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Monthly Archives: May 2016

What does inspiration look like? A Canadian actor, apparently

The last day of a conference is always a little rough. You’ve seen a lot of sessions and they all start to blur together. At some point you hear, “yada yada yada” and think it’s insight.

And then you see a keynote that stops the conference cold and hits everyone on a gut level.

That keynote was Michael J. Fox.

In case you have been living under a rock, Michael J. Fox was THE guy for awhile – Back to the Future, Family Ties, Spin City. What we didn’t know is that in 1991, at the age of 29, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and told he would only have about 10 years left to work.

Ten years.

Can you imagine how limiting that must have been? Most of us would have ranted and raved, felt sorry for ourselves, been paralyzed by fear, or some other “end of world” reaction I assume we’ve all imagined at one time or another.

Michael J. Fox went out and starred in Spin City. He continued to act. He wrote 3 best-selling books.

He lives every single day. And he is happy.

On the last day of the Work Human conference in Orlando, there was a lot of anticipation to see him speak. Recent reports were that his disease was progressing quickly. Would he be okay onstage? Would he speak at all?

Lucky for us, he did speak. You could tell the disease had progressed. His speech was a little slurred, you saw the tremors. But you also saw the glint in his eye, the quick wit, the humor – the PERSON. He never shied away from talking about Parkinson’s and how it impacted his life and the lives of those around him. He talked about the challenges of hearing his time to work was limited. He shared the frustrations of not having early detection for Parkinson’s (by the time he had the tremor that led him to the doctor, 80% of his dopamine-producing cells were already dead).

But most of all, he shared the joy he finds in life.

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He shared it by the way he talked about his family – his parents, his wife, his 4 children. He shared it in the way he focused on what he CAN do, not what he can’t. There were people who cried throughout his entire talk because despite the fact you could see the disease had affected him physically, you saw he chose to see the disease progression as a gift – it gave him focus, honesty and clarity.

I can’t possibly capture the impact Michael J. Fox had on the audience. Nor can I capture all the incredible quotes. Here is a taste of what the crowd experienced:

  • On his father: “My father was in the military. When you had a problem, he was the first person you wanted to call and the last person you wanted to talk to.”
  • On hearing the doctor tell him he had 10 years left to work: “It was after 10 years that I finally got good. Parkinson’s stripped away all the tricks and forced me to be honest.”
  • On his disease: “I accept things. That doesn’t mean I’m resigned to them, but I can accept them them as they are and move on.”
  • On caregivers of those living with disabilities: “There are no rules for people with a disease or disability – let them define their own life and what they can do.”
  • On his foundation: “We are the leading private funder of Parkinson’s research.”
  • On delaying disclosing his diagnosis: “How can the audience laugh at me if they know I’m sick?”
  • On the future: “You can’t project what’s going to happen in the future. You just have to see how it goes.”

I’ve always cringed when someone comes up to me and says, “Happiness is a choice!” Mostly because it’s accompanied by a big giant smile and is usually preceded by a statement akin to, “It looks like someone has a case of the Mondays.” But when Michael J. Fox says he made the choice to not let this define him and to fill his days with life, I totally believe it.

This keynote made the conference for me. It’s one thing for people to tell you to choose happiness.

It’s another thing entirely to see someone who did it.

This is what inspiration looks like. A 54-year-old Canadian who loves to walk outside and feel the dew on his feet and spend time with his family.

Who knew?


If you’re interested in learning more about the Michael J. Fox Foundation or if you want to donate to fund research, visit https://www.michaeljfox.org/

 

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Free Your Mind (with apologies to En Vogue)

As you know, I’m at the Work Human confernce own in Orlando, FL this week. Lots of good stuff happening here – conversations, candy, donut walls (it’s a thing), and sessions.

The topics on these sessions are aligned with the theme of the conference of finding a new way to work by finding a new way to be. The speakers today have been diverse in their backgrounds and have unique points of view about the research out there around happiness, engagement, and resilience. Not all resonated with me (as I suspected), but I found interesting elements in all that I saw.

envogueSome of my key takeaways from today:

  • You have to free your mind:Biggest takeaway (and most consistent message) is that the brain is easily tricked. Don’t assume success will make you happy. Be happy to lead to success. The self-talk we use primes our brains for success or failure. Amy Cuddy (in a session that surprised me with its relevance) showed us how our ability to expand physically and temporally leads to success.  The brain is a powerful thing – use it to your advantage.
  • The research is still fairly new, and evolving: It’s always a challenge when everyone uses the same research to tell different (yet related) stories. So you hear the same stats quoted in a number of different ways. The good news is that further studies are underway and those who look at happiness and resilience recognize the need to balance it with data and realism. I’m curious to hear more.
  • People are starting to get vocal about their annoyance with generational stereotypes: Yes. People at different stages in life are looking at different things. But deep down, they are all individuals. You could almost hear the collective groan when a sweeping generational statement was made…much like you could hear the cheer when a speaker swatted down those same stereotypes. It’s an interesting time in HR (and business) as we figure out the workforce of the future. I’m seeing a trend towards personalization and away from generalities. And I think that’s a good thing.
  • Personal experience colors interpretation: Now that you’re done thinking, “duh,” hear me out. I mentioned the research is all pretty much the same right now…yet we heard two speakers (Shawn Achor and Caroline Adams Miller) use the same info in VERY different ways. Shawn focuses on happiness and positivity and how starting from a place of optimism leads to success. Caroline uses her own story of overcoming bulimia to make the argument that happiness only comes after hitting rock bottom and facing adversity. Both pretty much agree that success starts with mindset…but such a different tone in those sessions.
  • I want to start EVERYTHING with a Haka Dance: Google it. It’s awesome.
  • The topic isn’t going away: As more research seeks to tie happiness/resilience to engagement, I think you’ll see more and more companies trying to get on the happiness bandwagon. That’s all well and good – but remember, it needs to fit into the culture of your organization. Not everyone will embrace a “meditation room,” but I bet a lot of employees would appreciate a quiet spot to recharge (favorite quote: “Headphones are the new cubicles.” Thanks, Yvette Montero Salvatico!). It will be interesting to see where this leads; I just hope folks remember that it’s a PART of the solution…not the solution itself.

Overall, it was an interesting day that has provoked a lot of discussion around relevance, validity and applicability. And isn’t that what conferences are supposed to do? Make you think?

Hint: Yes. Yes, they are.

There’s one more day of the conference! Follow the Twitter feed on #WorkHuman. 

 

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Learning a new way to work

I’ve always been drawn to challenges. I build, I don’t maintain. I like to push, rock the boat, innovate, break down silos. I’ve worked at organizations that were built that way. I’ve also worked for organizations that weren’t built that way…but needed a kick in the butt anyway.

If I don’t have interesting work to do, I get bored. And when work is interesting, I like to keep working until it’s done. I’m online all the time, I check email all the time, and I never seem to be able to turn off my brain.

Sound familiar?

While it can be a very fun way to work, it’s also a pretty tiring way to work, and leads to high levels of burnout. Those who worked through the 2008 economic downturn know that while headcount was slashed, work expectations never changed. And as the economy recovered a bit, those job were never replaced – businesses figured they could continue working “lean,” thereby helping the bottom line.

But at what cost?

Engagement is still extremely low and don’t appear to be going up any time soon.. And according the Bersin by Deloitte: “Employees are overwhelmed with technology, applications, and a constant flood of information.” Employees are overwhelmed and it shows. While the rise of the gig economy has been overstated, there are more people who are looking to scale back, take a break, or start a new, low-stress career.

We can do better.workhuman

This is why I’m in Orlando, FL this week, attending the WorkHuman conference sponsored by Globoforce. WorkHuman is based on the premise that there has to be a balance between work and life, between happiness and career, and that businesses can create an environment that encourage a healthier approach to work. It’s about helping employees set boundaries and avoid the stress of trying to be “on” all the time.

The conference has sessions on mindfulness, optimism, recognition and will feature CHROs sharing how they are trying to create the “human workplace.”

This is so not how I’ve approached work in the past. I’ve been the one in the back row snorting at the idea of “mindfulness” and “happiness” and other such topics. But resilience is something that resonates with me – and we are starting to learn more about how things like optimism and positivity (mixed with realism) help build resilience.

So I’m here to learn. To hear the research behind these topics and take what makes sense back to my workplace and try to be part of the solution and not the problem.

Not all of what is shared at this conference will resonate with me. I reserve the right to snort from time to time. (After all, I’m the skeptic.) But last year’s conference was pretty darn good and I got a lot out of it. I’m excited to be here.

You’ll see a lot of me on social media the next few days. In fact, there are a lot of great people here to learn new things and share what they’re learning with folks who can’t be here. Track the conference on Twitter under #WorkHuman.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2016 in Personal Development, Skillz

 

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