The Divine Miss M

April 16, 2010

Taxes are due in days so like any sane person I donated blood, tomorrow a kidney, right now a blog.

The Canadian Blood Services is doing a survey. “We Value Your Opinion” it says quoting I don’t know whom. Instead of a survey they would be wiser  if they came and watched Marianne and then hired more people just like her.

The Divine Miss M arrived at my portable recliner bedside with a full on smile. “I know you are waiting for Hutch but I’ll set you up” she said. Then she bent down to place my blood bag or whatever you call the soon to be full snack sack of vampire juice on to the thingy whatsit on the floor. Only Miss M didn’t bend. She placed one foot forward and one foot back. Head up, she bent her forward knee and maintained a royal, heads up posture throughout her graceful descent. Impressed yet somewhat concerned by her artful lunge, I asked, “Do you have a bad back?”

“No, I’m a diva.” She giggled. I guffawed.

“I’m top heavy” Miss M explained. “If I bend down, I go down”.

I laughed even louder. “I’m bottom heavy” I confessed.

“I love my… ” (Miss M pointed to her derriere).

“I love my assets too” then I paused and added, “girlfriend.” Bonding at the blood bank. I told Marianne “You are the highlight of my day,” and I meant it. The Divine Miss M is a beautiful woman, the kind of beauty that emanates from character. She sparkles at work. In fact, she wears the kind of joy oh joy eye shadow glitter that little kids adore.

Nowhere in the Canadian Blood Services survey am I asked, “Did anyone delight you today? Did anyone give you something to laugh about so you didn’t think about being pricked to death with a needle the size of Lady GaGa’s stiletto?”

Workplaces used to complain about absenteeism. Now they complain about presenteeism: people turn up but they are absent. They quit but they stay. We create measures for workplace performance such as did the receptionist say thank you for donating blood, yes or no? But we forget that while it’s important to measure what matters not all that matters can be measured.

If we don’t create ways of noticing the exceptional we won’t appreciate it, reward it or replicate it. I loathe giving blood. Anyone who makes it joyful deserves recognition. Marianne, this is for you, your boss and anyone who chooses NOT to leave their heart at home when they head out for work.  Glitter on girlfriend.

Find your exceptional people then watch, listen and learn. No survey will teach you what you could learn in seven minutes watching a star.

PS – turns out The Miss M’s boss found this blog and showed it to her. Now that’s sweet.

The Lost Secret of Wow

April 11, 2010

We have all met a Barb, that employee who does an extra something that makes you blurt out ‘Wow’. Especially after you’ve done something not too bright, which is a part-time hobby of mine.

I am a chronic loser of gloves and mitts. I only lose one, the right. I take it off to do something and before you can say “Louise, put it in your pocket” poof it’s gone. My wife teases me that it’s time to string my gloves through my coat sleeves like a kindergarten kidlet, but I’m afraid if I did that my coat would disappear.

I am one of 4300 people who lost something at the Olympics. Specifically, an adult small, red Olympic mitten. Yes, that mitt, the cutesy, can’t buy ‘em anymore, 7.2 million dollar fundraiser that made it onto Oprah. I lost it, my bad. I searched. I reported it. Nada. Then I emailed Vancouver’s Translink Lost Property Department.

Subject Line: Lost Right Olympic Mitt, Adult Small

Dear Lost and Found Angel,

I’ve lost a mitt…

I explained that I wanted to frame my mitts to remind me to stay strong. Joannie Rochette’s Olympic bronze medal winning free skate brought tears to my eyes.  Her mom had died three days before. Years before, I competed after my dad died. I’ve skated when my mom was going through cancer. You think you’ll never forget those lessons of resilience, but I wanted a reminder.

A sweet email came back from Barb Szumilak, Work Force Leader with the Coast Mountain Bus Company. Before you could say “hold that glove” a manila envelope arrived, with…the wrong mitt. Any sane person would have stopped there. Feeling ridiculous, embarrassed and precious, I wrote again. Apologizing more than a certain golf guy, I asked if I should return it.

“No don’t send it back. Let me see what I can do,” said Barb. A second envelope arrived, faster than the first. I tore it open, wow.  Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow. A pair!  A beautiful, clean and much newer looking set than my lonely, pilled widow. Barb’s business card was nestled inside the cuff of the right mitt. I emailed her immediately and said THANK YOU over and over, using capitals and way too many exclamation marks for someone my vintage.

Secretly, I called Barb’s office. Andrew answered. I asked, “Is Barb a Tim Horton’s or a Starbuck’s person?”  I eavesdropped on the office buzz. Survey said “Starbucks.” Then I had to ask, “Andrew, are you all like Barb?  What’s it like to work there?”

“Well, people aren’t very nice to you when they’ve lost something. They are upset and often angry. We treat people nice. We bring that energy to them.” He actually said those words. They were committed to the positive. So West Coast, so lovely, so wow.


Spoiler alert: don’t tell Barb her prezzie is in the snail mail 😉

Doubt, Talent & Calling

April 6, 2010

After ‘Surfing Vietnam’, a show I produced and premiered in London, Canada on April 1, 2009, I experienced mental Velcro, a phrase that would not let go:  ‘It’s good to be successful but it’s better to be significant.’ Inspired by those words, I wrote a letter for the cast and crew and for every artist who has ever had a doubt emergency. A year later, I’ve re-worked the letter. Please share this with your creative friends and invite them to share their thoughts with me. This is part one.

I am celebrating talent, your talent. Each of you brought just the right ‘thing’ to the show. But that thing, your gift, your genius is more delicate than a hummingbird’s heart in winter. Protect it.

If you are an artist you are not average, nor will you ever have an average life. If you are an artist you won’t be content on the merry-go-round of sameness that most people call living. If you are an artist, your genius will demand an eyes wide open, front row seat on life’s big roller coaster.

Some days you will feel stronger than oak; other days you will find your faith plummeting while monsters of fear and doubt rise. You might ask yourself “What’s the f…ing point? Why should I keep going? What does it matter? Who do I think I am?” Read these words on that day.

You have a gift. You are called to use everything that brought you to this moment. That means taking all you have been and all that you are: not just to create art but to craft a life worth living. What is the thing you just must do? What makes your heart sing? The cost of not doing it is misery, anxiety and depression.

Very few people will ‘get’ that when you are ‘called’ you have to listen and then act. People will think you are eccentric at best or nuts at worst. But I know something. While my best ideas may feel like they burst out of the blue unbidden that doesn’t mean they come from nowhere.

Your inexplicable knowing comes from the same unfathomable source of eurekas that have astonished artists, entrepreneurs and scientists since ideas mattered. If you stop paying attention to your tiny, daily nudges of knowing you starve your creativity and murder possibility.

You have a gift. When you align your talent with the world’s deepest hunger, you go from “What do you want out of life?” to  “What does life want out of you?” (This question of Parker J. Palmer’s from Let Your Life Speak: Listening For The Voice of Vocation haunts me still.)

When we are brave enough to do what we are meant to do, we become who we are meant to be. Work becomes not a checklist but a calling. We get excited, and yes, sometimes exhausted – but not because we are crazy, busy existing.

P.S. Thank you to Chris McInnis for your friendship and edits.

How A Pack Can Have Your Back

April 1, 2010

The Olympic stadium seats at Whistler Creekside were hard on my backside. I have the butt cheek creases to prove it. Uncomfortable and overcast, we needed a ‘made in British Columbia’ miracle. We got one.  The sky opened, the sun shone; we would be able to see the Paralympians ski the Giant Slalom.

Before us, a group of ‘All Blacks’ were frantically taping New Zealand flags to every surface available. Adam Hall’s peeps, mom, dad, and a gang larger than Al Capone’s were jittery with anticipation or jet leg, it was hard to tell which. I watched the women then the men race. Seeing Paralympians ski is like having your ‘no can do’ attitude hit by a ‘go for it’ avalanche. Witnessing someone with no arms ski, fall and  stop themselves with their head, then get up and get going makes you ask ‘what am I doing with what I’ve got?’

Adam Hall was born with spina bifida, he has limbs but his spine doesn’t back them up. Tell that to the clock. He won his first race by five seconds, which is insanely amazing. I watched his mom crumple into a barely breathing, trying not to sob, quivering, texting momma. Adam wiped out on his second run.  He still won gold. Why?  He obviously trained hard, champions do, but I saw something more. He had the power of a pack. Family and friends left their dairy farm in Outram on the Tairei Plains to fly 11,000+ kms to be there for him. Dressed up, flags up and temporary tattoos everywhere, these Kiwis loved him big.

‘Being there’ for someone is powerful. It’s the 1 + 1 equals 11 phenomenon I saw at work Monday night.  I led a brandstorming exercise for a client who has Trump-like business skills but way better hair. To find a new brand framework that would work for all four of his businesses, I asked him to gather his pack (clients who became friends and people who adore him.)

My client doubted we would find anything. He’s smart and he had been trying for a while. But I side with Les Brown who said, “You can’t see the picture when you are in the frame.” There are times we can’t be successful if we continue to work alone. Some problems are one genius problems, others are pack problems. We need company. We need it for the comic relief and for the inspiration. Same old, same old gives us same and old.

Creativity thrives with generous people, good music and a light-hearted approach. (The beer and pizza didn’t hurt, though after two sips I stopped. I never could drink, think and lead, so much for a career in politics). A pack gives us the disco ball effect. Many people mirroring back bits of our brilliance gives a brand new perspective. Albert Einstein said it best “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”

In one hour, I trained seven brains and we got the brand. The pack was, like Adam’s, there for him. A mix of individual persistence and collective support brought home different kinds of gold for two determined good guys.

P.S. Adam’s site is

Good is no longer good enough. The goal is perfection and the path that takes us there leads to excellence.
Louise B. Karch