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.

 

 

Borrowed Bravery

Hey there…. I know that lately you haven’t been feeling it. It’s hard to see the finish line when the world becomes a 24/7 obstacle course. I’ve been there and am here to offer you all the bravery you need to get through this moment.

Here’s the thing… I know that you are on the cusp of awesome and I know what it feels like to be scared and unsure. It’s because I’m so familiar with what you must be feeling today I thought I would let you know that I have some extra brave that is yours no questions asked.

I see you hesitating. Let me just stop you there. I know every single one of your arguments.

You’re afraid of failure.

You aren’t ready yet.

You don’t have enough skills, intelligence, education, or good old fashioned gumption to do the thing you want to do.

The rest of the world knows how much you don’t deserve this chance.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

I’ve been where you are right now. Paralysed by inadequacy. Sure that at any point someone is going to point out what a faker you are. I understand completely. I’ve been there before and I am very aware of the fact that at some point I will be there again.

So.. here’s the deal. You can borrow my brave today. I have enough confidence for both of us that you are EXACTLY the right person for the job.

I also know that with the little boost that my bravery can give you, you are going to be Ah-Freakin’-May-ZING. I know that what you don’t have today, you will work for and will turn this little boost into a rocket towards a future you can’t yet imagine.

That’s right, for the total price of nothing but a signature on the dotted line, you can have every single one of the talents you see in front of you right now. I have enough brave for both of us today, so I’ve got your deficits covered.

All the confidence, all the skills and knowledge I have collected over the years they are 100% yours to use. I paused for a second to think about what you WILL accomplish with just 10% of the faith I have in you. GAWD… You will be unstoppable.

But there’s a catch. (Damn sales pitches and their fine print).

You can’t keep it. You can use my bravery as long as you need to, but when you have a cup full of bravery of your own you need to give the extra away.

Bravery is a thing that MUST be paid forward. As soon as you realise that you are no longer drowning in fear and inadequacy, you HAVE to give some of that brave away. Someone else will need it more than you and it’s critical that you help another when they are in need.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. Winston Churchill

Until you are ready just use my faith in you to push through the scary bits on your way to filling your own cup of brave, I’ve got plenty and am happy to share.

Ready? You’ve got this. 

Forget about all of the reasons why you can’t. Take a big gulp from my cup of brave and kick some ass.

 

 

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.

The art of Procrastivity

People talk about how bad procrastination is, but I think that there is a way to procrastinate productively. I dub this effort PROCRASTIVITY and it helps me to do #ALLTHETHINGS!

Yes, that is a made up word…mind you if we look at the way language evolves it might be a real word soon enough. I digress, but really it’s just the synergy of how my avoidance of particular tasks can actually match up with my goals and deliver more outcomes in less time than you might expect.

To be honest I have a lot of things on the go at any one time. Collaborative projects, writing commitments, grad school, work for clients, hobbies, etc. etc. I do a lot of things in my quest to be a polymath and when I procrastinate I have discovered that I often avoid one work effort by doing another.

What? I decide that I don’t want to do my expenses and say…uhm…spend the time instead of doing my expenses writing a blog or doing research for a client. I’m not unproductive, just producing differently. You might be familiar with the feeling of being struck by a powerful need to clean out your closet when you should be doing your homework, or maybe the urgent need to squeeze in that week of meal prep before you can contemplate going to the gym. If you use your desire to avoid a task as fuel to complete another you can be abundantly productive.

While I have to admit that sometimes I do avoid tasks with the help of my couch and Netflix (I’m human people!) when I am avoiding one thing I am primarily working on something else that adds value to one of my goals.

So often we hear about the downfalls of procrastination. We hear stories of how people struggle to accomplish their basic life tasks and rarely hear positive stories. I’m here to tell you about how the act of deferring one task in favour of another can actually help people to deliver more than they thought possible.

Strategic diversity

In order to master procrastivity you need to make some choices about how you want to grow as a person. From making space to develop a creative skill, growing your career, or investing in a dream, your alternate projects need to deliver value to your life plan or personal goals. By doing this you will be assembling items that regardless of what you pick will be doing something good for you.

Think of it like a menu from your favourite restaurant, no matter what you select, it is sure to be tasty and fill your belly. BUT…… you also cannot and should not live exclusively on junk food anymore than you should limit your goals.

Implementing procrastivity

Make the initial list of everything you want to do and prioritise it. Include all the things that you want to do personally, with your loved ones, and professionally. Do not skip concepts like relaxation, fitness, and time with your family as they need to fit in just as much as getting that new certification or promotion might.

Note: The items on your list do not need to add instant value, but MUST add long term value to YOU (nobody else needs to get anything from your goals). Make sure that you are thinking thoughtfully about the things you are adding to your to-do list and how they might contribute to your overall quality of life and personal goals.

An example of this strategic diversity might be goals like learning a language, educating yourself about your professional field, training for your first marathon, doing your day job, and spending time with your family. While this might seem like a big roster of items you can easily slot them all in if you are aware about what items you can be flexible with and what items you need to stick to a schedule with.

Something like education in your professional field could have complete flexibility because you are reading/listening to content about the topic or maybe taking part in a MOOC. These items can be done in the time you wait in a queue for coffee or when you have a few moments free waiting for transit. Comparatively, things like our day jobs can’t be quite as flexible so you have to slot the other items around them.

Most items sit in the middle zone. Training for a marathon for example might require a certain commitment of hours on the road so you need to find a block of time a few days a week before or after work, while family/partner time might be very flexible about the when and not about the how much so you block most of your weeknights to dedicate to your goals and spend your weekend adventuring with your loved ones.

You also have to accept that the priority must correlate to how much time you can invest in each item right now. Maybe that means that something is not going to get as much attention in the short term because of current demands, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t continue to progress as time allows and may become more focused when something else reduces in volume or effort.

Opportunity for connections

So often when we are in the middle of something specific we develop tunnel vision. We forget about other perspectives or options. It’s not our fault, it just happens.

Procrastivity allows us to see new links between seemingly disparate topics through reflection and new knowledge creation. Personal reflection is often powered by walking away from a task and provides us with chances to let our subconscious brain problem solve as it places the new knowledge into slots in our brains. More often than not something that I have been working on for one thing can serve to inform another when I least expect it.

Learn new things

I know this is a bit overly simplified, but doing more than one thing intentionally helps you to learn and grow as a person. We can never know how a passion to learn to play the guitar might result in finding your dream job because of a connection you make or a place you go. Creating a plan to extend your comfort zone will be sure to drive you forward in more ways than the single skill you are acquiring or developing in that moment.

So, now that you have realised that procrastivity is the way forward what are you going to do about it?

new-piktochart_block_2
#Procrastivity for the WIN!

There are also some great to-do lists that can help you to master procrastivity. I really like this one from That’s what she said.

KNOW-MO

It’s funny what happens when you start deciding not to be somewhere. We have all done it. New jobs, cities, hobbies, even nights in armed with tea and binge watching TV happen because we resolve not to do something.

You know what you are missing because you chose not to do it. It doesn’t matter what you are doing instead. From riding your bike with bums you know to selfies or cocktails or selfies featuring cocktails, you know what would be happening IF.
If you were there.

If you decided that the other thing was more important than the thing you are doing now.

But.

It isn’t.

You decided. You have to own it, but it doesn’t make it easy and this is where Know-MO comes in.

Maybe it was your bank account that motivated it. Maybe it was your desire to see the ocean every day, but whatever it was, it was more important than the thing you are kinda missing right now.

I say kinda, because you and I both know that you made a choice. That what is happening right now somewhere else isn’t your jam today.

It isn’t fear of missing out. You have no FOMO. You aren’t afraid. You made a selection based on some type of weighted decision criteria and something else won out.

When I decided to move across the planet I evaluated the pros against the cons. In typical Rory fashion I made a list.

Leave a job I loved in a city I loved with friends I loved for a city I didn’t really know, with a partner I loved to live a life I craved near the ocean with unaccounted for ideas of adventure that I couldn’t yet imagine.

The partner and the ocean weighed more than the job, friends, and city. It was a weird choice. I would have loved to have taken all the amazing things with me, but life is not about what is nice to have.

I chose to give up a life I loved for a life I didn’t know much about. It meant that I would have to accept that things I liked doing in places I claimed as my favs were going to happen without me. It wasn’t FOMO. It was KNOW-MO. I know exactly what I am missing every day.

For the last couple of weeks, I have headed back to visit cities I love, with people I love to hang out and do the things I’ve been knowingly missing and I find myself already thinking about home. I know what I gave up to leave and now I know what I am leaving to visit old homes and already find myself missing home before I have even really been gone.

Each time we leave something we love we make choices. It might be the city we grew up in or a home we selected to make our own, but at the end of the day it is something we knew in exchange for some type of adventure.

I freaking LOVE adventure. I love discovering new places and exploring. A couple of years ago I made a choice to leave what I knew in exchange for what I wanted and a slew of things I didn’t even know I wanted yet.

That is what adventures teach us. That what happens after you step outside your comfort zone might be better or worse than what is inside it. Even more importantly it is about the things we cannot even imagine discovering that begin to appear when we are open to it.

It’s weird to know what you are missing. You have to acknowledge it and move forward.

We talk about FOMO mostly in regard to a night out with your friends  versus a night in with Netflix and comfy pants (you only get to call them yoga pants if you actually do freaking yoga in them…let’s be honest here).

The last few weeks have reminded me that while I don’t consider places like Toronto and Atlanta to be like home anymore they are filled with loving friends, chosen family, and a version of welcome that cannot be adequately described without hugs, tears from laughter, and high fives.

Thank you to everyone who reminded me that I am loved, who went out of their way to renew my welcome, and who took time out of their very busy lives to shuttle me about and help me to arrive everywhere safely. My door is always open to each of you, just remember to bring your passport in order to clear customs en route.

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.

 

 

Feeding the seeds around us

I was inspired by a TedTalk that introduced me to the word prevernal a few years ago. Defined as the critical point where something has begun to grow, but is not yet mature. It talks about those early blooms on spring plants and can be used just as easily to describe our growth as people.

Some things can grow despite circumstances, while others begin life at a deficit and must be encouraged if they hope to discover opportunity.

Growth comes easily and naturally to some of us. Breaking through still-frozen ground is something that many can do successfully, but I don’t want to talk about them.

I want to talk about those prevernal people and ideas that need care and support.

Breaking the surface

We must sometimes offer help to others in order to see them achieve what they are capable of. These are the flowers that without someone clearing the snow and offering food to support their growth will never come into being. People need sustenance in this way more than nature might display. It could be because we only see the seeds that manage to break ground, in their effort to flourish and we don’t even know how many perished in the effort to just break the surface.

The word break implies that something must be destroyed in order to have another bloom, and I think that this is really quite true. When we discover change, there is always some lost part of us that lives in the wake of our evolution.

Once the change has occurred, it can no longer claim to be just a seed. The plant has broken through into the earth surrounding it. Both are changed forever. The earth is disrupted and the sprout can never return to seed.

Pollination

Many changes are for the better. So many show us the opportunity for more blooms and growth and with them comes the tipping point. In horticulture, many blooms are not enough on their own and require nurturing in the form of pollination. In people, the same lesson holds true.

You can just as easily stomp out that seed through intention or accident. You must be aware of the seeds around you and make a conscious decision to offer them support for their growth or at the very least stay out of their way.

Feeding the seed

Feeding can happen without being disruptive. It can be something so simple as keeping pests that may attack it away or as complex as daily nurturing and providing sustenance.

As leaders and mentors, we often combine these tools into our approaches. By sheltering that growing seed from negative impact, we are offering them the chance to find their own way. They may never make it out, but you were there to offer them some protection from the elements and enemies.

Through daily nurturing we can help those people and ideas to flourish when they might not have been able to. As individuals, we often think back to some person who offered food to the seed inside us. They told us we were good enough, or that we deserved success and opportunity despite the deficit we come from.

Deciding how to care

People are unique in their needs, but in many cases the same approach will help many, and from there you can customise the care to the individual. Five steps that work for both plants and people are below:

  1. Protect them from pests that may hurt them.
  2. Offer a safe environment to grow in
  3. Provide adequate sources of fuel
  4. Shine some light to help them grow
  5. Don’t try to squeeze too many seeds together or they will fight for space

Great leaders know that growth is a personal experience. It is our responsibility to give back to the world by providing new seeds a chance to bloom. Set those around you up for success and watch your garden grow.

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.