I remember where I was

When I was young I recall my mother telling me that she remembered where she was the day that JFK was shot. That she could still clearly see the teacher telling the class while tears streamed down her face.  I can remember thinking that I will never have those memories, because our world was better now than the one in which she was raised.

I am here to tell you that I was wrong.

I remember where I was during 9-11.

I remember what I was doing during the Eaton Centre shooting in Toronto. I know how I heard the news about Parkland and so many other atrocities that have become commonplace occurred in the USA. 

I have signed petitions and voted for politicians that promise to increase gun laws and take automatic and semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of people outside the military. I have studied and written about the benefits of equity and diversity, but I haven’t worked hard enough to speak out against hate. In our modern world not speaking out has become way too similar to condoning these behaviours.

My ego told me that everyone was safe in NZ. That things like that just don’t happen here. I had moved to a place so kind and welcoming this former Torontonian couldn’t handle all the strangers that say hello as you walk down the street. Immigrants were welcome here.

When the news broke about the Christchurch/Ōtautahi shooting I was giving a lecture on the legal history of discrimination & employment equity legislation and the importance of speaking out against hate, bias and stereotypes to a group of university students from a variety of backgrounds. I spoke about how each of us has the chance to act as an advocate and help our world celebrate how our differences make our countries and world better and had talented students engaged in crafting a better world.

In a strange twist of fate I was attempting to teach others why we must not be silent when confronted with wrongdoing. 

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Martin Luther King Jr.

We cannot combat hate with more hate. We must fight with love. My chosen home has welcomed me and I must now pay that forward and welcome others. 

I will always remember where I was. 

Kia Kaha Aotearoa

Almost Forty

I realised today when it happened. Ageing that is. It happened when I finally started living a life that made me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who appears to coast through life in a state of ease and joy. I’ve had more than my share of hard times as have most of us. But now, acknowledging the times that have come before makes me more grateful for today that I think I have ever been in the days leading up to today.

What strikes me most clearly is that as soon as I got genuinely happy and stopped being what other people wanted (or what I thought other people wanted) everything started to move as though on fast forward. The days, adventures, laughs, even tears sped up with an enthusiasm that would make roller coasters look like the lazy river.

Alice

Equally notable, is the snail’s pace that the hard times seemed to take, even in my memories. I’m amazed by how absorbed I was with how other people perceived me and how I wanted them to perceive me in my twenties. It seemed to last forever. It certainly felt like a millennium of repeated bad days.

The gaps between should be and perceived by cost me hours (weeks and months in some cases) of trauma that not only moved slowly, they seemed to trap me in neutral. Even when I reflect on them the scars still seem fresh. Normal, I suppose, but when contrasted with the laughs that happened just yesterday already fading away, it seems cruel.

That is the thing about the good times, they fly quickly and without the internet reminding us of fun moments we had back when we can easily forget they existed. Strangely, the moments of turbulence seem etched in my memory in a high definition familiarity I wish I had with today’s breakfast.

So that is what I am going to talk about. Questing for good times every damn day. I know that my life is flying past and that each second is fleeting and precious. Time is not on my side (Sorry Mick) and soon enough my almost forty will become one of the things in my not so recent history so I better get started.

Why today?

I asked myself this too. One answer is that I have the confidence to put my words in the universe because I don’t care if you like them. The alternate is that I am old enough to have experiences worth sharing to those who follow in my footsteps.

Both are bullshit.

Maybe you are asking why you decided to give moments of your precious time for this garbage. My ego tells me that you did because this tome is only going to be read by people who know me and most never made it far enough into this post to see these words.

That being said, if you are someone who gave money to travel the internet and somehow arrived here for my words: Thank you. Send me your postal address and I will mail you a card saying something clever about how you help me to be myself. I will probably need to write it out a few times, edit, and rewrite before I feel good enough to tell you such things, but that is the power of the voices in our heads.

In the fourth grade I wanted to be a writer, but… I soon realised that writers don’t often make a great living and so decided to go a different way.

Fuck You pragmatic ten-year old self.2017-09-24 08.24.24

Sidebar: I think I was actually 6 in this photo and the fat lip is courtesy of my older sister and the teeter-totter.

Seriously. Growing up in a world where struggling to make ends meet and “broke” stole a dream and traded it for self sufficiency is just plain old shitty. For the record: we need to do more to support the working poor.

Well here is the thing about being a grown up: You can change your mind if you want to so that is what I have done. I am now self-sufficient, I have gathered up some confidence in my words, and today I am going to share them even if it doesn’t make me rich, because satisfaction cannot be purchased at any price.

Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing-Benjamin Franklin

In the last couple of years I was inspired to start writing in a way I have always secretly hoped to. My friend Anna makes me feel good about the ideas in my head and the words I assemble onto uhm paper? Digital documents? Whatever. You get the idea. She said nice stuff, I gained confidence, I wrote more stuff. Now you are reading said type of stuff.

Why we face complicated ideas such as what and who we should be so early in life and follow that decision made in the midst of hormone fuelled chaos for decades is beyond me. Shouldn’t we be happy? Shouldn’t success be defined with experiences instead of things you can buy at a store?

So hey there ten-year old Erin, better late than never right?

Onto things of more value: My next steps

When I was young I used to think that I knew the path I was supposed to take. I was supposed to find a good guy, get a job that pays the bills, buy a house, live the life. Happily. Ever. After.

I did those things. I hated my life.

My entire existence was muscle memory the way you continue to read the instructions on a bottle of shampoo as you go through the motions in the shower each morning. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

That is decidedly not living.

Birthdays have been something that I have spent most of my life ignoring and just let them slip by. I don’t know exactly when, but at some point in my late teens I decided that they shouldn’t be such a big deal and that making yourself the centre of attention just brought on criticism.

Since then both the big and little numbers have skated quietly by for almost two decades.

20 came and went to an unhealthy relationship and what I remember being a pretty massive fight. I recall coming up on 30 and after a friend made an absolute spectacle of their big day all I could think was how I didn’t want to be like that. Because of him that milestone went all but unmarked with a partner who forgot.

When I turned 30 I made the decision to redefine what I wanted my life to look like. What I wanted it to look like was not the life I had spent time building. It wasn’t a collection of pretty things or looking the part. It was experiences. It was people I loved that made me laugh so hard tears stream down my face. It was adventures and unexpected items around corners I got to explore because I was busy living life.

It was certainly not life on autopilot.

That being said, 35 was sucked into the vacuum of days at the start of my MBA and a new job, though there was a particularly fantastic meal at Jacob’s …..mmmm steak.

That’s what makes this year important to me to mark in some way. I’ve decided that it is not about the particular day, but rather how you fill the ones that aren’t as discernible. I am now a distance that can be counted in hours away from my next milestone and am doing everything I can to relish the moments that are passing in memorable ways. I’ve spent the last few months working to capture mental pictures of flashes that make up who I am today and who I am yet to be.

To start this next batch of ~3600 days I thought I would reflect a little on the growth that got me through the last decade.

  1. Physically: I have challenged my body by training, running, hiking, and endurance cycling. Even better, I haven’t once died or failed to find the finish line.
  2. Mentally: Yup, all it takes is three post graduate efforts and a little collection of letters after my name in order to remind me that I am smart enough.
  3. Professionally: by having a chance to expand my skills across countries and continents with people from different cultures and experiences, I am a different and more balanced person.
  4. Emotionally: learning to overcome the voice in my head that said I couldn’t as well as through pushing my own limits to discover empathy and human capacity that had long since been tucked away.

This type of stretching matters because we naturally become comfortable doing what we know, with people we know. Committing your life to remaining flexible means more than just being able to touch your toes.

It means that you are willing to try, to fail, and sometimes to flounder in uncertainty while figuring it out as you go.

Today we are faced with ever lengthening life spans and I don’t want the next sixty plus years to look the same. I refuse to allow myself to get too comfortable.

My promises to myself and you.

More languages and more cultural explorations

The goal for now is German, French, and Te Reo (Māori), after that maybe Japanese and sign language… we will see. I can’t guarantee what is coming up around the next corners and am prepared to adapt my plans on the fly as I go.

More physical challenges

Despite what the voice in my head might say I am strong and capable. Our bodies are something that with care can last the hundred or so years I plan to be on the planet, so if I treat this almost forty year-old body well, it will continue to serve me for the rest of my time. A couple of weeks ago I climbed to the top of a volcano in Indonesia. A few weeks from now I will tramp Old Ghost Road in New Zealand. I haven’t made too many plans for 2018 yet, but I promise there will be time spent exploring both new and familiar mountains, forests, and beaches.

Erin Burrell Mt. Batur Bali
This is what you do to welcome 40

More letters

I love learning and my academic endeavors are far from over. I really do want to be a polymath.

More words

I abandoned writing in my teens and have rediscovered a passion for sharing my thoughts and ideas in both formal and informal forums. That is going to continue for sure, you don’t have to read them, but I know that I do have to write them.

More collaboration

It’s not a secret that I am not a big people person. However, I love the way working together can create amplification and multiplication of ideas as smart humans build from one another. The world is full of complex problems and to start solving them we need people with broadly different paradigms to tackle them together.

More failures and confusion

Failing and stumbling are critical parts of learning and growth. Confusion is simply our brain finding ways to connect knowledge we have with new ideas or things we are being exposed to. Instead of considering confusion as something that shows us as less than, consider it watching your brain creating new pathways between what it knows about and what it is discovering in real time. (You want to try it right now, don’t you? It’s ok. I will wait…).

Growth as a feminist and advocate for personhood

No, I am not being cheeky. This is not about one thing. Feminism provides a foundation for humanity. It sparks the flame of true equality for so much more than just gender. Our world is not binary and nor should policies be. People need to be kind to one another regardless of things as defined by hashtags as gender or sexual orientation and as complex as socio-economic status. We are now responsible for embracing the realisation that most of us are becoming citizens without a base as we begin to face life as a global community.

There is more on my list to be sure, but these are the road markers that will remind me that I am progressing when I feel insecure and less than. Goals are complicated things that should be written down and reviewed regularly. I keep a list of them with me and while many items stay until I can tick them off the list, others get removed as I evolve.

So.. that’s it. Happy almost birthday to me.

May we all spend our moments creating sparks for the fires that will warm us tomorrow.

 

 

Uphill both ways

When I was a kid my dad used to tell me a story about how when he was my age he had to “walk uphill both ways to school”. Occasionally this was combined with an aggressive slamming of his baseball mitt sized hand to his chest with a sidebar of “..and the snow was this high! You don’t know how good you’ve got it.”

As an adult I know that he meant this as a story that would motivate me. What I’ve since realised is that often the way we interpret things can be dark and scary OR overwhelmingly motivating. It is all about how we chose to take it.

The words he was saying were about how life could be hard and that likely someone nearby had it worse than I did. In hindsight this isn’t a bad lesson, though I wish he had placed a little focus on what I could be doing to make that other person’s life a little bit better, but he wasn’t that type of guy. Most of his stories roll up to being about looking out for number one.

What troubles me is what the kid in me heard when he told that story. I heard that life is always going to be a struggle. I heard that nobody was going to help you find a shorter, easier way. I heard that you should not complain and just trudge through.

This lesson served to damage a little seed inside me that was trying to grow into something soft and kind and it has taken a long time for me to release that outlook. Today I hear a very different message from his words and this is the one I want to share with you.

If the road in front of you is hard, do not be afraid, be brave and optimistic. The laws of physics are on your side. No route should be uphill both ways. That is not to say that your path will be an easy one to travel. Life is only as hard as you make it. If the track you are on says that you should suffer, stop and question everything about it.

Ask yourself if there is a different way over, under, around, or through. Ask yourself if this was the way you wanted to go in the first place because sometimes a left turn takes you to where you should have been heading all along.

Do not accept the status quo. Learn from things that do not go your way and choose not to allow things not going in your favour to stop you on your journey to greatness. 

Make the decision that you are the only one who can change the rules for you and those who come after you.

One choice, one decision, one mistake, one obstacle will not make or break you, but sitting down and letting the world crush the seeds of awesome inside you will. Sometimes plans don’t go our way. Sometimes we need a better plan, or better yet we need to collaborate with awesome people to create a new way forward all together.

My dad told me a story that was supposed to lift me up and it crushed me for a while. That is a reality of how each of us interprets the things we hear and see. It took longer than it otherwise might have for my little seed to push past these obstacles and bloom.

I consider myself lucky that I was able to hear it differently today because so many hopes and dreams are lost in these situations of misinterpretation.

In light of our global political climate, I want to remind everyone that this single setback should not serve to crush the seeds of hope that have been planted. It may delay the blooms the way a late frost might, but I am here to remind you that summer is coming and together we can make a more beautiful world.

Join me in a left turn towards greatness.

Dear Sarcasm…..

Ah Sarcasm,

We have had a good run you and I. There have been some fun times, but it’s just not working anymore.

Love Erin

Dear Sarcasm

I read somewhere that sarcasm is the lowest form of discourse (literature scholars please offer a source for this truth). I had always thought that sarcasm was a gift. I didn’t realise that it was one of those gifts that might be best left behind for another to use.

For a long-time I took pride in my fast responses and enjoyed the impact of a well placed disdainful comment. I didn’t fully value the impact that these remarks might have on perceptions.

As a professional I do my best to keep my terminology crisp and clear as so much can be lost in the space between words read quickly on a screen. This has come from some tough lessons of items that have been misconstrued due to language or context being undeclared in the content.

Sarcasm can be a great tool in the right circumstance. When combined with wit or humour a sarcastic retort can be impactful. It can make a story land in a way that makes a listener remember it. Over time I have learned that unlike sarcasm both wit and humour can be used to great impact on their own. Sarcasm can too, but without humour or wit to soften the blow it tends to just sound bitchy.

You will notice in great literature sarcasm is a tool for the supporting characters. Rarely is it used by the hero of the story. Heroes are known to put the villains back in their places without the need for this crutch. So why does this matter?

If you want to be the hero instead of the sidekick, you better get some more effective weapons for your arsenal.

Not too long ago I submitted some writing that I had done for a grad school assignment. One of the items had what I considered a cheeky dig at the opponent’s approach. While my work received a great grade, the point received a negative comment from my professor. At the time I thought that she was attacking my point which was well researched and valid. I was offended that she didn’t get me.

This weekend I went for a hike in the woods and was struck with an epiphany that she wasn’t actually attacking me. She was warning me that I might lose my argument because of the sarcastic delivery.

My work might not win the debate even though I had the better argument because my sarcasm would serve to make the reader stop listening.

People don’t hear your message when you attack them before you share it.

Persuasive arguments are fought on good data and sound logic. Sometimes they may include a witty or funny analogy in order to make the reader engage on a deeper level, but they have no need for bitchy digs.

It’s because of this realisation that over the next few months I am weaning myself off sarcastic comments. I work hard to build credible connections between different data points and should not serve to reduce their impact or risk losing the game by throwing foul balls at the batter.

I realise that it can be hard to change something that I used to take pride in. While I may mourn for the retorts never getting a chance to hit their mark, I will celebrate my ability to articulate an argument and win the debate as the hero of my story.

Resting Boss Face

Over the last few years we have been inundated with the phrase resting bitch face. This is often the label placed on any woman who isn’t smiling or crying. It is the face of them just being. Most of our lives happen in the middle. We can’t be up or down all the time or we will become a caricature of what humanity is supposed to be.

Images of men with a non-smiling face may be described as stern or stoic. These images are the definition of pensive and thoughtful and when our male leaders show this face we associate it with trust and respect.Erin Burrell

They become statues of gods and greatness, while women everywhere are a negative representation of a female dog?

What The? Fuck?

It is funny how words can impact how we feel about ourselves.

Throughout my career I have been encouraged to smile more so that I can be viewed as nice and endearing. The truth is, I have never really wanted to be defined as nice. I would prefer to be defined as effective or motivational, thank you very much.

When dealing with trying circumstances and situations I have been reminded that my face is impacting the feelings of those around me. They’ve told me that my team will know that we are facing something serious if I can’t manage to crack a smile. Good. Maybe they should be aware that we aren’t meeting goals and it is time to dig in because we are at war. Maybe just a tidbit of seriousness on the face of their leadership will remind them that we have a job to do.

I’ve had a pretty great career so far. I’ve accomplished some great things personally and more importantly I have mentored people who will continue to pay forward my lessons by continuing to be awesome.

On many occasions while these people were learning and growing they had to deal with my cold visage. It was likely the result of getting all the shit done in the first place since, as we know the business community isn’t exactly all puppies and freaking rainbows. Over time the people who found me scary and intimidating have come to see smiles and cheers as they pushed through their goals too. Life is about balance.

I’ve made tough calls. I’ve had to let good people go due to circumstances I couldn’t control, and I have had to manage people who weren’t delivering. This is the way of the business world, but the reality is that I couldn’t always smile through it.

More than once I have had to make hard decisions, many of them alone. When the only person you can tell about these terrible circumstances is your pet, sometimes the weight of your decisions shows on your face. I do my best not to place any of the pressure and responsibility on another person and that has a price.

Before you ask…No, I don’t cry at work. You won’t find me at my desk lamenting how hard things are. You will likely find me problem solving. In order to do that I need to use my brain to do stuff and there isn’t always room for a genuine smile.

A little while ago a photo was taken of me that I liked very much. I was not smiling, not frowning, not crying, I just was. What was special was the fact that I liked how I looked. As you do with a photo you feel good about I posted it on social media and the comments were mostly about how I should smile more. I am so much prettier when I smile they said. More than a few made Resting Bitch Face remarks.

This image of me that I had liked had actually served to make me feel lousy about myself. (Thank-you social media)

That was until someone I have been mentoring posted two words on the stream.

#BossLady

That single comment changed my mind. Today I like to call it my Resting Boss Face. I am a developer of awesome, and in order to do that I have to be serious most of the time. This habit of seriousness means that when I smile, I am really smiling. I am not going to fake joy to make you feel better because that would make my genuine emotions less impactful.

As of today I am now an enemy of every article telling me how “the struggle of resting bitch face is real”. My face is not a struggle and has very little to do with how I do a job.

Going forward I will celebrate my #RestingBossFace as the sign that I am getting shit done.

 

 

Though she be but little-why looks shouldn’t matter, but they do

Lately, I have been made incredibly aware of the impact that a look can have on the way we perceive others and how we are perceived by other people. We all claim that appearance, gender, and age have no impact on what we think of a person’s abilities, unfortunately, we are subject to more bias than we might like to admit.

One of my favourite roles is that of mentor to some talented young professionals, and appearance keeps coming up in conversation with my mentees.

Can you be considered a professional if you have a visible tattoo?

Would they miss out on a promotion for being too young? female?

What strikes me most is that they aren’t asking if they will miss out by not having a skill or enough experience, it always comes down to the physical attributes they have or do not have.

Roller Derby
Broadside Brawlers versus Dead Wreckoning Photo Credit Rayna Ramsey

I recently was at a sports game where a strong, though, small athlete was playing. Comments abounded about how surprised they were at her ability despite her “disadvantage”.

I found myself frustrated that considering the fact that the team was playing incredibly well, anyone could wonder about her ability (or that of any other member of the team) as an athlete. Clearly all of the members of the two teams were talented so why should size be a limit for talent?

Conversely why should an athlete be anything except what they are?

Down the rabbit hole

This is just a simple example of how what we look like might limit us personally or professionally. Why can’t we celebrate our diversity in whatever capacity as what makes us special and appealing?

OR

Even better: why can’t a person be more than one thing?

Shakespeare quote-Erin Burrell

Though she be but little, she is fierce-William Shakespeare

Recently I discussed the idea of having to prove myself on a regular basis because I am a woman and a technologist. I found myself hoping that with the advent of campaigns like #ILookLikeAnEngineer taking over the internet you would think that bias is changing. Sadly it isn’t going away and won’t until we rush head first into the bias we have inside ourselves.

In her TED talk Verna Myers discusses how we must first acknowledge our “default setting” so that we can change our own mind about what people should be. When we really investigate what we think while we are thinking it we can change our bias.

We can make each person we meet a sum of their talents and knowledge instead of a reflection of what he or she looks like, but we must make an effort to do this. Each time we question these ideas that are hidden in the dark places of our backgrounds we are able to cast light on them with our conscious brains and update those default settings.

“We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.”-Frank Clark

Surrounding yourself with diverse ideas, things and people, and subsequently becoming a person that is more than one thing is how we grow. It’s time to reset our bias and make the decision that each person can be about so much more than what they look like.

Redefine Average

It’s time to redefine our positions in life. If you want to be awesome, surround yourself with awesome people. If you want to be smarter, surround yourself with people who have more knowledge and experience than you do. If you want to stop being afraid of the risks find someone who knows the methods that will keep you safe.

Find a mentor, become a mentor, learn a new skill, volunteer some of your time, or take on any other thing that allows you to stretch your boundaries.

Each of these tasks does the same basic thing. It helps you to redefine what your perception of normal is.

Jim Rohn was once quoted as saying:

Jim Rohn Quote erinburrell.ca
“You are the average of the five people
you spend the most time with.”-Jim Rohn

You commonly find this type of scenario in sports. If you constantly train with a group of athletes that are more talented than you, the odds are high that your skills will improve until you begin to hold your own.

When you think about it, finding average is a bit of a math equation.

Sally and Steve are both incredibly thoughtful people, let’s call them each a 9/10, unfortunately, Joe is a 4/10 and your partner is a 2/10. Total group score 24/40.

If you follow Rohn’s thought process this group of people likely leave you somewhere around a 6/10. Want to be more thoughtful? Hang out with more people like Sally and Steve and the number will start to rise.

But how you ask can you possibly be capable of raising your averages. You can’t just go out and make new friends, this isn’t kindergarten.…..Or can you?

A few years ago I would have said that this was an impossible concept. I love my friends. I wouldn’t want to spend less time with any of them.

Then it happened.

Not intentionally, it was an accident. I started to spend time with some new friends because of a charity that I had gotten involved in. My old friends were no less important, but they did become less frequent entries in my social calendar and I found myself changing for what I consider the better.

I discovered that I was capable of more empathy because of friends who lived their lives caring for others. I was more able to handle stress and navigate challenges because the people around me were able to offer guidance and their gifts of hindsight. My ability to deal with conflict increased and I went from being an attacker to becoming the person who helps to resolve issues. I became more willing to learn from others by surrounding myself with people passionate about learning.

My averages had moved. I had become a reflection of those around me without meaning to change.

After all these years, my mom was right. You are who you associate with.

Is the prize worth the cost?

Have you ever been to a fair and tried to win the teddy bear? Often if you are not incredibly skilled you will spend much more than the teddy bear is worth trying to win a game. I can recall more than once standing in front of a game I knew I couldn’t win thinking that maybe I should just go to a store and buy myself the toy and save the trauma of losing again and again.

Careers and life choices sometimes follow the same path. Sometimes there is a cost to quality, ethics, standards, or personal values to get to that finish line.

You may get a prize but is it worth doing whatever it takes to get it?

I recently had a coaching session with a talented lady who was concerned that she hadn’t progressed her career as quickly as another person on her team. She expressed frustration at the fact that the other person was getting increased prestige and, of course, more money and here she was in the same desk.

I challenged her with the idea that this other person must have made different choices than she had in order to achieve the increase in their status. She nodded her head and went into a stream of activities that she wasn’t willing to compromise her values to do. My response was simple, clearly she needed to surround herself with people who wouldn’t ask her to pay such a toll for the same rewards. (Fast forward a few months and she is in a new role with an organisation that isn’t asking her to compromise values for promotions.)

Easier than it sounds

Jim Rohn’s point was simple. Being in the middle of a group of amazing people isn’t bad, but in order to get there you need to surround yourself with the greatness you aspire to.

Anyone is capable of shifting their scores by being humble enough to realise that. So go out and find a new average and don’t settle until your calculation adds up to awesome.

The art of pushing through

Pushing Through-Erin Burrell
The art of pushing through

adjective push·ing \ˈpu̇-shiŋ\

Definition of PUSHING

  1. marked by ambition, energy, enterprise, and initiative
  2. marked by tactless forwardness or officious intrusiveness

preposition \ˈthrü\

Definition of THROUGH

  1. into one side and out the other side of (something)
  2. from one side or end to another side or end of (something)

Based on these definitions in order to push through (you) must be marked by tactless forwardness or officious intrusiveness into one side and out the other side (of something).

It is the concept of officious intrusiveness that makes getting through personal blockages so key in my mind. It’s the idea that in order to get past/over/through something hard you have to stop being polite. You need to knock down the things between you and your goal in a bit of obstacle bowling so to speak.

When you are alone there are a thousand things that you can use as excuses as to why you can’t. They are all about being polite.

I have other things I should be doing: Really? Your laundry will wait for you to write that novel or climb that hill. We know you have clean underwear left in the drawer.

It’s not really what I want anyway: (I’m shaking my head as I write this phrase.) We cannot (and should not) give up greatness because it is too hard. If you want something: GO. DO. Carpe Diem is thousands of years old. Seize the damn day people!

Support-Erin Burrell
Sometimes we need a little support

It’s hard for a reason

If the things you hope to achieve are easy, they aren’t special. When you reflect on the lessons you have learned in the process you will be reminded why so many people never get to say they did this or that. Many years from now you might think back to a challenge you were faced with and it won’t be the finish line that you reflect on, but the hurdles along the way that you defeated.

Remember that you are overcoming something in order to feel the joy of achievement. The rush of victory is a powerful motivator, but you have to get out of your own head and stop listening to your excuses.

Stop being polite and start taking names

Excuses are your enemy. Between you and I we can come up with heaps of them.

Reasons why you shouldn’t be the hero in your story. Reasons why that goal was too big for you. Even reasons why you don’t deserve that achievement.

We are WRONG. The world is yours. Goals are specifically designed to be stacked up and knocked down like freaking dominoes.

Keep moving forward

My friend Anna was writing something that wasn’t easy to say. She is a woman of many talents and professions and had lots of reasons to walk away from the keyboard. BUT she didn’t. She pushed past the voices in her head that told her not to finish it. (You can see her thoughts on a page over at Too Convoluted. She’s funny and honest, read her stuff.)

Facing these fears and thoughts of inadequacy is never easy. They might have slowed her progress, but they didn’t stop her, she kept writing. One. Word. At. A. Time.

It took longer than it should have. It was harder than it usually is. It is some of her more thoughtful writing and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. I get to say that because, she did it. She was marked by ambition, energy, enterprise, and initiative into one side and out the other side. I know that her next goal will be bigger, harder, and more complex than the last and I can’t wait to cheer her on.

There is no easy button on things worth pursuing.

No, it isn’t easy. No, it isn’t fast. It is, however really freaking worth it.

She was reminded (as was I) that by persevering past the blockage, that she could. The mere fact that she was able to do this thing reminds us all that we can continue to pursue bigger goals and achievements.

Pushing through to greatness

  1. Don’t apologise for wanting something for yourself.
  2. Surround yourself with empowering people who don’t accept excuses. They can help get you through the hard times.
  3. Choose big, hairy, goals. Goals that intimidate regular people. Goals that make you a bit afraid just by thinking about them. Then when you accomplish them you will dance by the light of victory.
  4. Use your fear of failure (and actual failures) as fuel. Let them remind you that the odds of achieving your goals can improve when you learn from your previous mistakes
  5. Don’t stop trying until you get there. Famous entrepreneurs, athletes, celebrities cite failure as their strongest motivational factor. A friend and accomplished endurance cyclist gave me some advice on how to achieve a goal. His thought was that any forward momentum, no matter how slow or small was getting you closer to your goal.

It is because I continue to be inspired by great people like Anna that I have accomplished what I have so far. Hopefully, these few words help to remind you that you are capable of doing something great as well.

The value of mentors (and why you should become one)

Recently LinkedIn told me that I should be thanking my mentors. While I think gratitude is important and I am an advocate for saying thank you publicly, I feel that the best thank you comes through action. I see the need to pay forward my gratitude in physical ways whenever possible and I think this is the lesson many of my mentors would like to have seen me learn.

Many people credit their mentors for offering them the insights they need to succeed while others state that it was their mentor that taught them not to be hard on themselves while they were learning. I see both of these concepts as adding value, but feel that we should all be reminded that no matter what age or career level we may have achieved, we have something to offer to other people.

Becoming a mentor/advocate is the most meaningful role I have ever held. Today most of the wins I experience are not my own. Instead, they are the achievements of people I have been lucky enough to work with and contribute to the development of.

Mentoring involves hard and soft skills

Dealing with conflict at work or challenges with navigating business politics are common themes for mentors. It is our gift of hindsight that helps to inform the knowledge we share with our mentees. However, it is the ability to see what worked and didn’t in our past experiences that leads us to offer tools, models, and approaches that will support our mentee in their hard skill development.

If you read Harvard Business Review you will discover that most articles regarding leadership success or management involve being a mentor to those below you and learning from those above you. I started to look for a particular article that displays this brilliantly and discovered this one.

While it also talks of the evolution from manager to leader, I don’t see any of the concepts being less relevant for those at any level in their career. Including ideas such as seeing the micro and macro pictures and understanding when to fight and when to negotiate will help to grow every resource.

What’s in it for you?

Victory in business and personal efforts feel fantastic. When you add those of your team and direct reports that feeling is increased immensely. Ultimately it comes down to the reality that helping someone else feels good for you.

What always surprises me is how much I learn when I’m mentoring. From the reminder to be excited about challenges, the desire to face new tasks with reckless optimism (often hard for those of us with battle scars), to the ability to be humble and learn new skills, my mentees teach me every day.

When you win: you feel good. When they win: you feel good. How can you possibly lose with that approach?

My lesson for you

Before you merely thank your mentors, become one and learn why acting is more valuable than speaking.

A few of the lessons I take with me daily from great leaders I am proud to have my career crafted by:

Work with people you love and respect.

Work with people you want to spend time with. While the relationships weren’t always critical to business success, it was worth the exchange for enjoying work more. Sometimes this means you don’t get the cheapest deal or resource, but making less profit and loving your day will be more impactful over the long term. Jeff Rushton

Detail matters in everything you do.

Going back and reviewing your work or someone else’s won’t ever hurt your business. As he always said “circle the wagons” (to make sure your load is stable). Mario Policicchio

Silence is powerful.

People are afraid of silence. It makes them uncomfortable. They will rush to fill the space you leave empty and that is where you will learn what to do next. Be quiet, watch, and listen. Andreas Lorenzen

Dr Seuss Quote
Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!

A blog by any other name

I’ve been blogging for a long time now. I originally started in 2009 for a charity project I was working on and discovered a passion to share my ideas with the world (even if most of them were only ever read by my mom-Hi Mom!).

On this forum alone my posts go back to 2011, many of which are still relevant today. While I should admit I am highly critical of my evolution as a writer, I have never been afraid of to have confidence in my ideas no matter how flawed the delivery might have been. I credit this confidence in my words to the passion of my early years: journaling, and to the professors who give me good grades on my work.

So today I am wondering what the value my contributions and those of others are making on our culture and the digital space as a whole through the act of blogging.

Creating community and sharing ideas

The internet and all that lives on it from blogs and forums to ratings and reviews are about connection across time and space. Sharing ideas with people without regard for their time zone is something that makes blogging special.

Bloggers like Luis Suarez discuss the idea that this community and collaborative lifestyle is our right as citizens of the world. Kathleen Asselin also speaks of this interactive lifestyle and momentum in growth in her thesis (reference here: sadly not available outside of a library).

My posts started as essays on topics I was faced with in the workplace. They are littered with challenges of offering great customer experiences in eCommerce and digital marketing, topics, which were the reason I started erinburrell.ca. Here and there I would throw in a few accolades for those doing great things, but it quickly morphed into business commentary and hard-won survival tips with a sprinkling of academic content added for good measure.

Creating reach to new content and topics

As a student and scholar, I have access to publications most people only armed with Google and an internet connection will never see. Content under the badge of being scholarly and peer reviewed is often highly researched, validated, and edited for quality but sadly read even less than my personal blog in some cases.

Part of that fault is, of course, the desire for people to be paid for their content. An idea which with just a smidgen of understanding what it takes to publish an article makes sense. I have access to a great deal of paid content because I pay tuition and rich library access is included in my fees. I agree that content creators should be paid for their efforts, but I am sad that many publications and ideas will never reach people who could benefit from them.

Unfortunately, that means that the ideas we are all exposed to at no cost in some cases are….. well…. Let’s just call them poorly researched and not well cited to be generous.

Heidi Estes discusses the idea that blogging makes space for personal commentary and criticism in academic efforts and helps to round out the ideas of a scholar (here’s hoping).  Sadly her blog was not in the first few pages of search so the closest I can offer you for free is the abstract of one of her articles discussing the topic in more detail.-You can purchase instant access to the entire article for about what Netflix costs you each month.

Finding the balance: Freemium content

Freemium is one of my favourite things about the digital age. I could dedicate more than one post just to the value I think this adds to the digital economy, but for the uninitiated, this means that you have access to a product or service with limits. If you want to live life without limits you must pay for the privilege-somewhat like TV in the 90’s.

Great content providers in the entertainment, business, and journalistic space have embraced this idea. Harvard Business Review will let you read a little, as will People.com and the New York Times, but after you reach the limit it’s pay to play. I wish academia would embrace this, but I suppose it will be scholars like me that can change the face of publishing if we want to.

Freemium in my opinion, is the best of both worlds. Creators get paid and if they are producing content people really enjoy, in turn they pay for a subscription or buy what they want in an a la carte pricing menu.

So who am I to direct you?

Today I would call myself a scholar-practitioner. I study a number of topics and currently practice in the space of information technology and business strategy. My content is free and without the burden of extra ads and marketing because I pay service providers for blocking additional noise from my words.

If you like something I share or dislike it for that matter, you are welcome to comment, like and follow me. Or not. Your call.

I will continue to share my thoughts because I might be able to offer connections between the dots of concepts that you wouldn’t hear about without me.

I do ask you to forgive the gaps that may occur between posts. I am currently working toward my second masters degree, work full time and have lots of hobbies that keep me busy.  Plus, we all know that I actually pay for the chance to talk to you through this forum (domain registration, ad suspension, web hosting), not the other way around.

Then again delays could be that I am randomly surfing YouTube watching the cat videos that make the internet great.

Head to the archives and see what else I have to say.