This is a week of change. My two daughters are back in school, the older one now in middle school. My wife and I are back to teaching for the Fall 2014 semester, and I have a new course in “Physics of Community”. The MOOC on “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” that I am co-teaching — with more than 58,000 students enrolled — is ending. It’s a time for both nostalgia for a great Summer, and hope for a great Fall. It’s a time to set new a new WIG (Wildly Important Goal). Not 10 WIGs, not 5 WIGs, and probably not even 2 WIGs. 1 WIG. What is yours?
This afternoon I spent 4 hours doing tedious, time-consuming, boring work. It had to be done. I could not delegate it. It will form part of a package that will be outstanding and beautiful however. There are times in our work when we have to “clean the latrines”. Today was my day. I took a nap, started at 2 pm, and promised myself that I would keep working at it until it was done or 6 pm. And it is done. Are you willing to spend the required time doing drudge work? Don’t let all your time — or even a lot of it — slip in that direction. But a helpful saying from the famous athlete Jerry Rice might help: “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.” Finish the tedious work, if it helps to make a beautiful product.
Recently we returned from vacation at the beach — a beautiful week with no emails and no phone calls, and lots of family time. Now comes Fall. For me as a professor, that means school schedules for my family, and courses and students at Penn State. In short, a lot more discipline and deadlines will be needed. And I can’t wait. There is a time for relaxing, but there is a time for digging in, for working hard, for excelling at something you love to do. Knowing that the seasons come and go helps me to stay tenacious toward my dream. In times of battle, I know there are times of relaxation coming, and in times of reflection and revitalization, I know that I will soon be able to jump back into the battle with gusto. Yes, invite the seasons!
Tonight my wife and I took my daughter to an orientation evening for middle school, where she will start this Fall 2014. Strangely, I enjoyed the experience … I think because I knew I would not be GRADED! Seeing the tech room, the computers, the 3D printers, the gymnasium, the music room — they made me want to learn! What ideas do we have for education that uses assessment meant for helping students, rather than for sorting or ranking them? How can we guide students toward self-assessment, that uses other people’s input as the students see best? Ideas?
By meeting in the hallways with colleagues, we have come up with serendipitous ideas. These ideas are usually within our domain of expertise. These I think of as “micro-serendipity” (microS). On the other hand, by meeting for lunches — or even retreats — with people from other disciplines, we have come up with more significant, broader, potentially-higher-impact ideas. These I think of as “macro-serendipity” (macroS). MicroS advances the ideas in a given field, in ways that are usually somewhat predictable and frequently important. MacroS can create a new field. Both microS and macroS are important, at the right time. Are you doing one, and need to try the other more often?
Living in central Pennsylvania, I get to see all the seasons. In Spring, we plant seeds, and watch them sprout. In Summer, we work the fields, and grow fruit. In Fall, we harvest. In Winter, we rest. Over the next week, I will be resting, on vacation. In late August, I will plant some new ideas, which I aim to harvest later in 2014. My metaphorical seasons last different amounts of time, but I have been working to make each happen. Especially, I aim to have “Winter”, rather than ending up in the endless work of “Summer”. Our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls need rest.
I just finished a great book called “Essentialism”, by Greg McKeown. As I read it, Essentialism is at the core of Character: What will you FOCUS on in your brief time on earth? The “non-essentialist” thinks everything is important — and therefore focuses on nothing — while hte Essentialist recognizes that only a few things are important. The Essentialist therefore spends her or his time on only a few items, even while scanning a broad variety of inputs to make sure that she or he is not “blind-sided”.
I love this quote: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. — Margaret Mead.
What is essential in your life? What is your dream?
Until I visited Kennedy Space Center in Florida few years ago, I didn’t appreciate the power of having an organizing goal: landing a person safely on the moon, and getting them back to earth. Having a few people meeting in the hallway or on the street can be valuable, but usually is not. However, if the same group has an organizing goal, magic can happen. Many times the magic is not directed toward the initially-intended goal, but the moon shot goal still has value in providing a reason for people to get together, with a common language and set of ideas. The moon shot goal provides just enough structure for the magic to begin. What is your moon shot goal?
Most mornings I wake up ready to “make today my masterpiece”, as the famous UCLA basketball coach John Wooden would say. But there are days — maybe you have them too? — when my courage wavers, or my energy drains. How to keep going? Here are a few tips, which come in part from my friend Brian Cunningham, who wrote the book “Never Give Up!”:
– vision. I keep my vision in front of me, literally, by writing it down and reading it each morning. My overall vision is to help others turn dreams into victories. More specifically in any season, I might be teaching a course, or writing a book, or developing new science. I draw that connection to my vision.
– first step. Before I go to bed the day before, I write down the FIRST step I will do, after my personal meditation time. By having that first step, and iterating its importance to myself, I make sure I have a reason to get out of bed!
– someone to love. I always try to remember my family, and the importance of leaving them a better world. If you don’t have close family, build close friends. Find people with whom you can share you life and your love and your passion. They will give you the boost in critical moments.
Two additional notes. 1) My friend and collaborator Professor Kathryn Jablokow loves the saying, “Keep moving forward.” Many times those words have nudged me ahead at critical moments. 2) Seth Godin has written a great book about Tenacity, called “The Dip”. It is a “Velegol top shelf book”. Short but powerful.
Over the past hour I have been reviewing the “Life Ring” submissions of my students in my MOOC on “Creativity, Innovation, and Change”. What an inspiring event! I loved seeing the central Driving Force pictures — some creative like a Smiley Face, and some as photos of loved ones. I loved seeing the specific “Fruit” about career, family, ventures, community, self. I loved seeing the strategies for getting there: courses, ventures, programs. I loved seeing the WIGs (Wildly Important Goals) identified.
Next comes another challenge: Executing. While doing what you must to keep up with the rest of life, you need to advance on one front — your WIG — and make that happen day after day. After seeing these Life Rings, I have absolutely no doubt that you can do it.
Thank you for sharing your life with me.