For Robin. For Me.

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Tuscan Path. SBK Personal Collection.

Robin Conyers was my friend. This is not an exclusive set; most people who met Robin thought she was their friend. They were right. I don’t remember exactly when we became friends other than it was many years ago when we were work colleagues. Robin and I ended up on several teams together as a result of volunteering or an act of voluntold.

I struggle to introduce you to Robin with grace and brevity. The grace part is easy; the brevity part not so much. Here’s my best shot.  Robin was the kind of women you’d want your daughter to grow up to be like. She was whip smart, but you didn’t know that until you got past her charisma and her curiosity. She always wanted to know about you before you knew about her. Robin was determined. Long before we were talking about “Lean In,” Robin was jumping in. As a Black woman in corporate America, in Sales no less, Robin knew she had to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. So she worked three times as hard. She took on the tough assignments, the tough customers, and the tough teams. She moved so frequently I wonder if she ever unpacked. Robin was beautiful; stunningly beautiful. She’d always looked like the “Do” list from the fashion pages. When Robin was in the room, you knew she was there. But she cared more that you were there.

Robin was not perfect. She had a highly sensitive “B.S.” meter that went off like a smoke alarm. Robin didn’t suffer fools. But you had to act a fool to draw her fire. She had high standards for herself and high standards for you. No one got a pass.

The Walk

One October, Robin invited me to participate in a fund raising walk for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I said “Yes,”knowing somewhere in my heart that she’d ask until I agreed so got it out of the way early. Then I messed up. On the day of the walk, I failed to leave enough time to travel to the start site. Upon arrival, I was stunned to see thousands of people arriving. Finding a place to park was a nightmare because street after street was blocked off (duh, it was a walk).

After I finally parked and got to the launch site, I was well over an hour late. Frantic, I asked the grounds crew cleaning up which way they went. It was like an old “they went thatta way” scene from a Western, as I ran from person to person for help. Some were clueless and others pointed in different directions. I started off, but soon realized how fruitless it was to follow a crowd when they knew where they were going and I didn’t. “Next time,” I told myself. “ I’ll explain what happened to Robin and promise to walk next time.” I always think there is a next time.

Robin told others on the walk that day that her cancer had returned for round three. No one knew then that it would be the round she’d lose.  I didn’t know that it would have been the last time I’d see her alive. Robin passed about ten weeks later. 

The Promise

This weekend is my “next time.” I’ll join in the 40 mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Chicago.  I’ll resist the temptation to carry a sign reading “Shouldn’t this be a walk against Breast Cancer?,” because that’s what it is.

Other walkers do this for magnificent reasons: research grants, support of the medically underserved with the disease, and family support. (We forget families suffer from this diagnosis, too.) I also walk for those reasons.  But the main reason I walk is to keep a promise. I walk for Robin. And for me.

Two Requests

I am walking with a list of people I know who have been affected by breast cancer. They are survivors, currently in a fight or a victim. This list will remind me to keep going when I’m tired.  If they can fight, I can fight. If you have anyone you want to add to my list, send it to me on Twitter at @SBKandAssoc using #onemorestep by Saturday morning, June 1. Or, leave the name in the Reply section at the bottom of this post.

Also, I will need inspiration at about mile 20. (Oh, who am I kidding? I need inspiration at mile 5 on.) So, if you can use Twitter to send me encouragement, I will be very grateful. My husband will advise you from his marathon experience with me that I don’t necessarily act gratefully starting at about mile 14. Forgive any grouchiness. I will be grateful. Use @SBKandAssoc and  #onemorestep. 

It’s About Living

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My friend, Brynn Harrington, tuned me into this amazing video via her blog, wellfesto.  It’s about Zach Sobiech, a 17 year old who died on May 20, 2013 – about a week ago. But Zach wasn’t about dying. He was about living.

Nothing I can write will improve on this video. Watching may be the best 20 minutes you’ll spend today. Just have tissues ready.

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Fighting Ghosts

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Loved the column by  Shozan Jack Haubner, A Zen Zealot Comes Home, from the Sept. 2011 issue of The Sun. Here’s an excerpt to show why:

Finally my mind caught up with my mouth…My apoplexy ceased. My fury lost its redness. And, for the first time that trip, I really took them in: Dad’s once- chiseled face, collapsing with age. Mom’s hair, pinned up in a bun, one step closer to hoary and desolate white. How old they’d become. How many more visits would I even be blessed with? How many more chances to make things right?

These were not the same people who raised me. Those people existed only in my head, caged and rotted behind my tight, unhappy grin for decades while my actual parents got older, gentler, wiser; while their bodies fell apart and their souls grew deep.

Those darn Zen monks. They always write the stuff that hits closest to home.

Whatever Gave You That Idea? : The Misinformation Effect

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iStock_000023926936XSmallThe story was told and retold at many events throughout my childhood. It came up at every wedding, every wake, most family events in between. It was the story of how my father’s friend, little Ray (Bucky) Dahmen, all 5-8 and 150 lbs of him, scored the dramatic winning touchdown for Notre Dame to snatch a victory away from Ohio State in the closing minutes of the game. The storyteller was always my father, as his buddy Bucky sat proudly by, grinning at the glowing reports of his heroics. Bucky would fill in the details, how he saw the play unfold and took the risks of his daring moves. (If you’re that little, you better be daring on the football field.) The two old men told and retold the story, always ending the same way. Bucky was the hero who won the game.

One day, after decades of hearing this story, my eldest brother came across the history of the infamous Notre Dame – Ohio State game. To his great surprise, the account of the great play was missing. There was no dramatic last-minute score. There were no daring moves down the field. There was no story.

My brother confronted my father. There was no game saving run by good old number 26 from Youngstown, Ohio, as told to us all of these years. My father’s reaction was a pause, then a whispered plea: “Don’t tell Bucky!”

The Misinformation Effect

Maybe this account can be attributed to two old men wanting their glory years to shine brighter in their golden years. Or, maybe, this is an example of the increasing amount of research on how frequently our memories are faulty. Skeptics will attribute faulty memories to confabulation, or plain old making stuff up to put ourselves in the best light. Confabulation certainly accounts for a portion of faulty memories, but not all of it. Consider just a few other reasons under investigation by researchers:

“Post Event Collective Memory Formulation” – This describes memory acquisition by comparing your recall of events with others who experienced the same event. Narrators who undertake the retelling of what happened have an advantage; their personal opinions or interpretations are more likely to be accepted by the larger group as “fact” and adopted as the collective memory. As a personal case study, think back on a conversation about what happened at a group meeting. Did the group’s collective memory reflect what actually happened, or the interpretation of what happened by the loudest voice?

Emotion – Our emotions distort information we take in and increase our susceptibility to post event suggestibility. The impact of emotion on memory is a root cause of why eyewitness testimony is often wrong. In a Canadian research study, participants were assigned to watch one of three events:  one with highly charged negative emotions, one with highly charged positive emotions, and one evoking neutral emotions. Participants took a subsequent survey that included questions about what they witnessed, with false information planted in the questions. Participants who witnessed events evoking highly negative emotions recalled false details 80% of the time. Those who witnessed positive events recalled false details about 40% of the time. Even those who watched the scene that produced no changed emotions got facts wrong 40% of the time. Emotions, especially negative ones, cloud our interpretation of events.

Inattentional Blindness – We miss things that happen in front of us because we were paying attention to something else. If you are among the millions of viewers who’ve watched the “gorilla” video on You Tube, you know what I mean. Viewers are asked to count how many times two people pass a ball. As the ball moves faster, many never see the gorilla that walks into the scene. Viewers don’t remember something never seen in the first place. The problem is that we look for what we expect, and believe we’ve noticed everything. We never know our original interpretation is faulty, so our recall stinks, too.

Memory is a Lousy Tool

Confabulation, post event collective memory formation, emotional impact and inattentional blindness are just a few of topics under research to explain why our crystal clear memories are often wrong.

Memory is a lousy decision-making tool because it is often faulty. The best recommendations from researchers, as well those of us in real life, is not to rely on memory alone. What does seem to help is to write things down, especially at the end of a meeting or conversation. Share with others in current time to check for agreement. If you must rely on memory, rely on more than recollections of one person. These suggestions may seem tedious. But so are endless loops of “ I did/No, you did not” debates.

A Public Service

This blog is a public service to all of us who will attend a reunion or family event this summer. Now you can honestly understand that your favorite aunt does not have the story of your great misadventure quite right. Or your high school prom date does not accurately recall your teenage social skills. If it’s innocent, assume the storytellers mean well, but are stuck in a web of misinformation. Enjoy the fiction. Don’t spoil it for Bucky.

References

If you’d like to read more research about memory and misinformation, here are 3 places to start:

Ozuru, Yasuhiro (2004). Formation of collective memory through group conversations: Examining the involvement of “Post Information Effect”. New School Psychology Bulletin, 2004.

Porter, Steven. ( 2003). Blinded by emotion? Effects of the emotionality of a scene on susceptibility to false memories. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, July, 2003.

Chabris, C. and Simons, D.J. (2009). The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intentions Deceive Us. New York: Random House.

Commencement Season Musings

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Commencement season is one of my favorite times of the year. I love its spirit of celebration, sense of optimism and the energy of possibility. Who doesn’t get inspired by a well-crafted commencement speech? The vivid descriptions of opportunities and passionate exhortations motivate new graduates and old listeners alike to do just a little better.

My single beef about commencement season and its messages is that the events often fail to connect “the future” with “today.” Too frequently, commencement messages emphasize future achievement at the expense of current reality. As T.S. Elliot reminds us, “There are no endings, only additions.”  That’s how greatness is developed; it’s an accumulation of experiences day after day after day.

Once again this year, no one has invited me to be a commencement speaker. Good thing I have a blog to share The Development Sherpa’s advice to new graduates.

Make the Most of Your First Job

The good news is that as a college graduate, you are more likely to get a job. According to The New York Times, college graduates are the only group that has more members employed today than before the recession began. The bad news is that it may not be the job you expected.  The job market is still very tight and employers are still quite picky. Your first post college job may involve more grunt work than glamour.

You may be tempted to blow off your low skilled job as you wait for your “real one.” Don’t.  As discouraged as you may be to be behind a receptionist desk, filing papers or renting cars, you can learn a lot from any job that requires you to deal directly with customers, work with others and work for someone. You can develop the interpersonal skills necessary for that next, better job when it comes along. According to research by Drs. Joyce Hogan and Kimberly Brinkmeyer, strong interpersonal skills are a requirement for 84% of management jobs, the kind you seek. If your job requires effective client contact and collaboration with associates, you are building skills important in future roles. Practice what you’ve studied about working in groups, conflict resolution and communication. If you want to ditch your low wage, low skill “starter” job, do your best and learn from it.

Use Social Media Skills as a Learning Advantage

You are among the most digitally connected generation so far. Make your exceptional social media skills an advantage to your success. My colleagues Keeley Sorotki and Jeff Merrell might encourage you to build a PLN – Personal Learning Network – using your social media skills. Never before has a generation of workers had access to so many world-class thinkers and every day practitioners in their field. Use this access to build your own network to challenge and inspire you, starting now. Don’t wait until you need a network of experts to build one.

Engage With the Broader World

The world is becoming smaller and faster. You’ve probably had splendid opportunities to travel, learn a second (or third) language and study with people from many cultures.  Remain curious about the world. The May, 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review describes the advantages of the “global elite” and offers suggestions you (yes, you) can use to become one. Keep up your language skills; a adopted language is a “use it or lose it” proposition. Understand current events from around the world, and understand them from different perspectives. Read world history; the way things “were” explains the way things “are.” If you can, travel.  Your dream job will probably never be isolated and insulated from social and political events. Be ready.

Skin Your Knees

When do you skin your knees? When you’re going somewhere. When you run and trip. When you carry the ball and get tackled. When you fall off a bike. You may focus on the fall. Focus instead on the fact you were trying to get somewhere.

When you do the things necessary to build your layers of greatness, you will skin your knees. You will take a risk and slip. You will try something new and fall. You will make a mistake and feel some pain. Of course, you could avoid all this by staying in the same place. But then you won’t achieve the unique greatness that you are meant to achieve. One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Maraboli: “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving. We get stronger and more resilient.”

Final Words

So, my dear graduates, your greatness doesn’t start “someday.” It starts today. It starts from wherever you are with every day decisions and actions. Don’t waste today dreaming about your opportunities for tomorrow. Be the person you are meant to be. Today.