No windup

I do four kinds of exercise: play squash, run, swim, and do yoga. A more accurate portrayal is that I mostly play squash, and do the other three every so often. This week, though, because of the warmer weather, earlier sunrise, and jetlag, I’ve run four times in 8 days.

One of the things that’s beautiful about running is that there’s almost no windup and wind-down: no place to drive to, no plan to make, no excess anything on either side. In 45 minutes set aside for a run, 40 of those minutes are spent running. Get dressed, lace up your shoes, and go.

Early yesterday morning, tired and cranky, I was wondering why I had dragged myself out of bed to run two days in a row. I had finished tying my shoes and I was standing at my back door looking for some way to stall (what I would have given for a fifteen minute drive to the gym!) It felt like there was a physical barrier I had to push through to get myself up and out the door. I walked out of my house, walked onto the street, kept walking for one more block, started the music on my phone, and finally had no choice but to start jogging slowly.

Similarly, earlier this week a colleague and I found ourselves with only 35 minutes at the end of a long day in which to get some important work done. Neither of us seemed up for it and I almost suggested we not bother. We chatted and stalled for a little, and we nearly got pulled into email on our open laptops. But then we began.

In both cases – the run and the 30 minute conversation that should have taken two hours – it was easy to be fooled that I needed more windup, more buffer, more something between me and the work.

Then I get out there and reconfirm what I seem to need to relearn each and every time: that the windup is nothing more than stalling; and that the correlation between how I feel beforehand and how the work goes is nearly zero.

What we need from you

What we need from you isn’t better thinking, more analysis and caveats, the low-probability risks you’ve explored, and how you’ve smoothed the edges.

What we need from you is the fearlessness to put your best ideas out in the open,

unadorned

for everyone to see.

Not more smarts, more courage.

Easy, Hard

I’ve noticed over my last six years of fundraising how different new relationships can take different paths – often self-reinforcing.

Sometimes, despite everything you do, it’s just hard.  I remember a few years ago one donor who, no matter what I did, I seemed to mess things up.  I’d reach out for a meeting and it would be the only day he had to be out of town.  I’d invite him to an event only to be told that he’d told someone else on our staff know that breakfasts never work for him.  I’d write an email and misspell his wife’s name.

And then other times it’s easy, it flows.  From logistics to the flow of the conversation to each step in building the relationship, it feels like everything is just working right and is easy.

The trick is figuring out what part of this is substance, what part of it is you listening or not, and what part of it is just luck.

In mid-2012 I was preparing to head out of town for a major fundraising meeting that I’d worked months to schedule – at least 20 emails and careful cultivation before and along the way.  And then, an an hour before I was to leave for the train, I got a migraine (one of 3-4 I get each year).  That was eight months ago and I still haven’t managed to reschedule the meeting.

Seven months later, it came full circle.  I had another out-of-the-blue introductory meeting that I knew little about going in, but it looked like it had potential.  As I sat down for the meeting I thought another migraine was coming on.  It was bad enough that when I sat down with this person I’d never met before, I said, “I’m sorry, I may just have to leave in 10 minutes because I think I have a migraine coming on, but let’s start our conversation.”  He rolled with it, so did I, and we jumped in.  Thankfully I didn’t get a migraine – and instead we have, since then, been building a great, new relationship that is already going from strength to strength.

If you’re just starting out as a fundraiser, you might not have the experience or the pattern recognition to decipher what’s what or to see that you can’t control each and every situation and how it plays out.  All you can do is keep at it, do your best, and continue to listen and to be present.

Two runs

I just got back from vacation, which, when I’m not running after our three little kids, affords some time to exercise regularly.  I’m still running with my “barefoot” Vibram shoes (which I love, and which are the reason I’m back running after a 10 year hiatus), though infrequently enough that doing three runs in a week felt like a major milestone.

Trying to overcome my natural tendency to overdo it, my first two runs were identical and not too strenuous: 3.5 miles first thing in the morning on very flat terrain.

But of course the runs weren’t identical.

The first run was a first run after a few weeks off.  I felt sluggish, plodding.  For the first mile I was running into what felt like 15 mph headwinds, listening to a beautiful late Schubert piano Sonata which is great for inspiration but doesn’t seem to get the legs churning.  On the last mile of the run a new blister started burning and I slowed down a lot.  It was, overall, the kind of run you’re glad you did once it’s done.

Two days later, things felt totally different.  I felt light, felt like I was moving, I was listening to a “running mix” that always gets me moving faster.  I kept on picking up the pace through the whole run.  It felt great.

Thanks to the wonders of a new iPhone app called Strava, I was able to see how different the two runs really were.  The first one took 27:57 (an 8:08 minute mile).  The second took 26:41 (a 7:46 mile).

Yup, the difference between plodding / struggling /limping to the finish and “flying” was a minute and 13 seconds.

Sure, this could be a reflection of me as a runner, but it’s also about the stories we tell ourselves.

Our highs and lows aren’t so different from each other: we’re not as great as we think we are on our great days, nor nearly as terrible as we feel like we are on the bad days.  But the difference between showing up and staying home?  That one is monumental.

Showing up, fully, and giving full effort is what counts.

And going a lot easier on yourself on the days that feel like the bad ones.

Above and beyond

No one’s going to tell you that now’s the moment.

 

Synchronized parking

Walking down West 15th street at 8:50am the other day, I watched a big NYC street sweeping truck rumble down one side of the street.  That side of the street was clear of cars because of New York’s alternate-side parking regulations: it’s illegal to park on the north side of 15th street from 8:30 to 10:00am on Mondays and Thursdays.

So far, nothing remarkable going on here.

Then, within seconds of the street sweeper passing by, three cars, as if on cue from some invisible maestro, swung simultaneously to the other side of the street, with the grace and unison of synchronized swimmers.  I’d never seen cars do ballet before.

The sign said no parking until 10am, but at 8:51, they’d moved to the other side of the street.  Were they all ready to wait another 69 minutes, or do they know that once the street sweeper passes by, they’re not getting a ticket?

The exact point is that I don’t know the answer here but they do.  Why?  Because they’re the real insiders, who care the most (about that parking spot), who know how the rules are played, who understand all the constraints and limitations and where rules can be bent.

There are a lot of rules that are in place for good reasons (we need clean streets), lots of norms that tell us what we can and cannot do that are a great guide for our actions.  And there are those that aren’t.

Figuring out which is which takes time.

This is why there are no shortcuts, why mastery takes 10,000 hours, why people who seem to bend the world to their will soon discover, once they’ve done it once, that they can do it again and again.

(It’s also why caring the most matters.  Whether those folks in the three cars waited there for 5 minutes or 69 minutes, they got those parking spots for free for the next three days.)

*                       *                       *                       *                       *

For those who liked yesterday’s post about Kevin Kelly, his essay from the book is available on Kevin’s blog.

We can’t argue about pinball any more

It was my first summer internship at my first real job.  One day at lunch I had a mock-heated discussion with a colleague about whether pinball was a game of skill or luck.  I argued for “skill” and as evidence offered up the fact that pinball tournaments exist in the world, which wouldn’t make sense for a game that’s pure luck.

My colleague didn’t believe me.  He claimed that there was no such thing as a pinball tournament.

And so a bet was struck: I needed to prove, irrefutably and by the end of the workday, that pinball tournaments existed.

This involved rushing back to my desk, finding a Yellow Pages, searching for pinball dealers in the Washington, DC area, and, from there, cobbling together a list of contacts until someone would send me a faxed entry form for an upcoming pinball tournament.

Of course this story is quaint today because we can no longer argue for more than a few seconds about this sort of thing.   If this were happening today, the argument would be resolved between sandwich bites by typing “pinball tournaments” into someone’s smartphone.

Less romantic, more efficient.

The fact is that nothing factual is out of reach these days.  While it wasn’t out of reach 20 years ago when I made this bet, the friction has been reduced to zero.  So if you want to know the difference between a Roth IRA and a regular IRA; if you want to know what “suited connectors” are in Texas Hold ‘Em and when to play them; if you want to learn how to knit or sharpen a knife or which mortgage is right for you or even what this whole debt ceiling debate is really about….well all of these answers are literally a click away.

So our ignorance about any topic is, in the most literal sense, willful in a way it never was before.  This is great news for people willing to make two (just two!) decisions:

  1. To be the kind of person who seeks answers, even when it’s scary
  2. To choose where to deepen your knowledge and to act on that decision by spending your time accordingly

That’s it.

No more pinball arguments, but so much more freedom for those willing to take that first step.

The work of blogging

The days I’m not ready to write, the days I don’t feel like I have something to say, the days that I have to burn the midnight oil, the days I have to scramble….those are the days I’m doing the work.

What is the work, exactly?  Many things, but partly it is earning the right to have the days when lightening strikes, the days full of great leaps forward, the days it comes easy.

This is how it is with everything: we do the hard work in between the peaks, we toil along, even when it isn’t pretty.  And when we get to the top, the view sure is beautiful, all the more so when you can share it with people that matter (all of you)

So thank you for helping me do the work.  I’m positive I wouldn’t do it without you.

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Be a Sawgot (SWGTD)

Are you a “sawgot,” Someone Who Gets Things Done?

If you’re not now, what would it take?

With an ever-shifting economy, and all of the challenges in the job market, I can think of few skills more universal than being a sawgot.  Because when it’s crunch time and something absolutely needs to happen, the people in charge look at each other and say, “OK, we need our ace right now.  The game’s on the line.”  And you want to be that ace.

Being a sawgot is about a mindset and an outlook: having the humility not to ask “why am I doing something that’s not in my job description?” and the wisdom to know that moment you’ve become the kind of person who reliably makes problems go away, you’ve become indispensable.

This is particularly valuable early in your career, when you’re looking to stand out.  If you work in the kind of organization that creates opportunities and moves quickly, the sawgot’s ability to move a project forward, on time and without (visibly) breaking a sweat is the kind of thing that gets you noticed (and if it doesn’t get you noticed, go work somewhere where it does).

Speed, accuracy, an ability to ask the right questions to get enough clarity to do what is being asked of you…these are the starting point.  There is also a trove of really basic skills that you just need to have – and which there’s no excuse not to have mastered by now.  You:

  • Create clean, attractive, simple slides in Powerpoint: few words, great images, tell a story (this implies some facility with Photoshop).
  • Generally “do stuff” with ease in Excel (this includes formulas and pivot tables and some data analysis and text-to-columns and Lookups).
  • Write clearly, concisely, quickly, and at the right level of detail
  • Manage projects against deadlines, and get things done early
  • Never let things fall through the cracks
  • Know how to create content for the web (including poking into the code here and there if you need to) – and are comfortable creating and sharing multimedia quickly and easily
  • Reliably create narratives from a set of inchoate inputs / sources
  • Know just a little bit more than your boss about what’s new and useful in the world, including but not limited to the online world

The skills allow you to dance at the party, but the sawgot’s ATTITUDE gets you in the door.  You don’t want to jump into so many things that you cannot do your day job, but if, right now, you’re not working on one or two things that you’d describe as, “this is outside of the scope of what I do, but it really matters that our team/group/organization/company gets this right,” then it’s time to put up your hand and say, “how can I help?” or “why haven’t you asked me to help?”

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Darn breakthroughs

Turns out they only happen after you’ve been chipping away for so long and working so hard, you almost forget what it felt like when you started.

Next chisel, please…

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