Category Archives: Living life to the fullest
My reading material during my ski vacation last week was The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker. The book had me thinking about leadership and team work beyond the world of sports.
What makes a great leader? How to get the most out of a team?
To write the book, the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal’s sports section examined sports teams that achieved exceptional success and tried to figure out what drove the outstanding accomplishments. His findings surprised him, and me.
He found that the freakishly successful teams shared the same kind of captain, and it wasn’t the glamorous version of captain that would spring to your mind. Instead of the gregarious highly skilled aces, the flamboyant superstars or the squeaky clean idols, the captains were what he called the glue guys, or the water carriers.
- Dogged and focused to the extreme
- Aggressive players who tested the limits of the rules (and sometimes crossed them)
- Willing to do thankless jobs in the shadows
- Low-key, practical and democratic
- Able to motivate others with non-verbal cues
- Courageous and willing to stand apart if it meant upholding a strong conviction
- Ironclad controllers of emotions
His captains achieved success not through exceptionally skilled play, but by never giving up. They didn’t shun the small jobs, but instead did whatever grunt work needed to be done for the good of the team, not themselves. They didn’t deliver flowery motivational speeches, but they held people accountable by looking people in the eye.
It’s easy to quibble with the scientific method Sam Walker used to arrive at his list of exceptional teams, but with hundreds of thousands of sports teams around the world to work with he had to narrow it somehow. He almost excluded baseball which would have led me to shelve the book immediately, but—phew—baseball skimmed through his criteria sieve and I was able to carry on.
I was particularly intrigued by the idea of social loafing, an idea born out of research by Maximilien Ringelmann. Ringelmann tested the amount of effort exerted by people pulling on a rope. He started with low numbers of people and then added on. You would think that the more people pulling on a rope, the more effort would be exerted, but he found that the more people, the less effort each individual exerted. Working as a team caused people to work less strenuously than when working alone.
We’re willing to coast a little when we feel other people can carry a little of our load.
Anyone who has ever been part of a group project has seen this kind of dynamic at play. We assume that the highly skilled star players motivate teammates to work hard and try to excel at the same level, but Walker’s examination of exceptional teams seemed to indicate the opposite. Fellow team members of superstars were willing to let them carry the load.
But when less-skilled dogged captains courageously and aggressively lead a team, individual efforts around them increase too.
Who are the people in the organizations that you work or play in who never give up? Who does the grunt work for the good of the team, not themselves? Who holds you accountable by looking you in the eye?
Who are your water carriers?
“Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” —Saint-Exupéry
Something I remember at this time of year: A better translation for the word “love” in the Bible would be “compassion.”
I changes everything. Imagine if couples promised to have compassion for each other instead of to love each other. It takes away the possibility of the kind of damage people inflict on each other in the name of “love,” a word that can lead to possessiveness and manipulation.
Compassionate couples trust. They don’t need to keep watchful eyes on each other. They turn outward together to look at the world in the same direction.
They don’t waste time gazing. They look at what can and needs to be done.
They take action, do good, have fun.
If Valentine’s Day can lead to a little more of that, I’ll get on board.
The Turtlehead blog post yesterday entitled Frozen talked about winter, and how it’s possible to love it. The skating, the skiing, the walking and playing in the snow.
I am finding so much JOY in winter this year. As I write this I am looking out my window at sunshine glinting off a snowy landscape.
So bright. So beautiful.
On New Year’s Eve when it was -22 degrees Celsius in Ottawa, Canada, we walked from house to house during our annual “travelling” dinner celebrations with neighbours. No breath of wind stirred the air. The almost-full moon cast crisp shadows on the snow. So bright. So beautiful.
In early January we skated on the ice rink put in place on Parliament Hill as part of Canada 150 celebrations. It was really, really, really cold that night and the wind howled. But we skated in the evening with the inspirational images and music of the Northern Lights sound and light show playing in the background. So bright. So beautiful.
We skied on Sunday at a local ski hill. The sun shone on our skis as they shooshed through perfect snow conditions. So bright. So beautiful.
On Saturday we visited the outdoor skating rink at Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General. (Affectionately known to many as the GG, she is the Queen’s representative in Canada.) We happened there on the same day as the Winter Celebration. We walked on the grounds, skated on the rink, drank hot chocolate and enjoyed winter. So bright. So beautiful.
We skated on the Rideau Canal on Thursday, and if anything encapsulates the winter experience, it is that. How lucky to have such a gift in my city. The National Capital Commission does an amazing job of maintaining the world’s largest skating rink, but this is nature we’re talking about. Some parts of the 7.8 km stretch (not quite 5 miles) was glassy smooth. So bright. So beautiful.
Some parts were smooth, but not glassy and with bumps under the surface. So bright. Proceed with caution.
Other parts were pitted and rough. Navigate those patches by pointing the skate blades straight and coasting until it’s over. So bright. Not so beautiful.
Those rough patches mean the experience is not flawless, but the joy of skating for almost five miles without ever having to make a turn, the benefits of crisp cold air and sunshine, and the beauty of our Ottawa landscape makes the overall experience SO worth coasting through the rough patches.
That sums up winter for me. I don’t love everything about it, but the joy of skating, skiing, walking, the benefits of crisp cold air and sunshine, and the beauty of our Ottawa landscape makes the overall experience SO worth it.
Finding joy in winter is about wearing the right clothing and choosing the right attitude. You don’t wear a parka on a beach on a hot, humid summer day, so you shouldn’t wear jeans and thin jackets outside on a winter day either.
Dress appropriately and look for the bright and beautiful. Choose joy.
One of the joyous frustrations of being a freelance writer is the unpredictable variety.
I never know if I’ll be writing about money, or toilet installation, or chickens, or veterans, or crows, or . . . the list goes on. I never know when I’ll receive the last-minute phone calls. I get up in the morning with plans in place to do something and then BAM, the phone rings. My whole day gets knocked sideways.
That joyous frustration happened yesterday when all the things I’d planned to do and write about got swept off the table.
Joy comes from learning about new things all the time. I am so lucky to never feel like I’m in a rut. I get paid to write! How great is that? Still, sometimes I grit my teeth. It makes it difficult to plan. And if you ever drop by my house and see dust on the furniture, now you know why.
Another joyous benefit of my freelance writing career is the reading I do on many topics. Years ago, one of those reading stints led to me this best piece of advice:
When I’m writing, I focus. I dive deep down into a well of creative thought and if someone speaks to me I need to swim my mind up through sludge to the surface again. I can practically hear the murky bubbles around me.
Interruptions used to drive me bonkers.
Now I tell myself: There is a purpose behind this interruption. How does it benefit me?
It gives me a chance to get a drink or go to the bathroom. It makes me notice the typo I overlooked before, once I settle back into place and look with refreshed eyes at the work I’ve done. It gives me an extra 24 hours to write a blog post.
Interruptions come in big and small sizes too.
There’s the simple, “Mom, are we out of milk?” kind of interruption, and then there’s the, “You need to take this. I’m afraid there’s bad news,” kind of phone call that knocks a life sideways for weeks, or months, or years. The big ones are harder to embrace, but perhaps it’s even more important to look for the gifts in those doozies.
There is a purpose behind your interruptions. How do they benefit you?
“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” —Charles Shulz
The book Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown gave me plenty to think about, but two things stand out.
First, she describes how during her childhood in the southern United States she often didn’t receive birthday party invitations, because when the parents of other kids saw her name on the class list they assumed she was black.
I had to work through that story on several levels. The shock of the overt racism and empathy with the feeling of being alone and left out, of course. But then there was this big cultural difference. I am Canadian and I live in Ottawa where francophone culture thrives. My first thought on seeing Brené was, “How interesting that she has a French name.”
Culture affects how we see the world.
Her name, and other factors in her life, led to times on the outside looking in, and led her to research belonging. The responses she received from a group of eighth graders about the topic stunned me with their profound insight. Here’s what they had to say:
Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.
Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.
—From Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
The most jarring sentence for me was, “Fitting in is being where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.”
How often do we do that to ourselves? Choose to be somewhere doing something or being something that feels not quite right when the people around us don’t care one way or the other.
It’s a wake-up call to look around and ask ourselves:
- Do I belong where I am or do I just fit in? Who cares?
- Am I being myself or am I fitting myself?