What knowledge is important to you? What will make a difference? And how often have you opted in to receive the best, the greatest and the latest time-limited “knowledge” in your email inbox that you just have to have?
I’m culling. That’s right. I’m unsubscribing like crazy. Yet I know people who say they get several hundred emails a day, and seem proud of it until they have to deal with all that chaotic information. You’re one of them? Why am I not surprised? We’ve become hoarders of email, and is there any stopping it?
The original word “cull” comes from early French “coillir” meaning to put through a strainer. That’s kind of interesting because the original word for to collect was the Latin “colligere” meaning to gather together. Ironic, isn’t it. Now I’m going to sort through what I’ve gathered so as to discard it!
Am I making any sense? For me, yes. If you were to look at my email inboxes and see how much is in there, you’d agree. The trouble is so many of these emails are much the same. If you know anything about online marketing the practice is to send out at least seven emails or more until the customer you’re after finally relents, opens it, and takes you up on the offer. “I’ll buy. Just stop sending me any more messages.”
Do they? Fat chance! There’s a new product, a new service that you simply have to know about. How can you stop this new offer? At the source. You unsubscribe and even then, you’re not totally certain that their unsubscribe button actually works because some messages keep showing up.
Of course, there are emails that we actually do want, that are important to us. They’re the ones that have no hook to proclaim they’re the greatest and best, or demand that you take up their offer by the expiry time – which is an hour from now based on that ticking clock.
Unfortunately, because of the hype and noise, I have missed many an email that meant something. It slipped through the cracks.But do I care? I’ve gotten to a stage where the answer is yes and no. I’ve missed items that I should have dealt with. That can hurt. But I have far more than I need, on topics I don’t care about, with absurd offers that both my practical and intuitive mind have determined are a waste of my time.
What about you? How deep is your email “in basket”? A thousand or more? I’ve been there. Not any more. I’m committed to zero my inboxes. For those I want to keep, I’ll have a few special boxes that I’ll check a couple of times a week.
Otherwise, I’ll cull them! You should join me!
Is it possible to do a workout with words?
I wondered about that as I finished my stint on the treadmill and proceeded to another machine to do pull ups. Those pull ups are tough by the way. Are words any easier?
My workout is designed to help me stay in shape and deal with specific problems like my shoulders. Working out with words happens every time I write, or read, or have a conversation. Can I find the right words, or combination of words, or word sequence that conveys what I’m thinking? That can often be very difficult, especially when you don’t want to use the same word twice and your thesaurus gives you virtually no options.
You know where it’s tougher? When you’re trying to rhyme something and matching words don’t exist. But back to the point: What do you do when you know in your mind the kind of word you’re after – to convey that exact meaning – and it doesn’t show up.
You play with it. You turn a sentence around. You come up with a phrase of seven words when you’d like to have only one. That’s when you step away from this particular exercise and focus on something else.
I read what I write out loud. You should too. There’s a trap though. Half an hour ago you were happy with a particular sentence and its word combination. And now you have this niggling doubt that what you’ve written doesn’t quite do it. So you play around some more.
You try different words, another combination of words, until you are semi satisfied. That’s like going half way through a workout on a stationary bike and deciding that you should have been on an elliptical or rower instead. And it’s not perfect. And therein, Shakespeare says, lies the rub. It’s not perfect.
I confess, I like to find the right word; because the right word fits like a glove. But what if you can’t, or you’re in a rush to complete something and it has to be delivered to a professor, or an employer, or part of a competitive bid, or a government report. As long as what you’ve written conveys the meaning, the gist of what you want to get across, then maybe you leave it.
So it's not perfect. You’ve done your best, your verbal workout, and you send if off. In so many cases it is better to get what you’ve written into action, imperfect though it may be.
Then what happens? You’ve delivered your work, and you go to bed. And voila! At 5:35 am your brain delivers the perfect word sequence you were after. But that’s life!
Will you remember what you did a year, five years, twenty years after the fact. Will you remember the names of the people in those shots you took? And, where was it and when?
Do me a favor, or rather, do yourself a favor. If you’ve never kept a journal before, consider starting this spring break, and in any other traveling you do. Why? Because it’s great to remember just what you did, what you saw, who you met, how you felt. And there it is, saved. You’ve got it down on paper.
Here’s a recommendation. Don’t take a laptop or tablet with you to record your days – or nights. Write it by hand. For whatever the reason, hand written memories have better sticking power. You are very “present” with the writing – no distractions. You don’t want a video camera either. The last time I did, I was at the edge of the sand and forgot about the incoming wave. The wave won and the camera, though repaired, never worked as well again. Hopefully you won’t lose what you’re writing in your journal. And you can take it anywhere – on the beach, in a bar, hiking by a lake, shopping for groceries.
From my perspective what’s most important is the act of writing itself. You can say anything you want – that’s part of the point. The other part is that it lets you see - and you’ll probably surprise yourself - just what you can accomplish. A basic dictum for writers is that “Writers write!” The way you improve, whether you consider yourself a writer or not, is by practice, preferably daily. Doesn’t have to be long; just do it.
So when you’re on spring break, use the opportunity to get in some writing practice. Record the experience in your journal, what was beautiful, what made you sit up and listen, what blew you away, what was funny, or sad, what surprised you, especially about yourself?
When you record it, you can recall it – and how I wish I’d taken the time to write down personal memories from earlier in life. Today only the highlights stand out, not those smaller, everyday details that give so much vivid color to an event or situation and the people in it.
Don’t hold back on the writing. And don’t edit yourself, please. Just keep it raw. That gives it vitality. Do that, and you’ll find you’ve brought renewed energy back to your college work. Writing will be easier, and flow better.
Trust me, the effort pays off. It always does..
You made it through college. Congratulations. Now what are you going to do?
You know what most people do? They go try and find a job. They don’t reward themselves for completing one of the toughest assignments of their life to date. So what about you? Yeah, are you ready for the great experiment we call life? Without a scrap of experience?
Next question – how do you get experience? Well you work at it. But funnily enough, that experience is wherever you want to find it. You can volunteer. You can travel. You can hike the West Coast Trail in British Columbia. You can climb Mount Washington. You can go spend time in Spain and immerse yourself in a new language. The possibilities are endless.
You can go alone. You can go with a friend. You can go with a group. And you’ll learn something. Because life is about learning, whether you like it or not. Far better to go with a spirit of learning because you’re curious. You want to know. And this is the kind of learning that you can’t get in school. For sure it’s not learning by rote. It’s learning by putting yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to learn.
That situation may be very uncomfortable. Many experts suggest that you deliberately put yourself in uncomfortable, unfamiliar situations in order to grow. When I was 18 I had to enlist in the British Army. I sure didn’t want to. But then I learned that I had certain capacities I had little clue about. And I gained confidence where before I was reluctant to step forward. You actually show up. You don’t take a back seat. And I was one of those that used to take a back seat in class, anything to avoid interaction with the teacher or anyone else. Today I wish that had been different.
But that was then, before the army. I remember coming back after completing military service, way better prepared for college because of what I’d gone through. It’s the kind of thing you can’t buy. It’s where life takes you. And what I love about that are the tangents.
The tangent is the discovery. Robert Frost called it “the road less traveled.” Where you decide to go, how you get there, what you do there, and with whom you interact, are all part of a magical process. And it’s usually the unexpected that makes the difference. The marketing agent you strike up a conversation with in a steaming, thermal tub in Reykjavik. The master vintner in a small winery in Keri Keri, in New Zealand’s North Island; and the Chambertin red he told you to put away for two years, and turned out to be one of the best wines you’d ever tasted. And the Colorado Outward Bound course, you weren’t sure what to do, and the instructor simply told you, “read the map, it’s all there.”
Who knows what tangents, side trips, discoveries are waiting for all of us. And what will we ourselves uncover?
One of my favorite quotes comes from astronomer Carl Sagan.
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
So I repeat the question I posed at the beginning.
“Now what are you going to do?”
If so, what?
For one thing, the results tell you where you’re at. That may surprise you or it may not.
So, what did you learn?
You may be one of those people who are entirely satisfied with the results. End of story.
What if you’re dissatisfied?
You think you should have been marked higher. You can’t understand why you got the mark or grade you did. Better check with your instructor so you have a base line on which to move forward.
Maybe you didn’t do the work. Unless you’re a genius like Mozart, you have to put in the hours. You can’t run a marathon by training for a 10K. You either do the work or hit the wall. I know. The wall’s painful.
Maybe you did OK on some courses but not on others. Maybe you didn’t like the course you chose. Maybe the course was compulsory – no option. Either way, it wasn’t the result you wanted.
How do you resolve this?
Show up and take action.
You didn’t like that answer, did you? I know. It’s a pain. But how else are you going to move ahead?
You could drop out. Where’s that going to get you? It won’t help either your credibility, or if you care, your self-esteem.
Or you could simply find a way to turn things around.
Make a plan of action for yourself. And the emphasis is on the word action.
And it involves time. How often we say there simply isn’t enough time to get things done. We’ve all done it. But somewhere you have to find the time to complete the work. My experience, and I can be a slow learner, is that treating time haphazardly is a dangerous proposition.
Action plans demand that you take time into account. And when you do, when you set aside time to do the work on something that’s a challenge, that isn’t working for you, you give yourself a couple of huge gifts:
Gift number one is completion. It’s finished. It’s out of the way. And the results will tell you whether what you did was sufficient. You’ll certainly learn.
Gift number two is time for other things.
And that’s freedom.
It’s worth the effort.
Are you going, or do you have a son or daughter going? Well read on.
We put out a slim volume on writing essays called “Ten Steps to Help You Write Better Essays & Term Papers.” It’s not pretentious, it’s an easy read, and it’s very helpful. At least over 40,000 users think so. And it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Why think about this now.
September will be here before you know it and with it, shock treatment. One professor sets an essay assignment. Then so does another. And of course they expect their essays completed within impossible deadlines.
But that’s the point. If you want to make it easier on yourself, or if you have kids off to college, you don’t want max stresses. Writing essays can do that, especially if you or they hate writing essays, or procrastinate, or simply don’t know the best way to go about it. Consider investing in this slim volume of ours – Ten Steps to Help You Write Better Essays & Term Papers – if you’re a student, or parent with kids. Put in on that bucket list for college or university.
Why this volume?
Well it’s slim to start with. It’s so exhausting and unproductive to wade through thick tomes, often with little relevance to what you need to know. Or your daughter or son needs to know. Every step in Ten Steps leads easily to the next.
It's not just about need to know
Ten Steps is much more. It's pushing you to be creative at the same time. A genius called Tony Buzan made life so much easier for me. His work introduced me to Mind Maps. Mind Maps, brainstorming and all those processes can be unbelievably useful. They “unblock” you. They help you think things through. If you’re stuck, they get you going again.
My writing experience
You’re also getting my writing experience. I’ve written a lot for other people. I’ve edited like crazy. In fact, in this small volume there are great editing tips, all to help you ease into college and university work.
The book costs $14.95. In the US it’s US$14.95. In Canada it’s Cdn$14.95. The eBook version is US $3.99 available from Apple and Kobo. The Amazon Kindle version is unfortunately unavailable because the book has a unique layout that doesn’t work on Kindle. For buying options, go here.
There you have it. Thanks for following along.
Yesterday, my sister-in-law gave clear instructions to the grounds crew tasked with cleaning up her garden while she was at work. The main thing they were supposed to do was rake the lawn – they have an extensive lawn and this was the first chance since the end of winter to clear out all the leaves and dead grass. Well not only did they do that, but they proceeded to level much of the garden as well, including perennials that were just showing their heads.
No double check. No making certain that the grounds crew could confirm the instructions given. It’s like the advice to everyone on how to cut a piece of wood; measure twice, cut once. I hate to admit the number of times I’ve failed that one. My reaction usually being something like – that’s impossible. I know I measured it correctly. Yet there I am, off by a couple of centimeters. And it’s infuriating because I know I should have checked. And I want to blame anyone but myself.
Where it shows up in writing is as follows: in college you fail to understand what your professor wants in response to an essay question. For a business client, you fail to have certainty on what that request for a proposal is designed to achieve.
Why don’t we check?
Well, we think we know. We don’t want to ask our professor again, or that busy client. We’d probably embarrass ourselves and who’d want to risk that? We tell ourselves that we ought to know the answer. And then we make all kinds of assumptions. Oh sure, it’s probably been the correct decision most of the time. But what if it isn’t? What if your assumption is wrong at a critical time? You get a failing grade, you lose the contract.
My point? It’s so easy to double check. Wouldn’t you rather be embarrassed now than fall flat on your face when it really counts? I’ve learned that one the hard way. And if it means getting it right the second time, I’m quite willing to look foolish.
You probably don’t know this but ten years ago I was heavily involved in writing articlesfor Ezine Articles. These articles dealt mainly with my experience in writing and creating for the corporate market. It was natural for me to pass on some of what I’d learned from that work.
Once in a while I go back and revisit what I wrote to see if it stands up today. Overall I’d have to say that it still does. At the same time there are huge changes going on, especially in the number of people choosing to work for themselves. Much of it’s being driven by advances in technology and the ability to work from anywhere. You no longer have to have an office downtown or be committed to working for an employer.
The other factor is the market and the skill sets it requires. If I wanted to work as a writer in some of today’s firms, I would have to upgrade my abilities to work within the technical parameters required. I’d also have to get past some learning traits that I might realistically term dyslexic.
And yet I sometimes feel that the pendulum has swung a little too far into the technical. There’s a tendency to think that taking a social media approach, and relying on that without reference to traditional marketing and advertising is the route to take. Not everybody is going to opt in to a pitch on Google or Facebook. The would-be entrepreneur is not guaranteed a market just because they’re on LinkedIn. They are going to have to trust some traditional methods such as going to where the client hangs out, to a conference or two, to a workshop where you’re hands on and can interact with others.
Where’s the balance you ask? We don’t really know. It’s a work in progress or process. I’ll be taking a closer look at those articles I once wrote to see which ones are relevant. Let’s see if they make sense in today’s market.
I had to go to a meeting today.
It was a good meeting.
For me it’s good when other people have the chance to contribute without another person butting in, ready to come back with a rebuttal. In this particular meeting I wanted to hear exactly how a particular communications company planned to carry out a campaign. And although several thoughts crossed my mind as I listened, and part of me wanted to respond, I held my tongue and focused on the speaker. I heard all of it, not part of it.
Too often we listen in “waiting to speak” mode. We’re so anxious to get our own point across that what the other person is saying we never hear. In other words, our point of view is more important than what the other person has to say.
Is there any greater disrespect? Not much. Next time you’re at a meeting, keep your ears open and a zipper you know where. You’ll learn a lot, especially if you’re someone who loves to hear yourself speak.
They are. Thousands and thousands of them from all over. Looking for a job, looking for a break, many glad to be free of the confines of academia. Some wishing they still had something to hang on to.
We do have attachments; attachments to a way of life that is ending. In a blog a while ago I spoke of transitions – that place where you move from one phase of your life to another. It can be uncomfortable, anxious, uncertain.
From my perspective, being uncertain is not a bad place to be, though many parents might disagree, concerned that their offspring need a direction, whatever that might mean. Sure, some grads say they know where they’re going – that they have a clear course mapped out before them. That’s until they start following that course and doubts spring up.
Uncertainty gives you this great opportunity to look around. This is where you can try things on for size. Personally I believe traveling is a terrific eye opener. Go see how the other half lives. Check out another culture. Try out that French or Spanish for real where they don’t speak English. Now you might just appreciate its value. You won’t be afraid to explore, or order a meal in a village restaurant. You might even take a part time job. That’ll give you an experience.
Please don’t rush this uncertainty. Take your time. You’re not about to make a lifelong commitment. It’s OK for someone to say ‘haven’t you got a real job yet?’ Just smile, thank them and move on. This is your life. Not theirs. Good luck.