There’s No Substitute for Practice

A writer friend of mine says, “Thinking about writing is not writing. Only writing is writing.”  The same goes for practice. No matter how much you think about practicing, talk about practicing, plan for practicing, only practicing is practicing. And there is no substitute for practice to make us better at whatever it is that we do.

I’ve always found it odd that doctors call what they do “practicing” medicine. The last thing I want to be while lying on an operating table is an experiment. Experiments can go wrong. But, I get it.

When I was a software engineer, reading about writing software was useful. But, not as useful as actually sitting down at the keyboard and writing code. With each line typed, my skills and abilities improved.

As a ventriloquist, I spend many, many hours practicing. Some in front of a mirror, some while driving in my car, some while walking down the street.  Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s a real drag.

I can always tell when I haven’t been practicing enough. And I suspect you can, too. You walk into that meeting and the prep work you should have done somehow didn’t make your personal priority list. You feel unprepared. Anxious. You spent so much time adding flourishes and adjusting color schemes in your PowerPoint slides that you somehow never found the time to stand up and practice talking through the presentation. So as you stand to give your presentation the great flop sweat hits you hard.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like feeling anxious or unprepared. That is why I practice. Because practice causes exactly the opposite feeling. One of confidence, self-assurance, and fun.

You may not be trying to get to Carnegie Hall, but the answer to the question of “How do you get to …” is still the same.  Practice.

 

Hooray! I Get to go to Work Today!

How many times to do you wake up in the morning and say, “Hooray! I get to go to work today!”  How many more times do we find ourselves saying, “I have to go to work today.”

This week, as we lead up to our annual celebration of Thanksgiving here in the US, I suggest you change that one word, from “have” to “get.”  Try it. Do it consciously every day for 2 weeks. I guarantee you will be amazed at the results.

Don’t just say it to yourself. Tell someone else first thing in the morning.  “I get to go to work today!” Say it with enthusiasm. If you live by yourself, make a habit of calling someone on your way to work. Text them (not while driving, of course!). Post it on social media. Really get into it.

When we can truly change our attitude from thinking we have to do something, to rejoicing in fact that we get to do it, our whole outlook and angle of approach changes – for the better.

Today, I get to go to work.  Hooray!

 

 

Thank you sir. May I have another?

If you want to know how far you can go, allow someone else to kick you in the butt.

Have you ever had a coach? I’m not talking about a cheerleader, I mean a coach.

A coach will let you know when you are doing things right, so that you will keep doing it. But, even more important, a good coach will tell you when you are doing it wrong. And they will push you to go beyond what you think you are capable of accomplishing.

At 52 years old, I am only now realizing the power and value of a coach. My whole life I have learned to do things on my own. I read books. Lots of books. And I’ve watched educational videos, and listened to audio programs. But, I’ve never really allowed an individual into my life in a way that pushed my boundaries beyond the comfort zone.

Until recently.

The details are not important. What is important is that I feel the pain – the growth – the stretch – that is coming from having a coach. It hurts in that good kind of post-exercise kind of way. And I’ll be going back for more.

Who is your coach?

 

Not everyone wants to be a star

Employee recognition can be so difficult. Even the best-intentioned attempts can go awry.

At one company where I worked early in my career, we developed a product called the “STAR”. A team of us worked hard to hit some aggressive timelines. We produced a very good product. It was also a lot of fun.

Shortly after the product was launched, the company held a small celebration to recognize our contributions. As a reward, each of the key people on the development team was presented with their own STAR.  Apparently there is an International Star Registry where you can have your name attached to some obscure otherwise unnamed star.

For the record, my star is Hercules RA 18h 0m 40sd 38(degree) 10.

Oh, what the heck, here’s a photo of my certificate:

My star certificate
My star certificate

I thought this was pretty cool when we received these. So cool that I had mine framed and it has hung in my office at work in every job I’ve had since then.

One of my coworkers was less thrilled.  His exact comment was, “I wish they’d just given me the $50.”

The point? Any employee recognition needs to take into account the personalities of those being recognized. For some, being called up onto a big stage under bright lights in front of their peers is absolutely the worst thing you can do. They would rather be strung up and have their toenails pulled out one by one. For others? A moment in the spotlight is a fantastic reward.

One last thought… Just because it’s hard to get it right, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.  The thought behind the effort really does count. In my experience, keeping it simple is usually the best choice.

 

Laugh every day

Every once in a while, you are blessed with a great boss.  One of my best put that line on my performance plan.

“Laugh every day.”

The beauty of that line is multi-layered.

First, obviously, it’s simply a great idea for all of us to consider every day of our lives.

Second, it tells you a lot about this particular boss. He valued humor, keeping things light, and having fun – every day.

Third, by putting this on my performance plan, it suggested that I should have the same expectation of those who reported to me in the corporate hierarchy. The message was clear: At least in this department, work should be fun.

Don’t get me wrong. He was a tough boss. Demanding. But, he was genuine. Truly interested in you as an individual every bit as much as he was interested in “hitting the numbers” for the business.

Put that line on your performance plan. Make it a specific goal for you to achieve in your work – and in your life – every day.

 

Mediocrity begins with Me

We’ve all heard it, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

But, guess what?  “Mediocrity” begins with “me.”

We may not accept mediocrity from ourselves. We may hold ourselves to high standards. We may work hard to be the best we can be at whatever it is we are doing.

But, if we accept mediocrity from those around us, especially those we lead, we are allowing mediocrity to spread. Not just allowing it, but fostering it.  Feeding it.  Nurturing it.

If we accept “good enough” from those around us, our combined effort has no chance of becoming any more than mediocre.

I don’t know about you, but I refuse to be mediocre. Mediocre is not fun. And if we agree that we won’t accept mediocrity from ourselves, we must accept our role in boosting the performance of those around us.

Stop accepting mediocrity. Right now. Halt its spread.  Refuse to accept it.  From yourself, or from others.

 

Some people won’t get it

Do you often find yourself saying, “They just don’t get it”?  Yeah. Me, too.

I am an avid reader of my daily horoscope.  Today’s was tied directly to the “Work Should Be Fun!” mantra.

Leo: You have an instinct to be playful even in work-oriented situations. Not everyone will understand how this makes things better. That is why your process is best kept private. Let them see the results and wonder how you got them.

(Printed in the Columbus Dispatch, October 22, 2013)

Perfect. Except for that part about keeping it private. After all, that’s why I started this blog.

The bottom line is, enjoying our work leads to higher levels of productivity. One way of bringing more enjoyment to our work is to maintain a playful attitude. (There’s that attitude thing again…)

When you see me with that silly smirk on my face in the middle of a long, boring meeting, don’t worry.  It’s just me thinking playful thoughts. And keeping them to myself.

 

It’s never too late

Ever find yourself pining away for some dream you once had? Do you wish you had taken action on that dream?

It’s not too late.

Here’s an article from the Huffington Post about 13 people you may have heard of who made a significant change in their careers.

OK, sure, so those are famous people. And, by and large, they went from some staid job to a crazy creative job.

Here’s another one. Johnny LeHane, a guy I once worked with at AOL. He left his steady job there to run WAKA – The World Adult Kickball Association.  He’s still at it. And last I checked, loving it.

But, does it always have to be leaving a steady job to do something that sounds crazy to the rest of the working world?

No.

I had another friend who started his working career as an opera singer in the Metropolitan Opera. Yes, that one. To do what? Become a doctor. Which he did. In his early 40’s.

I’m sure you can come up with numerous other examples of people you know and have read about who took a major turn in their careers to do something completely different.

What’s your dream?  It’s not too late.

 

Don’t be a fun-suck

Have you ever witnessed the derailing of an attempt to improve morale?

Many years ago, I was working for a particular corporation during a time of deeply sagging employee morale.  We’ve all been there. The specifics of why morale was lagging are not really important. Just know that it was pervasive and evident to all levels of the organization.

One Tuesday morning, we came to work to find signs posted throughout the building announcing that there would be a “Hawaiian shirt day” on that Friday for no other reason than to have a moment of fun and lighten the mood. Word spread quickly. Interest was piqued. What was this? A moment of fun? Cool.

It didn’t last long.

Later that same day there was an official email memo from the VP of HR making it clear that this was an unsanctioned event and that we were expected to adhere to the dress code, despite the signs.

Any doubt why there was a lack of enthusiasm in the halls?

I still bristle at the memory of this incident. Here was a grass-roots effort to boost employee morale, and it would cost the company nothing. How much easier it would have been for executive leadership to simply allow this moment of levity to brighten the day. Or, even to take credit for this idea that was clearly needed.

In my family, we have a term for this behavior. We call it being a “fun-suck.”  There are three types of people: those who add fun to any situation, those who simply go along for the ride, and those who actively suck the fun out.

Don’t be a fun-suck.

 

The power of “yet”

How many things are on your, “I don’t know how to do that” list?  How about your, “I am not successful at…” list?

Here’s a tip.  Take that same phrase, and add the word “yet” to the end.

I am not making the kind of money I want to make – yet.

I did not get that promotion – yet.

My calendar is not full – yet.

I’m not good at making sales calls – yet.

The power of this simple word is that it leaves open the opportunity for a change in the situation. It drives home the fact that you might simply not know how to accomplish the desired objective – yet. It reinforces the idea that you may still get what it is that you seek. It provides encouragement to continue to push forward in pursuit of your goals.

What have you not accomplished – yet?