Writer for Rent
Lately, I have been finding myself using the phrase, "This is not my first rodeo" rather a lot. I am not sure where I picked it up (I don't know any cowboys) and I certainly have never been to a rodeo, but for some reason it has lodged itself into my vocabulary and I have been finding a multitude of occasions to use it. It could because saying "Oh, yeah, I've seen this situation before and this is what will most likely happen" is boring in comparison. Yet the truth is that after being in the writing/marketing/advertising industry for two plus decades, there really isn't a whole lot of "new" that is surprising. Sure, there is new technology all the time that is amazing, but that is not surprising - technology is always changing, and industries always disappear while new ones are invented. I didn't see the internet coming, even though I was a student of science fiction during my youth. I did think we would have flying cars by now, though. Everything changes all the time. Except for people. That's the crux of the meaning behind "this is not my first rodeo." People who have always acted with integrity, will continue to do so, overall. There will always be cheaters, liars, scammers and people looking for short cuts. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. There is never one right answer to a complex problem. What works one time may fail abysmally the next. Why? Because eveything changes all the time. The thing is I am not surprised by this, nor dismayed, I just accept and move forward. (Because there is no going back.) After all, I've done this before...or something like it.
This blog originally appeared on June 7, 2012 in Togethr
When Renjie asked me to write about graduation from a mother's perspective, I was stumped. What did he mean? What kind of gifts do you give a graduating student? Weren't these blogs about The Art of Giving? Is that what I should write about? Doesn't Renjie know, like my daughters so clearly do, that I am not an enthusiastic gift-giving person?
I've seen my two daughters graduate from elementary school and the oldest one graduate from high school, (her younger sister has to put in one more year of "hard time" before she, too, gets her high school diploma). I do remember how big a deal Grade 8 "graduation" was for Emily (now 20) because it meant she would be going off to a high school where she knew practically no one - and she was thrilled about it. She was ready to leave behind one world and move onto the next. She wasn't scared. Technically, her "graduation gift" was her first iPod (2nd generation).
Believe it or not, just six or seven years ago giving a 14-year-old an expensive ($150) electronic gadget was a significant gift. Still is in my books. Three years later, when her sister, Madeleine, graduated from the same elementary school she received, as a graduation gift, the cheapest mobile phone you could possibly get. Please note both of these items were my daughters' deepest desires at the time, and most of their friends already owned these indispensible items. Also note, they have each gone through numerous iPods and phones since then, as they have lost, broken or (insert some man-made disaster) and had to purchase new ones. They had to use their own money from part time jobs or "birthday money" given by generous relatives to buy these replacements. That was their responsibility.
Sure call me cheap. They do. But I had no interest in giving my daughters endless material goods as gifts. What I wanted to give them is more valuable than any thing you can buy. I wanted them to have increasing real life responsibilities, which if you screwed them up, had real life consequences.
I wanted to give them the skills needed to accept and embrace change, even when it was scary as hell. They needed to know what it feels like to succeed and what it feels like to fail, and learn to live with both. I insisted they learn how to start a conversation with an adult and how to shake hands. I gave them opportunities to dine in fine French restaurants but also to order a great meal in Little India or Chinatown.
Both daughters know how to cook healthy meals from scratch, and the older one can mix me a mean martini. (The younger one adds too much vermouth.) They are experts canoeists and can portage in the wilds of Algonquin, even though it is dangerous. They are musical and create beautiful art. They know how to garden, put gas in the car and do a bunch of other handygirl chores that keeps our house standing. I also instilled in them the security to know they could tell me anything, come to me with any problem, and we would use our collective brains and assets to figure it out.
So that's the gifts I gave them: To accept responsibility and deal with it. To take chances, but also know that some actions cannot be undone. They have the confidence to try new things and be accountable; even if it means serious repercussions. I gave them the opportunity to learn life skills that will far outlast a fancy watch, an iPhone or even a trip to Europe to celebrate their graduation. (The two of them are about to leave for Ireland this week for an adventure of their own making. My fingers are crossed.)
First world parents don't do their kids any favours by giving them things or ensuring their life is carefree. Great parenting is not about trying to ensure your kids are living an idyllic childhood; although if you have the extra income, give them experiences that involve nature, or science and seeing how other cultures live. (Disney does not count as a cultural experience.) If you don't have the extra income, tap into your community resources for free or subsidized events, programs and activities. That's the stuff of good parenting. That's a gift worth giving.
But most importantly give your children responsibility and start at a young age. Not "pretend responsibility" but real ones that make a difference. (You have to figure these out for yourself.) Then add to those responsibilities, as they grow older, so that they can get used to handling them. Yes, there will be failures and you will second guess yourself, (oh, will you ever!) but when it comes time for them to graduate high school and they are young adults entering into a world where there are only two types of people: those who can handle real responsibility and those who can't, which side do you want your kid to be on?
It's been three weeks since TEDxWaterloo DIS CONNECTED happened, and I am still reeling. TEDxWaterloo took up several hundred hours of my life since September 2011 and most of my extra brain power. As one of the six executives who "lead" the organization, there was significant responsibilty attached to my role of head of Marketing Communications. Essentially anything that had "words" and marketing and communication in it, fell into my domain. This included redesigning and providing content for the TEDxWaterloo website to writing the speaker profiles and the event program; and I had a hand in editing most mass emails on behalf of other team members. There were ads and press releases, and reading at least 3,200 emails. The reason I was given this responsibility is because I have 25 years of experience and a reputation for being smart, reliable and fun to work with. (Never underestimate the value of brining fun to any task!) Of course, I wasn't alone. I had a team of great people who ran the social media campaign (but first I had to write a social media policy document so everyone knew what our strategy was), I had a PR team that handled day-of public relations and I had keen set of fellow organizers who would give feedback and proof copy. Without them, none of TEDxWaterloo would have happened. (See a full list of volunteers here). These are some of the things I learned about organizing a successful daylong event for 1500 participants - as a volunteer.
- When everyone is a volunteer you have to make sure they know it's okay to make a mistake and we are all on a learning curve. I would take a bullet for my team or "fire" a sponsor if they treated any of my volunteers without respect or professionalism.
- Impress upon people that its better to say "no, I can't do it" then to say you can and then don't. There is always someone else out there who is willing to help, but only if they know that help is needed.
- Communicate often. Even if you don't have a whole lot of news to share, let them know what you know. Volunteers can feel disconnected in a virtual organization, which essentially is how TEDxWaterloo is run. We do almost everything via email and Skype.
- Use the official website as the #1 Source of Accurate Information. This way you can point people to the website for current information. If it isn't on the website, it isn't true or real.
- Be organized with your teams. My volunteer web programmers are brilliant and solved many technical problems. But they aren't responsible for writing or for strategy. They would tell me what's possible and what isn't, but they need clear direction - as do all teams. Once they have it, they can do their jobs and provide you with insight on how to do it better in the future.
- I traded in one social life for another. I gave up weekends and vacation time in order to devote it to TEDxWaterloo.Yes, it was worth it. Will I do it again? Yes, but now that I have helped create some sustainable infrastructure and have some key people who have agreed to stay on as volunteers, I will be able to delegate more.
- TEDxWaterloo volunteers are the most diverse, interesting and talented group of people. The sheer number of creative minds with such staggeringly different backgrounds and interests is like a giant think tank of amazingness. The fact they all agree TEDxWaterloo is worthy of their time is amazing.
- Celebrate your wins, no matter how small. Mourn your losses and move on.
- There is never enough time. But everyone knows that already.
- Do it again. You are making a difference.
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