Self Improving

Every time that you think you have it figured out, the universe comes along and teaches you that there are a few more lessons and tricks to learn. Being content with the status quo doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did.

I became aware again this week about the overwhelming volume of negative messaging emanating from people fully immersed in a culture perpetuating the status quo. Government is an easy scapegoat here, and if they were the only institution with this problem, then we might simply dismiss them and their antagonistic talking points.

I read this on Monday, which has become a customary workforce and employment narrative about Generation Y coming from employers. They’re lazy, they don’t want to work, they’ve been pampered, helicoptered—pick a descriptor or lament about them—it’s always “their” fault.

Of course, there are two sides to every story, and Adam Weinstein offers an alternative narrative. My take is that he makes some legitimate points. More germane to the discussion in my opinion is that he addresses the kind of structural issues—underemployment, low wages, debt—that the business class and the Chamber of Commerce types never seem to notice, or in fact, actually work towards perpetuating.

My post today is less about looking at others, and instead, observing my own face in the mirror. It’s easy to notice faults in others because they’re probably things we’re intimately aware of in ourselves. There’s always the opportunity to do a little bit of work, and makeover that face looking back at you.

I’m a fan of listening to books while driving. If you have a commute of 30 minutes or longer, you can tear through a wealth of material in a year’s time. Even if you are a free agent like me, you do more than your share of driving, so when you are in the car, pop a CD in the dash and learn some new things.

I’ve been listening to Lisa B. Marshall’s Smart Talk: The Public Speaker’s Guide to Success in Every Situation. Those last few words in the title grabbed me when I saw it. I thought, “In every situation?” That’s what I want to be successful in; every situation!

One of my books I'm listening to in the car.

One of my books I’m listening to in the car.

My first reaction often when beginning a new book, especially the self-help variety, is that there isn’t anything new here; I already know this. Well that’s part of the point, I think. Sometimes we just have to be reminded.

I am an experienced public speaker. I’ve spoken to groups ranging in size from 5 to 500. I’m comfortable with, and can hold my audience’s interest and attention for 20-30 minutes; I have stories to tell, experiences to draw upon, and I continue to work on my presentation skills. What else do I need to know? Actually, after about 20 minutes of listening to Marshall, I now know—quite a bit.

What I’ve been learning listening to this book is that I don’t need a host of new skills. My networking capacity and ability to message and communicate are strong.  I’m keenly aware of the basics that Marshall’s covering. Getting up and presenting in public isn’t something I dread. I actually enjoy it. Even better, however, has been the realization that if I invest a little time at some of the techniques that she’s talking about, and hone in on improving what I’m strong at, the potential to be better is right around the corner for me.

Friends and colleagues have heard me talk about intentional partnerships often. A key element often overlooked when working with a group, is recognizing the individual abilities and talents of those that make up the collective whole, working towards a common goal. That’s the intentional part of partnership.

Working collaboratively gets talked about a lot. What many people mean is that they want to leverage your talents and abilities when it benefits them, and when it doesn’t any longer, then it’s out the door you go. That’s not partnership; that’s being exploitive.

One particular section of Marshall’s book that I listened to yesterday while driving to Lewiston and then Portland, spoke to an area that she called, “restorative feedback.” It was eye-opening and I had to pull over several times and jot down notes. Even better, I realize that this is one of those books that will end up on my bookshelf, and I’ll refer back to it over and over again.

Is it possible to teach an old dog, new tricks? It is if the dog is big enough to admit that he doesn’t know it all and is committed to continual improvement and growth.

What area in your life could use work and would benefit from improvement? The large question is, are you willing to work at improving it over the next 30 days?

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