Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue:
This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter.
That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland.
In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.
I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive.
LEARNING: I can choose what to do – instead of not do, and what to keep – instead of not keep.
Despite – or perhaps because of – my wide ranging work in the areas of life design and life planning, my various desks (five) in various offices (three – not counting the garment bag) are usually somewhere between disorder and chaos. While working with a client today on how to get rid of things like letters and files that just pile up, I realized that one way is to focus on what I most want to do. Rather tan spend all my time trying to figure out what to throw away, I can just grab something that I definitely want to keep and go to work on that.
FEELINGS ARE PRIORITIES TOO
LEARNING: My gut-level priorities are at LEAST as vital as my head-level priorities – and MUST be included in my priority chart.
While working with a client several months ago, I was checking up on the results of a priority chart that did seem to include a wide range of factors. She was not that satisfied with it and I asked why. She said that she really felt at the gut level that her son’s chance to stay in the same school for the rest of the year was important to her. I told her to put it on the list. Interestingly, it did not change her final decision to move in mid-year to a new job in a different state. But she did feel much clearer about her decision and readier to accept the tradeoffs because she had included all the factors in her decision.
YES-NO OR YES-YES
LEARNING: Priority charts are more useful decision tools than “either-or” or “pro-and-con” lists.
Those of you who saw “Kramer vs. Kramer” will remember the scene in which Dustin Hoffman follows his lawyer’s suggestion to make a list of pros and cons for keeping his son with him. He immediately lists half a dozen cons but is stuck for a way of expressing any pros. So he scratches the page out and goes to hug his son. Clearly love for his son is the number-one priority. But by leaving all the other issues on the con side he doesn’t make any progress. If he were to take all the negative aspects of the situation, convert them to positive terms, and then put all the factors through a priority chart, he would no doubt still end up with love as the top priority. But he would also end up with the others – in order. If privacy, or more time for his job, or some other factor is second, then he can concentrate his energy on changing that one factor so that he gets his top two or even three – instead of only one, and that one battered by all the other negatives. I used this process in deciding what to do about my office – and in a series of priority charts gradually established the factors that are most important to me. The pro and con list left me frustrated. The priority list gave me a clear image of what I want so that I can work toward that.
A SPRINGFUL OF LEARNINGS
Since my last newsletter, which was distributed in early February, I have been very busy both working and learning. I continue my major contract with the desegregation assistance center at Kent State, although I am rarely in that office since we work with school systems all over the state and my main responsibility is Cincinnati. LEARNING: A few committed people in a school district can make an incredible difference.
Pat Stewart, one of my colleagues at the desegregation assistance center, brought me into another project that works with minorities. Since February I have been working with the National Center for Counseling and Instruction of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Martha Romero and the other NCCI staff have gently challenged a lot of my assumptions. LEARNING: I can get a taste of what it is like to be a minority by serving as the token white male on a training staff.
The task of NCCI is to train the staff of programs such as Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Special Services that work to bring minority students into and through college. We have done the training in a series of regional programs so that I have spent three to five days every other week all spring in Denver, Charlotte, Austin, Jacksonville, Grand Rapids, and Los Angeles. I have trained people in the areas of counselling, support systems and carer counselling – all in a multicultural setting. I improved my own presentations as I listened to other trainers and to keynote speakers. LEARNING: The traditional job-hunting system excludes and limits all of us to some extent, but it excludes and limits minorities and women to a much greater extent.
The travel for NCCI is one reason that you have been getting my answering machine more often than usual, but I have also been traveling for other reasons. In March I spent a week in Atlanta as a participant in a workshop on Positive Power and Influence led by Boyce Appel, Joe Chrobak, and Dave Berlew. The program provides an opportunity to examine ten different styles of influence, to strengthen my skill in styles that I already use, and to broaden the range of styles in my repertoire so that I can use a style most appropriate to my audience and to my goal. LEARNING: I can empower myself not only with more power but with more ways of using more power positively and effectively.
Since my own week as a participant in the Positive Power and Influence program, I have worked a week in Manchester as third trainer (my friend who got me involved in this) and Art Kirn - under the general direction of LeRoy Malouf. And I have just returned from a week in San Francisco being trained as a trainer by Bonnie Kasten and Roger Harrison. I am most impressed by the quality of my fellow trainers. LEARNING: Working and learning with equally eager colleagues is challenging, stimulating, encouraging, and exhilarating.
I also spent two days this spring in a seminar on Increasing Productivity led by my colleague Stuart Scheingarten in Cincinnati. Stuart focuses on time management, career management, and stress management as individual areas that we then combine into a plan for increasing our own productivity. LEARNING: I can increase my productivity by saying no to the less important things and channelling more of my energy to the most important things.