‘deep thoughts’ Category

In which I get in touch with my inner lab rat.

August 29th, 2012

I’m currently reading the book Positive Intelligence by life coach and business expert Shirzad Chamine. Chances are you may not have heard about it yet, so let me give you a brief summary.

In the book Chamine states that only 20% of individuals, as well as teams (whether they be organizations, families or even couples) are reaching their full potential. What’s holding 80% of us from reaching our full potential? In a word, “negativity”.

Based on his research, and the years he’s spent as a coach for leaders and organizational teams, Chamine believes that it’s actually the critical voices inside everyone of us that drain us of our energy, our positivity, and, as a result our full potential to perform our best.

If you think about it from your own experience it makes sense, doesn’t it? How often have you had everything going for you in your life at least on paper, but still felt dissatisfied?

I know from conversations with Millennial friends that, at least from the outside, look like they have it all together, that this problem is one that a lot of us grapple with. Happiness, Chamine believes, is an “inside game” and the key to happiness is quieting our inner critics.

Chamine calls these critical voices “saboteurs”, and links them to what he dubs the survival brain. The functions of the survival brain, Chamine claims, were much more important to our forebears — who had to worry more about bear attacks than consuming too many bear claws.

So where am I going with this whole subject line about becoming a lab rat? Well, on page 117 of his book Chamine throws out a challenge. His solution to weakening our inner saboteurs is first to recognize that they exist, and second, to combat them by working what he calls our “PQ brain” — the parts of your brain where your sense of well being comes from — by spending 10 seconds in mindful concentration on the world around you 100 times  a day for at least 21 days, the time it takes to establish a new habit.

According to Chamine, everyone who has done this 21 day regimen has experienced improvement in how they feel — in many cases what his clients call “life-changing” improvement. Well, I’m going to give a try. I like to be scientific about this, so I’m taking Chamine’s PQ assessment which will gauge my “baseline” positivity before this experiment.

Then for 21 days I’m going to track how many times I can do a little rep of 10 second mindfulness per day using one of these old time-y analog tally counters. Then at the end of those 21 days, I’m going to take Chamine’s assessment again and report back on whether or not I feel better and feel like I’m able to work more to my full potential thanks to his advice.

What you can learn from Spanx (no, really).

January 28th, 2012

Anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur like I do (or anyone who just wants to have a laugh) should watch Sara Blakely’s talk from Inc. Women’s Summit.

In it she tells the story of how she took an initial $5,000 investment in a dream she had for a product, and turned into a multi-million dollar business and a chance to tell the nation about her product on Oprah.

In case you’re not familiar with Sara or her products, Sara is the inventor of Spanx, a type of underwear that’s a sort of hybrid between a traditional women’s body shaper and footless pantyhose. If you’ve ever been in the lingerie section at Target you’ve probably noticed the distinctive packaging and funny name.

The often hilarious anecdotes she shares in her speech about the crazy things she was willing to do to get her product in front of people really teaches you a lesson about how dogged and committed you have to be to your own idea if you really want success.  Some of my favorite bits of advice that I took away from the video were:

  • Winston Churchill said it best — “Never, never, never give up.”
  • Sometimes it’s better not to share your idea with people right away. When you first think of a new idea, that’s when it’s most vulnerable. Even those who are trying to help you by offering criticism can ground an idea before it’s even seen the light of day. Sara waited an entire year before she shared her idea for the Spanx product with anyone.
  • The outsider’s perspective is often the best perspective. When Sara first got her idea she was working selling fax machines door-to-door. She had no experience in the hosiery business. As it turned out, her outsider perspective and her experience as a woman was exactly the combination needed to create breakthrough products in the weirdly male dominated field of hosiery. Once able to bring on new staff, Sara continued this philosophy of hiring the outsider when she brought on her first PR Director, previously administrative assistant, who had no experience in PR, but what was totally in love with the Spanx product.
  • The best, most innovative product ideas often come from those who use the products. One of the biggest problems with the hosiery industry before Sara and her team came around was the fact that products were designed largely by men who didn’t use the products (or, if they did, they certainly didn’t admit it.) As a result the products turned out were uncomfortable and didn’t solve the problems that consumers were actually experiencing. Being a user means understanding the problems and desires of the user — allowing you insight into the next innovation.

You can check out the complete video at Inc.com!

Without a net.

August 1st, 2011

As some of you may know, I began working at MAP for Nonprofits in May as their Technology Outreach and Education Coordinator. It’s a great position for me. Basically it amounts to doing what I’ve been doing for free with this blog and in my volunteer work for organizations like Rainbow Rumpus, but getting paid for it.

It’s also a half-time position, something that sealed the deal for me, as it allows me to pursue my dream of developing a viable web design and online communications business in earnest, something that I couldn’t concentrate on while with Minnesota Council on Foundations, my previous employer, as the 40+ work weeks didn’t allow the time.

I’ve been working for MCF to support them during the transition, and now that they’ve hired on the fabulous (and fabulously nerdy) Chris Oien, my time there is finally coming to an end.

Reality is setting in — I’ve slashed my salary literally in half so that I have the time, and yes, the motivation to succeed in creative and business pursuits. I have, in the words of my client Barbara Hoese, “burned the ships.” Wish me luck.

On omnivorous leadership.

May 29th, 2011

I never cease to be amazed by my new dog’s tireless quest for food, or the broadness of her definition of it. As my SO explains, to Lela, “food is what you eat.” And so during the course of the day yesterday I wrested from her mouth one apple core, a piece of neon yellow chewing gum (second hand) and apparently not poisonous mystery berries.

Although her open-mindedness vis a vis “food” leaves me longing for hand sanitizer, I can’t help but admire her instincts. Lela has no preconceptions about what opportunity is. She recognizes it and pursues it with single-minded enthusiasm.

I read an article over on Wired yesterday about the psychology of power. In it one of the experts notes that those who find themselves in positions of power consistently become less apt to listen to those who are not perceived as being as powerful as they are.

As a result, they miss out on the insights of those working beneath them on the organizational totem pole, and one can only imagine that the work of the group suffers as a result.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the particular qualities of leadership that enable an organization to be innovative. I’ve come to the conclusion that one of these qualities must be an omnivorous approach to ideas at all levels — an ability to set aside our bias and evaluate opportunity upon facts instead of stereotypes.

As Andrew Carnegie once stated, if he had succeeded in life, it was only because he surrounded himself with people smarter than he. Where would he have ended up if he hadn’t recognized the value in listening to those around him?

How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar hits the virtual shelves today!

November 1st, 2010

If you’re a young nonprofit professional I highly recommend you buy yourself a copy of How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar. It’s a candid how-to book on advancing your career in the fields of philanthropy and nonprofit written by Rosetta Thurman, president, Thurman Consulting,  and Trista Harris, executive director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice.

As Rosetta and Trista point out in the introduction, although a third of emerging professionals aspire to be a nonprofit executive someday, only 4% of them are actually being developed to someday assume positions of power. Of that 4% more men are being groomed for leadership than women.

In other words, if you want to be a leader, you’re going to have to carve out your own path. You’ve got to identify yourself as one and get out there. How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar is your road map to doing so successfully.

I really wish I had this resource three years ago when I found myself the public relations director of a small nonprofit at the age of 24. Although I loved my work and was good at what I did, I didn’t have the confidence to truly feel comfortable with the title I had earned. As a young woman and naturally introverted  a part of me, call it internalized sexism, ageism, BS or what have you, felt at odds with my identity as a leader. I know for a fact that I missed out on opportunities because I struggled with embracing the role and identity as leader that I found myself in.

Reading How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar was a great reminder of what I’ve had to learn over the last three years, and that’s this:

The world needs you, and I mean you specifically to be your best. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Especially not yourself.

Want to learn more? Sign-up to download a free chapter or purchase How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar here.

Stop. Put down your pencil.

October 12th, 2010

So many pencils!

He was bald. But it was a carefully cultivated sort of baldness — lovingly honed. The baldness of a master. He had blue eyes, too, eyes that smiled in down at you through wire-frames. His name was Mr. Oftedahl, and he  was my 5th grade teacher.

Mr. O was tall and kind. He liked sports trivia and brain teasers. Over the winter of 1993 he read us I am Regina by Sally Keehn, and to my adolescent horror pronounced the main character’s first name as if it rhymed with a certain unmentionable part of the female anatomy.

Between social studies and math, peppered with breaks for trivia and teasers, he also folded in little annoying life lessons too, including one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately — Mr. O’s “pop-quiz.”

I remember him passing out the papers — we were having a surprise test, he said. On what I can’t even remember, but I still remember his warning to us, “Read the instructions.” Now I was a smart kid. One of those awful ones who secretly enjoyed sitting in smug silence as the rest of the class completed whatever it was we were all doing.  Confident that there was nothing in the instructions that I didn’t already know, I dismissed Mr. O and got right down to it.

After about a minute I became aware of the sound of my classmates laughing. I glanced up, Wow, everyone else was done already — I better hurry up. After another ten seconds Mr. O stopped me and the only other pencil-pusher in the room.

“Cary,” he asked. “Did you read the instructions?”

And so I did.

“Stop,” they read. “Put down your pencil. This is not a test.”

Why do I keep thinking about this lately, I wonder. Why now? Maybe it’s this.

We all live lives of mental shortcuts. Mental shortcuts just like the one I had that told me skip the instructions.

We know how we get to work, what we eat, what we wear, who we do or do not make eye contact with on the street.

We know spontaneity and the feeling of being present only in moments of obstruction, when something new and unaccounted for wheedles into our thoughts. The obstructions vary from  the momentous to the mundane, from getting a new job to the moment when you’ve realized last week’s pair of underwear is peaking out the leg of today’s work pants like a friendly black post-it reminding you to do your laundry.

It’s during these fragile spaces of disruption that demand our full attention that we finally feel the moment. Here, this is where I am.

These moments can be scary or funny; they are often uncomfortable. But they are so very important. And I worry sometimes, if for me, like perhaps so many of us, they are too far in between. Because it’s in these moments that we realize where we are that we have the ability to rearrange things, to do things differently. To change where we will be. Scary, sometimes depressing, these moments can be empowering too.

So where are you today, as you read this?

What all-tall “to-do’s” bookend this moment, making gray the present with their shade? Where are you running from? Where are you running to? What led you to this, your latest flavor of distraction? Did you remember Mr. O’s instructions? Can you remember them now? Here they are. Read them.

“Stop. Put down your pencil. This is not a test.”

CC Image ILopezYou.com

Failures we know and love.

September 14th, 2010

In my second post in my series on failure, I thought I’d share yet another great video on this topic. Not sure who produced this, but it rattles off a list of accomplished individuals from Michael Jordan to Thomas Edison and shares moments in their lives when they were told flat out that they couldn’t succeed.

A great watch for those less than motivated moments, and a nice reminder in a world that has a tendency to either canonize the famous or crucify them in the tabloids. Either way there’s often a sense that these individuals are somehow anointed and destined for the lives the lead. The hard work and adversity that individuals faced to get to where they are is so often ignored. So, here’s to a healthy dose of perspective!

J.K. Rowling, “Failure set me free.”

September 9th, 2010

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Today it’s hard to imagine the label “failure” applying in any way to J.K. Rowling, the author of the wildly successful Harry Potter series. Yet fifteen years ago, the story of Rowling’s life read very differently than it does today.

In this commencement speech delivered to the Harvard graduates of 2008, author J.K. Rowling talks openly about the most humbling period of her life — finding herself a jobless, divorced single mother. As she puts it, “As poor as it is possible for someone to be in modern Britain, with out being homeless.”

Rowling reveals how this period of her life, profoundly painful as it was, had a curious fringe benefit. By stripping away all other options, her failure allowed her to focus on the one thing she was passionate above all others — writing,  which eventually brought her to the tremendous success she enjoys today.

This is this is the first in a series of profiles on failure. Stay tuned for more, including an entry explaining why I’m bothering to write about the topic, and why for millennials just starting out or getting into the swing of their careers, thinking seriously about failure and it what it means to us can be helpful as we make the choices that will shape our lives. Hope you like it!

Hey, what happened to “Defiance?”

August 29th, 2010

A quick note to readers, I recently changed the title of this blog, and my twitter handle too (from defiance-blog.com to carywalski.com and @defiancecary to @cwalski respectively.)

Why the change? Well, “Defiance” as it turned out was confusing to folks. People who I told about the blog would inevitably ask suspiciously, “So what are you defying, exactly?” Um…bad copywriting and the status quo, of course! Actually for an explanation about why I was so jazzed about the name, you can read my quixotic and frankly kind of embarrassing explanation here.

Explaining myself to people left me feeling a bit, well, silly, and ultimately proved to me that I had made one of my least favorite errors that a writer can make, sacrificing clarity for cleverness.

So, in the mode of Beth Kanter before me, the site is now simply “Cary’s Blog.” You can expect the same content focused on online communications for nonprofits, and you’ll even still find me if you navigate via your old URL. If you’ve subscribed via RSS though, you may want to update your feed reader with my new feed.

Thanks for bearing with me during this transition! : )

“Too small” to have a website? Challenging the assumptions that keep foundations off the web.

May 12th, 2010

I don’t typically cross-promote between my personal blog here at Defiance and the blog I maintain for the Minnesota Council on Foundations, but I posted an entry at the MCF Potluck Blog today that I think is relevant for both audiences.

In the post I responded to a blog entry entitled “Philanthropy’s Digital Divide” written by Bradford Smith, the president of Foundation Center, that cited a recent Center study that found 71% of the 11,000 foundations polled reported not having a website. I have to admit that I was personally very surprised by this statistic.