success

“Passion”

On networking sites like LinkedIn, and in biographies for keynote speakers – and in way too many other work-related contexts – it’s now almost obligatory for people to state their “passion”. However, these “passions” are, in many cases, so generic as to be meaningless – seriously, who doesn’t want to do something like make other people happy? And many statements of “passion” are often so jargon-laden that it’s difficult to tell exactly what the person gets excited about.

I was going to write a post about the awful superficiality of this expectation to be “passionate”. But then I came across a post on the same topic by Mark Manson. He says everything I was going to say – and he expresses it with genuine passion. Enjoy!

 

“What Makes You Happy?”

My friend Kimbirli Macchiaverna has been a nurse for 20 years, and was a certified nursing assistant for a decade before that. Even though she works in an extremely challenging occupation – one with difficult demands and tasks that change every day – she has a great sense of humour and an unfailingly positive attitude toward life that I really admire.

A few weeks ago, Kimbirli wrote a Facebook post on the advice she gave to another nurse about “liking” her job even when it was tough. With Kimbirli’s permission, I’m reproducing her post here. Although her comments are in the context of nursing,  anyone in any kind of job can find something to think about in what she has to say. (more…)

The World Figure Championship: An Interview with Pamela Giangualano-Roberts

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about figures in figure skating, and why I missed them. I thought the post wouldn’t be interesting to that many people – figures haven’t been part of international skating competition since 1990, and skaters now have very little opportunity to even practice figures. But much to my surprise, that post turned out to be one of the most popular posts ever on this blog. That indicated to me that within the skating world, and among skating fans, there was still a lot of love for figures.

This year, a group of professional skaters decided to bring figures back into competition, and organized the inaugural World Figure Championship. To qualify for this event, skaters either had to have competed at the Olympics or the World Championships before 1992, or had to have passed the gold (eighth) figure test, which was the highest-level figure test in the US and Canada. So, as you can imagine, all the participants were very experienced skaters, and the competition itself was intense. The Championship was held in late August in Lake Placid, New York – site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics – and my friend Pamela Giangualano-Roberts was one of the competitors.

I first met Pamela in the early 2000s in Lethbridge, Alberta, at one of the very first adults-only skating competitions in Canada. Pamela had come to the event with her skating friends from Calgary, and although she wasn’t competing, I could tell from how intently she watched us that she was thinking about whether she could do this. So I sat next to her and gave her my enthusiastic “skating is really fun, anyone can do it, you should give it a try” spiel. Imagine how stupid I felt later on when I found out that Pamela was the 1986 Canadian national junior ladies’ champion, and as a senior-level skater had represented Canada at international skating competitions. Pamela kindly overlooked that gaffe on my part, and she did come back to skating. And all of us adult skaters who know her are in awe of her drive and determination. At age 27 – much older than most of her competitors – she qualified for and competed at the 2002 Canadian national skating championships, 13 years after her last appearance at that event. She is now a tireless advocate for adult skating, as a coach, as an event organizer, as a club administrator, and as a skater herself.

Pamela agreed to let me interview her via email about her journey to the World Figure Championship, and her experiences at that competition. As you will see from her answers, Pamela not only has an extensive technical knowledge of figures, but she also truly appreciates why figures are so important to skating. (more…)

Songwriters on Success

As much as I love music, the process of songwriting has always been a complete and utter mystery to me. I understand how to put words together, I understand how melodies and chords work, but combining all of those into something listenable is a skill I just don’t have. And I think that’s why I’m so interested in interviews with songwriters talking about their work.

I recently finished reading Jake Brown’s book Nashville Songwriter: The Inside Stories Behind Country Music’s Greatest Hits. I have to admit that I mostly stopped listening to country music around 2005 or so. I just got tired of artists that were pushed because of their looks rather than the quality of their music. And I was fed up with too many formulaic songs about trucks, beer and girls (or guys), and “country” songs that were substandard pop songs dressed up with a fiddle or lap steel guitar. So my choices for “country music’s greatest hits” would probably be quite different from Brown’s; here’s one that would definitely be on my list.

Because I don’t pay a lot of attention to country music any more, I don’t know all of the songs and artists that are mentioned in Brown’s interviews with 20 different songwriters. But nevertheless, the book was a fascinating read – and I found it particularly interesting that (more…)

“Why I F***ing Hate Unicorns and the Culture They Breed”

Short cuts are one path to success, but they’re a very perilous path. And when a short-cut mentality starts to dominate an industry like tech startups, it not only threatens the stability of the entire industry – it also downplays the reality of the day-to-day gruntwork that builds a sustainable, solid product. In the words of venture capitalist Mark Suster,

I blame unicorns. Not the successful companies themselves but the entire bullshit culture of swash-buckling startups who define themselves by hitting some magical $1 billion valuation number and the financiers who back them irrespective of metrics that justify it. Unicorn has become part of our lexicon in a sickening way and will no doubt become part of the history we tell about how things got so out of control again….

Victory on the field is more often a result of three yards and a cloud of dust. I like that. So, too, startups. It’s not about being on stage at a Demo Day or featured in an article in TechCrunch or closing a $20 million round. It’s about continually shipping code. It’s about putting out menacing bugs. It’s about a 6:15am flight to a customer in Detroit in Winter for a $200k deal to hit your budget for the quarter….

It’s really about love. And sacrifice. And hard work. And putting in the daily things that it takes to achieve great things. And how in the daily routine of being yourself, committing to goals and just living life, you realize that goals were easier to obtain than you had imagined.

Suster expresses his frustration in this brilliant blog post. Please read the whole thing – it’s worth your time.

(H/t Allison Manley)

A Tribute to Bill Watterson’s Perspective on Success

The work of cartoonist Bill Watterson is widely loved and respected, but Watterson has had a most unconventional career path. His comic strip Calvin and Hobbes was one of the most successful cartoons of the late 1980s and early 1990s – but Watterson resisted all attempts to commercialize the strip and its characters. No animated movie, no TV series, no stuffed toys or other merchandise. And when Watterson felt the comic strip had “said all it had to say”, he graciously ended it. Other than a few unexpected projects and guest appearances since then – like in 2014,  when Watterson anonymously took over a week of Stephan Pastis’ comic strip Pearls Before Swine – Watterson has worked on whatever he wants to, whenever he feels like it, and stayed out of the public eye.

One of my friends showed me this comic by artist Gavin Aung Than, who runs a website called Zen Pencils. Than was frustrated with working in corporate graphic design, and quit his job to create a career in what he found personally rewarding: choosing inspirational quotes and drawing cartoons to illustrate them. Zen Pencil is a wonderful site; the quotes are carefully selected, and Than’s artwork is astounding – especially when he is illustrating the words of another artist (Calvin and Hobbes fans will recognize the visual reference in the last panel of this comic). Than’s commentary on his Watterson comic explains very eloquently why Watterson’s work is so highly regarded by other cartoonists, and why Than personally was inspired in his work by Watterson’s unconventional choices. Here’s Watterson’s words and Than’s images, in a beautiful and profound commentary on what “success” really looks like. (more…)

Business and Creativity: Cautionary Tales

When I worked as a music writer, one of the most fascinating things about the job was getting to see the business side of the music industry. While I met many people who genuinely believed in their company’s artists and did all they could to support them, I also regularly saw musicians and creative people get exploited. Even as a lifelong music fan, the scope and extent of this exploitation was a shock to me. Many artists’ contracts were astoundingly one-sided – and not in the artist’s favour –  and it was very easy for artists to quickly get into financial trouble, even if they were successful and smart.

Those experiences left a lasting impression on me. During the contract negotiations for the first edition of my textbook, I asked questions that my publisher’s representative later told me he had never had an author ask before. I had to explain to him that after seeing things like all the “recoupable expenses” that record companies routinely deducted from artists’ earnings, I wanted to be absolutely sure of what kind of contract I was getting into. And I also wanted to have at least some chance to make money from my work.

I don’t hold any illusions that things have gotten any better for artists in the years since I wrote about music. Taylor Swift recently got a lot of attention for boycotting Apple’s new music streaming service when she found out it wasn’t going to pay artists during its first three months of operation. Good for her for speaking up  – but there’s many, many other creative people who get ripped off and who don’t have the public profile or commercial power to demand fair treatment. Here’s two examples I recently encountered. (more…)

D.F.L. (Dead F***ing Last)

When you look at competition results, there are several acronyms that you might see next to athletes’ names, such as DNQ (did not qualify), DNF (did not finish), and WD (withdrew). But there’s also an unofficial acronym, and it represents a placement that most competitors will experience at least once in their careers. That acronym is DFL – dead f***ing last.

In the “winning is everything” ethos of competing, DFLing is something to be ashamed of, to avoid, to move on from. We assume that the DFLer choked, or didn’t train hard enough, or shouldn’t have entered the event in the first place. Sometimes we celebrate DFLers for their persistence and determination, like ski jumper Eddie the Eagle at the 1988 Winter Olympics. But more often than not DFLing is an embarrassment, and the only response that’s considered appropriate from the DFLer is either to quit competing or to work extra hard so as not to finish last again.

However, there’s another way to think about DFLs. As described in a recent article by runner Lauren Fleshman, a DFL placing can turn out to be (more…)

Beyond the B-School: Alternatives to the MBA for HR and IR Practitioners

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is widely perceived as the graduate degree to acquire if you’re in business. But if you’re interested in human resource management or industrial relations (HR/IR), doing an MBA presents a particular set of challenges.

One problem is that MBA programs are expensive. At many universities, the pricing of these programs is based on the assumption that the student’s employer will subsidize the cost – which may not always be true. The cost of an MBA program is an issue for many potential students, but cost may be a particular challenge for HR/IR practitioners – especially those whose education might not be subsidized – because HR jobs tend to pay less than other business-related jobs.

Another problem is (more…)

When “Best Practices” Aren’t Best

Anyone who went to business school around the same time I did remembers “excellence”. Specifically, that was Tom Peters’ book In Search of Excellence, which described how companies could improve by copying what great companies did well. That book sparked a management fad of benchmarking – which then morphed into the idea of “best practices”. But now, unfortunately, it looks like the very sound ideas behind “best practices” are being lost and corrupted by corporate doublespeak.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across more than a few examples of organizations using “best practices” as a reason to reduce or cancel services. The explanation usually goes something like this: the organization has “benchmarked” itself against similar organizations, or looked at other organizations’ “best practices”, and allegedly found that other organizations are doing less of a certain thing, or doing that thing less expensively. This then becomes a justification for the organization to downgrade its own offerings.

This use of “best practices” is not what was originally envisioned. Although Peters has admitted that his investigation of “excellence” was not as rigorous as it could have been, nevertheless his book had a powerful practical message.  (more…)