Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bring a Canteen

   As many people have said, some go to the fountain of knowledge to drink... while others merely gargle.  Some want to swim in it.  Some just sail their toy boats on it, and don't actually partake of it.  Some even go to pee in it, and foul it for everyone else.

   The way of excellence, though, is to bring a canteen!

   First of all, your knowledge will fade.  As a friend of mine likes to say, by the time you leave this lecture you'll forget half of what I said, tomorrow you'll forget half of what remained, and in two weeks you'll deny you were even here.  When you attend some way of learning something, be it a multi-semester college course or a five-minute talk, take it with you.  Take notes.  Buy the book.  Do a practice project.

   But that's just normal everyday excellence.  It's just something basic you'd do any time you want to learn something.  It doesn't take any daring at all.

   Some say "sharing is caring" (except of course the RIAA), but sharing can also be daring.  Let others drink from your canteen of knowledge.  You will find that, as in the magic trick, it never runs out... and there will also be more for you.

   The secret to this version of the trick, is to have the confidence that you can still be seen as excellent, in relation to others, even after they have absorbed the knowledge you bring.  This can take many forms.  For example, you may be so far ahead of them, that this knowledge will not let them overtake you.  Or it may be outside of your primary working skill, so it doesn't threaten your ability to make a living.  Or, best of all, you may be part of a trend, where you all teach each other, and you're all excellent together... including not only whatever the subject is, but in teaching as well.

   (Yes, I wrote in an earlier entry that competition is good... but it doesn't have to be cut-throat.  Life is not a zero-sum game.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Take a Chance!

   Of course I don't mean stupid chances with major risks for minor possible gains, like jumping over canyons in a motorcycle, mouthing off to the gang of bikers at the bar, or voting for <insert personal least favorite political candidate here>.

   But, don't be afraid to take any risks at all.  Even in the security business, they don't try to eliminate it all, just reduce it to an acceptable level.  Life without any risks at all, is so dull and constrained as to be not worth living.  As I've said many times before, the freedom to succeed is meaningless without the freedom to fail.

   So, what risks have I taken lately?

   Last year, I was laid off.  I interviewed with a small defense contractor, who ultimately said they wanted to make me an offer.  As I was in the midst of talks with Google, I told them that I didn't want to give anyone else a firm yes or no, until I had one from Google.  This incurred the risk that Google would take so long to say no, that the contractor would have filled the spot with someone else.

   As it turns out, Google did indeed say no.  (After five rounds of interviews, including flying me out to California!)  And, I had heard shortly before then, that the contractor had indeed filled the spot.

   So, I took a risk, and lost.  Would I do it again?  Heck yeah!  Don't get me wrong, the offer the contractor would have made, would not have been something to turn down lightly.  But a shot at working for Google, even more so.

   Meanwhile, there are often things you can do to mitigate a risk.  For instance, you can buy insurance.  (Okay, technically, that's what the security business calls transferring a risk rather than mitigating it, but let's not get picky.)

   So how did I mitigate this risk?  I kept the search going throughout the whole ordeal.  How did that work out?  I wound up getting hired someplace, didn't like it, and left.  But it paid the bills while I gave it a chance -- a lot better than unemployment benefits!  It also gave me the exposure to modern computer languages that was lacking at my prior companies -- and I believe this was a key factor in getting hired at my current company, which I like very much so far.

   Your turn!  What risks have you taken lately, that you think most people would have been afraid to take?  How did you mitigate, transfer, or otherwise deal with the risk?  How did it turn out?

Sunday, November 14, 2010


   One great way to assess, and probably improve, your skill in something, is to enter competitions.  Some people claim that deliberate competition is evil, "macho", or the turf of chest-beating neanderthals.

   Horse hockey!  I think these people are just afraid of competition themselves.  Getting over such fears is what this blog is all about, so here we go!

   Competition has many benefits:

  • You'll be exposed to the audience/public.  As I've said before, you don't want to let down your adoring fans, do you?  So you're going to do your best... and that often improves your best.

  • You'll be exposed to the other competitors.  At first, their skills will likely be better than yours.  They may have some tricks up their sleeves, that you can observe and learn.

  • Even if you don't pick up on the others' tricks, there will be no shortage of people willing to give you helpful hints for improvement, some of which really will be helpful.  :-)  (Depending on the context, you may need a decent BS detector.)

  • Make it to the upper levels of a competition, and you're likely to wind up with a coach.  That (almost) always helps.

   Take for instance... Toastmasters speech or evaluation contests.  Many people are afraid to give a speech or feedback in front of a small audience like their work group, so they join Toastmasters, a safe and supportive environment in which to practice and gain confidence.  So you'd think that people would jump all over the chance to enter Toastmasters contests, right?

   Nope.  Many people are afraid that they'll look bad next to all those people who are so good at it.  How good?  Well, good enough that they dare to enter contests!

   Don't let that stop you.  Believe you me, I've seen (and even given!) some pretty bad speeches in contests.  Those folks who are up there doing so well, are probably not doing it for the first time.  Their first time, they were probably no better than you.  Maybe worse.

   Ask yourself, what's the worst that can happen?  Most likely, the worst is that you won't do very well.  Okay, fine.  Whoop de doo.  Fact is, you'd do just as poorly in another context.  So what is it really?  More likely, you're scared that people will see you do poorly.

   But ya know what?  People (especially Americans) tend to like the underdog, the little guy, the scrappy contender.  It goes all the way back to David and Goliath.  They won't remember you as "the guy who gave that really awful speech".  Chances are, they're no better themselves!  That goes for almost any kind of competition that people are watching.  No, they'll remember you as the guy who gathered up his courage to compete against the best, to streeeeetch out and reach for the brass ring, to go for it!

   I was originally formulating the ideas for this blog entry during Toastmasters Spring Contest season, when we do the International Speech Contest and the Evaluation Contest.  I entered both, coming in second in the Speech Contest at the club level (BAE Lunchbreak Toasters).  As of the actual writing, though, I had won the Evaluation Contest at the club and Area (42) level, and will compete at the Division (D) level Friday evening next week.

   (Update: I lost.  But I'd do it again.  Since then, I've made a New Year's resolution to enter all my club's speech and evaluation contests.  I'm no longer with BAE Lunchbreak Toasters, but I'm still in Fairfax Toastmasters.)

   (Alternately, you may find yourself in a competition without even trying, due to need for a scarce resource, but that's a whole 'nother story.)

   Your turn to sound off!  What do you like to compete in?  How did you get started, especially getting up the nerve?  How have you done?  What have you learned, especially anything that helped you improve?  Would you do it again?  Have you?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

To Thine Own Self Be True

   There are several levels of daring to be different.  The one I mean, is the one often phrased as "Be yourself".  Some of you might be thinking, "well duh, of course I'm me, who else would I be???"

   But some people sometimes believe that they need to hide their real feelings, hopes, fears, etc., for various reasons.  They may want to impress someone, "fit in" with the "in crowd", etc.

   Sometimes this can be okay, or even good.  Hiding your fear, for whatever reason, can help you face whatever it is you're afraid of.  This is often key to conquering your fear.  Even then, though, you may as well admit it.  At the very least, that makes it easier to get help.

   Often, though, the pretense is all a sham, to no real useful purpose.  You wind up essentially lying to the world, including your friends, family, and colleagues.  Like any other lie, you will not be able to keep it going forever -- you will be stressed by trying to remember what version of the story you told to whom, and you will eventually slip and get caught.  The consequences can vary widely, but in any case, as usual, honesty is indeed the best policy... including being honest to your nature.

   On the other claw, don't take "daring to be different" too far, by being different just for the sake of being different.  That's just as fake, and therefore just as wrong and un-excellent, as being untrue to your nature.

   That said, though, perhaps you don't like your nature, and sincerely wish to change it.  That's a whole 'nother story, which perhaps I'll address in a future post.

   (As a completely irrelevant addition: the first time I recall hearing the title phrase, was on an episode of Gilligan's Isle.  For whatever reason, the castaways decided to do a musical production of Hamlet, set to the music from Carmen.  For many years thereafter, until I read Hamlet and saw Carmen, I associated The Toreador's Song with Polonius's advice to Laertes.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Help Wanted!

   In the "Spiderman" movie, his mom said to him, "You're not Superman, you know!"

   Are you?

   Probably not.  At most, one of my readers is.  More likely, none.

   Chances are pretty good that, once in a while, you run into something you're just not able to complete alone.  So what do you do then?

   Some people would say, tough it out.  Give it all you've got, and if you are indeed excellent, you'll get it done.



   Yeah... right!  And the sun will shine once those monkeys I mentioned before, stop blocking it.

   Quit banging your head against the wall.  Ask for help.  Admit that you're human.  (Uh, you are, aren't you?)  Done correctly, this will get the problem solved the fastest, and with the least amount of total pain and effort, including not only yours but others' too.  That's what being excellent is all about, not about looking like Superman.

   But how should you ask for help?  Not just how to phrase it politely, like yo' mama should have taught you, but how to lay the groundwork, so that you will likely get a good, helpful response.

   Eric S. Raymond wrote a wonderful essay titled "How To Ask Questions The Smart Way".  He's best known in the computer world, and the essay is mainly aimed at getting technical help from "hackers" (rant on the media mangling of that word, omitted).  And yes, his attitude is often condescending and abrasive.  But...  the principles he outlines are pretty much universal.  In fact, if you apply them outside that realm, you'll meet with even greater success.  To break it down, way down:

  • Try to solve it yourself first.  The essay details several information sources to try, at least for technical problems.

  • Ask the right person or group.

  • Communicate well, including:
    • Use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.; don't m4Ke 7h33 07h4R P3r51n 5p3Nd 4 !07 uv h1z 7yM3 f!9uR1nG oU7 wU7 u m33N!
    • Get to the point. Preferably as early as the Subject line, if asking by email.
    • Be specific about the problem or question, and what kind of help you're looking for.
    • Give all the data you have.
    • But still be concise.

  • Say what you already tried, and why that didn't satisfy you.

  • Above all, be nice about it!  Don't assume that any problem you're having, is his fault, or even not yours.  Don't expect an instant solution on a silver platter.  You're probably not paying the person who's helping, so be grateful that they're putting forth any effort at all for you.

So now, dear readers, as usual, it's your turn.  When do you ask for help, and what do you do to help ensure that you get it?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Don't Burn Out

   Remember the boss from last month's entry, who wanted you to rush rush rush and hop to it on his supposedly need-it-now task, which rarely really is?  That kind of boss is likely to also pile unreasonable amounts of work on you, especially claiming again that it's an "emergency".

   Don't fall for it, unless of course it's a true emergency.  That means, something not only unforeseen, but unforeseeable.  It's a manager's job to plan for the things likely to go wrong, allow slack time for them, and recovery time afterward.

   If you give in, even once, you set a precedent.  The boss now knows he can count on you to work your buns off, probably for little to no recognition (let alone actual reward), on a whim.  He will expect you to do it.  If you don't do it next time, you are "not meeting expectations".  Never mind that the expectations are utterly unreasonable.

   There is an old military expression about this: "Take more than your share of objectives, and you will be given more than your share of objectives to take."

   It can be tempting, as so many short-sighted companies pay all glory and homage to the fire-fighters, but slight the diligent workers practicing fire-prevention.  In the programming world, this shows up as support for, for instance, 80-hour weeks of debugging, versus 40-hour weeks that include good unit test coverage.

   Repeat after me: "Your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency."

   Okay, putting it that bluntly may not play well with the boss, but if you get fired for sticking up for yourself, well, would you want to work for such a jerk anyway?  (By the way, one of the first jobs I ever quit, I quit partly because the boss was a jerk.)

   One last note, lest some of you make some unwarranted connections: no, I have not personally worked for a boss who was all that prone to pulling this particular stunt.  It is not why I am leaving Comcast, nor is my boss anywhere near that bad.  But it is one of the canonical "Stupid Pointy-Haired-Boss Tricks" (with no apologies to either David Letterman or Scott Adams).

Dogfooding: Rosetta Stone

   Remember a couple months ago, when I wrote that Quitters Can Win?  In the software development arena, we have a tradition called "dogfooding".  It didn't originate with us, but we do try to do it when possible.

   What's the connection, you wonder?  "Dogfooding" is short for "eating your own dog food" - click it for the Wikipedia explanation.  Go on, I'll wait.

   I've "dogfooded" that blog post, by quitting.  Long story short, I've submitted my resignation at Comcast.  On October 18, I will be starting a new position with Rosetta Stone, in Rosslyn VA.

   Meanwhile, you may be wondering, what took so long since my last post?  Jobhunting is busy work, but that's no excuse, especially as I got the offer weeks ago.  Consider it... dogfooding my prior post, "Can It Wait?" ;-)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Can it wait?

   How many times has this happened to you, just before you leave for lunch?

Boss: I need this report ASAP!
You: Sure, boss, I'll get right on it.
 (You cancel your lunch plans, work work work, and crank out a report.)
You: Hey, boss, I just finished the report!  Had to skip my lunch plans, but I got it done ASAP, just like you said!
Boss: Uh, thanks, put it in my in-basket.
 (Time passes.)
 (You find out he didn't really need it quite as fast as his tone implied.)

   Okay, you can be excused for doing that once.  But what about next time?  Wouldn't you be much happier, and your boss just as happy as before, if it went more like this:

Boss: I need this report ASAP!
 (You recall your 12-1 lunch plans, estimate the report will take one to two hours, and do the math.)
You: Will, say, 3:00 be okay?
Boss: Uh, yeah, sure.
 (You have lunch with your buddies as planned.)
 (You come back and do the report, finishing at 2:45.)
You: Hey, boss, here's your report!
Boss: Fifteen minutes early, and it looks nice!  Great job!

   Okay, sometimes it won't quite work out that way, but more like:

Boss: I need this report ASAP!
 (You recall your 12-1 lunch plans, estimate the report will take one to two hours, and do the math.)
You: Will, say, 3:00 be okay?
Boss: No, I need it by 1:30!
You: Okay, I'll get right on it!
 (You cancel your lunch plans, and rush out a report, giving it to the boss at 1:29.)

   Is that really any worse than the first scenario?  No, in fact it's better, because now you have a much better idea of exactly when the boss needs the report, and therefore how much time you can spend on it.  Since he stated a time, chances are, he really did need it by then.  (If not, and he does this a lot, find a new boss.  That's a whole 'nother exciting episode of Dare to Excel.)

   So where's the "excelling" in this, you may wonder?  There are two pieces.

   First, you are exercising the skill of time management!  Okay, maybe having lunch with your buddies wasn't terribly important, but it's what you planned to do, and you're finding a way to stick to your plan.  This may involve honoring important commitments  (another important aspect of excellence); maybe your buddies were counting on you to bring the birthday cake for the one of them that's only in town for the day and you all haven't seen for years.

   Second, your lunch plans may have been something a bit more important than just lunch.  Maybe you were attending a seminar, or some other self-improvement.  I see this a lot from certain individuals in my lunchtime Toastmasters club.  It would help them, and the rest of the club, if they would stand up for themselves, ask the boss when the report is due (or whether they can hold the meeting after 1:00 or whatever), and Dare to Excel!

   So now, dear readers, it's your turn.  Tell us about a time when a boss, or even a colleague, loved one, friend, whatever, made you hurry when it wasn't really necessary -- and worse yet, made a habit of it.  What did you do -- both in that instance, and to prevent it from happening again?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Get Committed!

   I've got ideas.  You've got ideas.  All God's chilluns got ideas.

   But do we act on them?  No, usually we file them away, procrastinate on them, and eventually forget them.  Instead we need to get committed.  No, I don't mean to a mental institution; I mean that we need to commit to actually bring these ideas to fruition.

   There are several levels of this.  First is the new-agey affirmation.  Just look in a mirror and say to yourself, "I will do this!" (stating just what it is you will do).  And ta-dah, you've committed to do it, and you'll never procrastinate or forget it.


   Yeah, right.  Better duck, here come the stinky monkeys!

   Okay, you are indeed now a little bit committed to it.  More than before.  On a scale of 1 to 10, you've probably gone from a 1 or 2 (after all, if it were much higher, you probably wouldn't need such help), to maybe one notch higher.

   The next level is to remind yourself of it often.  Put a sticky-note on the mirror, maybe even the same one where you made the above committment.  Tape a note on the door, so you always see it as you leave.  Set up your iGoogle start page to include your task list from RememberTheMilk.  Eventually you'll get so sick of being pestered about it, that you'll get off your duff and do it just to stop the pestering.

   RememberTheMilk works great for short tasks that I just need to be reminded to get out of the way, like writing this blog entry.  But what about longer-term ideas, like, oh, say, starting a blog in the first place?  You can steal a page from the "Getting Things Done" philosophy, and put the idea's "Next Action" into RTM.  But for most of us, there's something even easier and better.

   You interact with people.  You have friends, neighbors, relatives, colleagues, and probably a boss.  Maybe fellow-members of clubs.  Perhaps you have some minions, henchmen, or other underlings.  (Don't count on zombies though.  They tend not to articulate well enough.)  And of course blog readers (or at least you hope you do).  You can leverage them, to help you commit.

   How?  Very simple.  Just tell them what you intend to do.  You don't need to tell them to remind you, or pressure you, or check up on you.  Just tell them, for instance, "I'm going to join Toastmasters!" or "I'm going to tell my boss how software development should be managed!" or "I'm going to start a blog on daring to speak up, or, uh, fix situations that are wrong, or, um, get things done, and, like, all that... sort of... stuff...."

   Your own mind will apply the pressure.  After all, you don't want to disappoint your adoring public, do you?

   Your turn!  What's your favorite tactic for getting in gear?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Challenge Lies!

   Today's entry is inspired by one of my favorite podcasters.  The podcasts contain mainly technical information, but there are a lot of politics about the subject too -- including lots of misinformation and outright lies.  Not from him, that is!  I mean in general.  Especially from the other side, of course.  ;-)

   Over the past few years, he has adopted what he calls a "No-Shrug Policy", and encourages us to join him in that.  The operative word here is encourage -- not order, or direct, or even suggest, but give us courage.  Many people often lack the courage to stand up for what's right -- and that's what this blog is all about.

   All of us often encounter statements we know to be false, especially from politicians, the media, activists, or other people who really should know better.  Sometimes they're just ignorant, especially ordinary people just expressing their opinions.  But sometimes, they're in such a position that there's no way they can not know the truth!  Either they've been horrendously lazy in their fact-finding, or they're just flat-out lying.  Unfortunately, these people are usually in a position to influence others much more.

   The normal human tendency is to shrug, and say "well, that's just the way it is, they just don't get it, and they'll continue to spread their idiocy and lies no matter what we do".  There are many proverbs that tell us how dangerous this is.  "A lie left unchallenged becomes the truth."  "A big enough lie becomes the truth."  "A lie told often enough becomes the truth."  "A lie can travel around the world before the truth gets its boots on."  Etc., etc., et bloody cetera.

   Instead, he encourages us to write Letters to the Editor, call our Senaturds and Reprehensibles, speak out at Town Hall meetings, and so on.  He's even organized what he calls "The Truth Squad", where you get information on such lies that need to be countered, and help doing so.

   Am I recommending you join his Truth Squad?  Sure, if you believe strongly in our side of the issue.  But even if not, do the same thing for your side of whatever issue(s) you feel strongly about.  Counter the lies, and let the "TRVTH" shine through.  Don't just shrug it off, and above all, don't let them wear you down and make you give up.

   Now, I haven't mentioned who that podcaster is.  I wanted you to pay attention to the underlying message, regardless of where you stand on the particular issue in question.  Long story short, I'm talking about recordings of a well known radio show, Tom Gresham's Gun Talk.  Those of you who don't get the show in your area, or can't spare the time when it's on, can get it as a podcast, from the iTunes Store.  For more information, head over to

   Another side note: check out the DISC system of personality analysis.  The "I" types are the "Influencers".  They love to be in the spotlight, and to influence people's opinions.  Unfortunately, it also matters not a whit to them whether the positions they espouse are the least bit correct -- that's the domain of the "C" types, the Competents.  Does this sound like anybody you've ever heard of?  If so, then take their opinions with a large sack of salt.  (Yes, even if it reminds you of ME!)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Quitters Can Win!

   Imagine trying to knock down a brick wall by pounding your head against it.  Literally.  You finally realize that it's not exactly the smartest idea in the world.  So you quit.

   What?!  You quit?  But quitters never win, and winners never quit, right?  They (the infamous They) have been telling you that for you whole life!  So it must be right, right?

   WRONG!  Winners quit all right... but they know when and why to quit.  There is a time for everything, including ceasing to put your energy into unproductive and downright futile efforts.  Then you can put that energy into something more productive, or at least fun.

   (Mind you, there's also a time for sticking it out, and slogging through the tough times.  Conventional wisdom isn't always wrong!)

   In the specific case of knocking down a wall, after you bandage your wounds and get some painkillers, and maybe an X-ray, you can go get a sledge hammer, or a crane with a wrecking ball.  (Or hire someone to do it for you.  You don't have to do everything yourself.)  Or you might decide you really didn't need to knock that wall down after all, and go watch a movie or read a book or play a game or whatever you do for fun.  Maybe some tennis practice... against that brick wall.

   Back to the real world, though, there are all sorts of situations you can apply this to.  Your job.  Keeping up with the Joneses.  This month's governmental "War on a Vague Concept".  Whatever.  Leave a comment below, to tell us (me and the other readers, assuming there are any) what brick wall you've been banging your head against... and what you intend to do instead, now that you know it's okay to quit.

Just Do It!

   Oops!  I forgot to put up an entry last week, so you get two this week to make up for it.  And awaaay we go!

   One of Jeff Atwood's entries on his blog, Coding Horror, struck me as particularly worth referencing here.

   Those of you in the coding business (as in computer programming, not medical coding), I strongly recommend you go read his blog, not only that entry but all the others too.  This one is not all that software-centric, so the rest of you can get the point very easily, but I'll summarize anyway.  (See his blog for the upstream source.)

   He tells of a ceramics teacher, who divided the class into two groups.  The students in Group A would be graded solely on the sheer quantity of pottery produced, literally by the pound.  Those in Group B only had to produce one pot... but it alone determined their grades.  A student wanting an A, had to produce a perfect pot.

   So what happened?  The best pots came from . . . Group A, the "quantity" group!  Why?  While most of Group B was sitting around researching, theorizing, and arguing about how to build the best possible pots, Group A got off their butts and did it.  They produced some pots, perhaps not perfect pots at first, but they learned from their mistakes, and made better and better pots.

   Does this remind you of anything?  I've been trying to keep this blog not software-centric, but it sure reminds me of what we call "analysis paralysis".  Those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry.  Surely there's something in your line of work, that this describes all too well.

   There have been many short pithy phrases to describe this phenomenon.  "The best is the enemy of the good", is attributed to Voltaire (though he said it in French), and is usually taken to mean that shining examples of perfection, often discourage the efforts of those afraid of falling short of that -- possibly the efforts to begin at all, but certainly the efforts to improve.  Much more familiar to typical Americans, however, is the Nike (as in sneakers, not missiles or Greek gods) slogan: Just Do It.

   Now it's your turn.  Tell us what you've been trying to figure out how to do perfectly, to the point that it's stopping you from trying.  Tell us how you plan to proceed, and improve on its imperfections.  Don't worry about making your comment perfect, Just Do It!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

So, What's New?

   One way to Dare to Excel, is to try something new.  Not just your first bite of sushi, but a new way of doing something, such as a new programming language or technique.

   At work, my current project (at the time I first wrote this, years ago) is trying a few new techniques.  (At my suggestion, another way to Dare to Excel.)  At the meetings introducing these, there was no objection voiced.  However, one person told the manager much later, that he was very opposed.  It may even have been a factor in his decision to leave the company.  Another person claimed, shortly thereafter, not to have time to learn these new techniques.

   Actual opposition after careful consideration, and lack of time, may be reality in these cases.  However, frequently such reasons are simply masks for fear.  (Or for laziness, but that's a whole 'nother story.)

   The familiar routine can be comforting, even if you know that it is not accomplishing the desired results.  The prospect of changing your ways can be daunting.

   But there's a word for people who won't try something new.  In fact, there are many words for them.

   The kindest of these is "conservative", though in this case taken to an extreme, as in, "stick-in-the-mud, conservative fuddy-duddy".  (And no, I don't mean the political type of conservative, aka "right-wing", as opposed to "liberal" or "left-wing".  I refer to the older definition, "conserving of existing institutions", or "cautious in making changes".)

   When it comes to your career, though, the most appropriate word that springs to my mind is: "obsolete".

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Confidence Tricks?

   Many people don't speak up or take action, because they lack confidence.  So how does one gain confidence?  Of course most people gain confidence over the course of life, but that's rather slow.  Then there's the famous "fake it 'til you make it", and other such tricks, but even those are much easier said than done -- and tend to lead to bravado, not confidence.

   What do I recommend instead?  Go join Toastmasters International.  Yes, most people think of it as a public speaking training organization, but those skills are only part of what you can get out of it.  It will certainly help you learn those skills... and other forms of communication... and leadership... and help you conquer any fears you may have of those tasks.

   Along the way, though, it will also help you be much more confident, not just in the course of giving a speech or being suddenly saddled with some sort of leadership responsibilities, but in general as well.  I for one know that, had I never joined Toastmasters, I would never have dared to do -- in some cases, might not have thought to do -- many of the things that made me the success I am today... or even to start this blog.

   Now it's your turn.  How did you conquer the nagging fears holding you back, and gain the confidence to Dare to Excel?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Welcome to Dare2XL!

   No, it's not about daring to supersize your meal, twice.  Nor is it about daring to wear the clothes you'd need as a result.  It's about daring to excel.  No, I don't mean doing spreadsheets!  I mean speaking up or taking other such action, when taking the "easy way out" would yield less-than-excellent results.

   For instance, say your work group is using horribly inefficient processes.  You could "go with the flow", do nothing, and just collect a paycheck as compensation for your misery.  Or you could speak up about your ideas how to do things better.  Possible upside: better job, as your current one improves.  Possible downside: better job, after you're fired from this one, or you quit when it fails to improve.  Yes, the downside has some disruption, but that's why so many people don't Dare to Excel!

   Over the coming years, we'll be looking at lots of situations where "going with the flow" results in the "same old shhhhhtuff" that never was any good.  We'll look at how to look at things, other ways to gain confidence, and other ways to excel where others might not dare.  We'll even look at fools rushing in where angels or wise men (depending on your source) fear to tread, and find a middle path.

   I've got a bunch of ideas -- in fact, many of them already written up, in the old version of this blog.  (See "Old Blog" link.)  But even my supply of ideas, he said ever so humbly, is not infinite.  So, if there's any situation you'd like me to address, or that you'd like to bring up yourself, just let me (or rather, all of us) know!  That's what blog comments are for.  So dare to speak up -- Dare to Excel!