities for networking.
Recently at a particularly well attended event, I overheard a woman who was just leaving say with great excitement that she had had a great networking day.
She had come with a hundred business cards and was leaving without a single one!
When I heard this, I couldn't help thinking of all the times I've put my hand in my jacket pocket after one of these events and pulled out a handful of business cards without a clue who the people were or why I thought I'd ever want to talk with them again. They were just names to me.
On the other hand, whenever I've had a real conversation with someone and felt a genuine connection, I've always made a point to get their contact information, even if I had to jot it down on the back of a napkin or a receipt.