NEW Podcast

At the root of public service and meaningful work we are all just trying to be helpful.

You have tried to be helpful, so you know the secret. It is difficult. And sometimes messy and awkward and confusing.

This fascinates me and that is why I started this podcast.

The Do Good, Be Good podcast highlights stories of helpful people and the challenges they have faced when trying to be helpful.

Listen to our first episode here:
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Visit the SHOW NOTES for a full transcript of this episode and the promo code for our sponsor, VolunteerPro.

Episode 2 with Gina Byars is now available HERE.

Subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher wherever you get your podcasts.

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Community Stewards volunteers with Albert the Abert Squirrel

What is your goal in engaging citizens as volunteers in local government?

Last week at the training I presented to the City of Flagstaff, we dove into the issue of engaging citizens as volunteers. Volunteers can be awesome. However, volunteers are people and bringing on new and more and different people to your team can be hard.

Why engage volunteers?

Work is piling up and you do not have enough paid resources to handle it. Someone suggests, why not recruit some volunteers to help? Sounds like a great idea! Volunteers are free, right?

Engaging citizens as volunteers can be a great way to leverage your resources and get more done, but they are not free. With the time and extra resources you will need to direct and support volunteers, I recommend thinking carefully about what other goals you want to accomplish by recruiting volunteers.

In other words, if your only goal is to get tasks accomplished, there may be more efficient and effective ways to do that. Read on to see why I am still a huge advocate for volunteerism.

Community Stewards volunteers with Albert the Abert Squirrel

Community Stewards volunteers with Albert the Abert Squirrel

Do you want to build community?

When citizens are brought inside the walls of government to work alongside staff, it can give them a sense of ownership. Suddenly “the government” is not an amorphous intimidating mass. It is Sally the Librarian who loves Dr. Seuss and Sam the Public Health Specialist who is training a seeing eye dog in his spare time. Not only do the people of government become real people who a citizen volunteer can get to know and work alongside, but the problems of government become community problems.

Most citizens lack a good understanding of public policy and civics and may not understand the challenges and constraints that a city or county faces in trying to tackle problems like affordable housing or litter prevention. I resemble that remark. A citizen who is invited to join the effort and receives training and support from staff about the problem, is likely to become a strong advocate in the community around that problem. They will see the complexity and feel more ownership over both the problem and the solution.

Do you want to diversify your resources?

We all could use more resources and that is one of the most magical things about volunteer engagement. The possibilities are endless!

In one of my first jobs with local government, we were rebranding a program and wanted to design new fliers and materials. No one on our small team had graphic design skills. We recruited a university student in the graphic design program as a volunteer and she did a great job. As an added bonus, this volunteer was deaf. She was able to teach us about accessibility and how to reach out to and be inclusive of the Deaf community.

Do you work with volunteers in local government? Consider joining me as a member of the National Association of Volunteer Programs in Local Government. It is a great network of folks who know how to do this well.

Slow Work – What Happens When You Slow Down?

My husband and I lived out of a car for a year on an epic road trip. Have I mentioned that? A lot of people ask us how we were able to go on such a long trip. A Toyota Rav4, privilege, and $20,000 is the short answer. The longer answer involves an interesting discovery we made along the way.

Go slow.

The slower we went, the longer we could go. In the first two weeks we raced across the country, driving on major interstates from Virginia to California. As the miles flew by, so did our money.

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By the end of our trip we had a rule that we would not drive more than two hours in one day. We spent multiple night in one location; a weeklong volunteer backpacking trip with Grand Canyon Park, two weeks exploring free camping sites on public lands throughout southeast Utah. Less money spent with the intended consequence of deeper enjoyment at each destination and the journey in between.

I lost 32 pounds by the same approach. Through basic healthy living choices and disciplining myself to lose only 1/2 to 1 pound per week, I stretched out that weight loss goal over the full length of one year. It took me 12 months to lose 32 pounds and the greatest thing about that was that I was not gaining weight for an entire year. It would have been easier to only eat kale for 7 days and watch the pounds drop off. Going slow meant that I had to be honest with myself about changing my behavior.

I just finished stage managing for a play at the community theater. Being part of an artistic production is an exercise in putting in the work. Daily consistent intentional practice for months. Learning, accepting feedback, striving for excellence, putting in the work without an immediate reward.

It is very good practice for me. I have a temptation to want to rush things. I am not patient. I like doing activities that don’t require a lot of practice like improv comedy and fingerpainting. I love digital photography, take a thousand photos and a few are bound to turn out well. I join non-competitive team sports that don’t have any practices or training required. I would rather cook soup than learn to bake.

In work life we are encouraged to work hard, to hustle, to optimize, to set big goals and push ourselves to meet them.

What if that wasn’t the best way to create meaningful work and have a lasting impact? What would happen if we just stepped out of the hamster wheel of work harder, faster, longer and practiced moving slowly, deliberately, incrementally forward?

I visualize a slow bike race as a metaphor for slow work. Sometimes it is just as hard and takes as much skill and intention to do something slowly as it is to go fast. What would be the benefits for our work lives to take this approach?

 

Vacation Ideas for the Work Martyr

In my last post, I looked at the concept of a work martyr and the data that shows how prevalent martyrdom is. If you want to escape the trap of becoming a work martyr, summer is the perfect time. Take a vacation!

No really, it is time to take a vacation.

A REAL vacation.

It is often too tempting for us to say we are going to get away, but then to check email and get sucked back into the work mindset. In order to recharge and to let your team know that they can survive without you, it is crucial to get a real break.

Taking a REAL vacation, does not have to mean spending a lot of money. In fact, it doesn’t even have to involve leaving home. It just requires dedication to switching your brain over to travel and exploration mode.

A few suggestions:

Itinerary One: Little Money and Limited Time

What is travel, really? A chance to break out of your usual bubble and experience other cultures and places? The good news is that you can do that within your own city or region. Each of us have the same old, same old places that we go in our town. We have parts of town that we have never been to.

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Zuni Dancers at the Zuni Festival at Museum of Northern Arizona

Try these:

  • Check travel apps for your area (Trip Advisor or Yelp for example) and see what the Top 5 destinations are in your City. Have you visited all of them? If not, go see what everyone is raving about.
  • Visit a religious service from a religion that you are not a member of. Not sure how to find one? Just go to maps.google.com and search for “worship”. You will find all the local listings and when you click on the name of place, the contact information will pop up.
  • Look in the local community calendar for cultural opportunities. Is there a parade or dances? Here in Flagstaff, I have been to cultural festivals, watched military parades, visited science lectures, and celebrated business openings. Every weekend there is something new to experience.
  • Get outside! Better yet, get outside with a camera. Anytime I have a camera in my hands, I notice something new and see the beauty in my surroundings. Even if I am just walking around my own yard, I will have a new appreciation for the everyday beauty.
  • Think of an ingredient that you like and then google that ingredient + “recipe”. Pick a recipe that you have never tried. Next, go to a different grocery store than you usually visit to pick out the ingredients. Make the recipe for you or you and a friend and dress up for dinner. Pull a nice outfit out of the back of your closet. Perhaps set up the meal outside or set up a table in the living room for different scenery.
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Tulips in my yard

Itinerary Two: Limited Money but More Time

Immerse yourself in nature. Through backpacking, bikepacking, bike touring, or an extended boating trip, you can quickly get away from the hustle of everyday life and experience digital detox. If you are not an experienced outdoors person, I recommend checking out REI or another outdoor outfitter near you. They have free classes as well as packing checklists. Backpacking, while physically difficult, is the cheapest way to get outdoors. You can pull together the minimal gear for very cheap. There is no need to hike far on your first trip. As long as you walk to a point at which you can no longer hear the sound of traffic, you will experience the beauty and blissful contentment of living outdoors.

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The Colorado River, “Diamond Down” section

Itinerary Three: More Money (and possibly Time)

Leave the country, or at least your culture.

When you visit a place where the people there speak a different language, dress differently, or act differently, it immediately breaks your day to day doldrums. If you find yourself thinking, “we are not in Kansas anymore Toto”, then you have successfully gotten out! It is much easier to not think about work when you are in a completely different reality.

If you are near a border, then this is much easier and cheaper to get away. If you are not near a border and if you can not afford to fly overseas or get a passport, consider a getaway to an American Indian nation. In Flagstaff we are close to several tribes and most of them welcome tourists. For example, the Hopi Nation has a hotel and cultural center and leads tours of the historic Hopi villages and cultural sites. Since these tribes are sovereign nations, it is an opportunity to visit a different nation within the United States.

If you can afford an international flight – GO! I have really enjoyed getting to visit other countries and I always come back with a new perspective.

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Urique Village in Mexico — We drove down to Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) for a week-long getaway a few years ago

Vacation Series – Are You a Work Martyr?

“How many of you have vacation days you haven’t used that you are at risk of losing?” – About one third of the room put their hands up.

What???

I was dumbfounded when Julie Lancaster asked this question at a training we co-taught for City employees last month. I did not realize this was a question that needed to be asked. Now I am fascinated by it.

To clarify, these City employees have paid vacation leave that they have not used. They can roll over vacation days to the next year, but in this case, these employees have rolled over so many that they are reaching the limit and they will start losing the days if they do not use them.

Why aren’t employees using paid vacation leave? And who is not using paid vacation?

First, all the employees who raised their hands were baby boomers. Partly this is just math. In most cases, the baby boomer staff have been there longer and are more likely therefore to have years of rolled over leave. However, recent data suggests that younger generations are more likely to use their paid leave than older generations. This was a hot topic at the International City and County Managers Regional Summit. For some cities it is changing the way that work is scheduled and the number of staff needed to get work done.

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Stopping to smell the roses at one of my favorite getaways, La Posada Hotel and Gardens in Winslow, AZ

There is conflicting data about the trends in how workers view their vacation days. Project Time Off (funded by the travel industry) has hired survey firms to track employees attitudes towards paid vacation. In 2016 the survey found that 39% of employees want to be seen as a “work martyr” by their boss.

Work Martyr is defined as:

The belief that it is difficult to take vacation because…

No one else at my company can do the work while I’m away.
I want to show complete dedication to my company and job.
I don’t want others to think I am replaceable.
I feel guilty for using my paid time off.

These beliefs echo what the City employees discussed in training.

Surprisingly, the 2016 survey found that 48% of Millennials think it is good to be seen as a work martyr by their boss. In another study (conducted by Alamo Rent-A-Car), 42% of Millennials surveyed admitted to shaming their co-workers for using vacation. Although some of this can be explained by Millennials still being new in their careers and being job insecure, the article also points out that Millennials are the first generation to enter the workforce during a decline in vacation usage. As digital natives, this generation is also more likely to stay plugged in during their time off and may not even know how to unplug.

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My digital detox — going to destinations without cell phone signal, such as this one – the bottom of Urique Canyon in Mexico

Never being able to unplug and unwind is taking its toll on older Millennials and there are businesses emerging to address this. One of my favorites is Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults that brands itself as digital detox. Millennial expert and author of The Quarter Life Breakthrough, Smiley Poswolsky, just got back from two weeks at the camp. He expressed a sense of rejuvenation, sharing, “We write 300-page books about the key to happiness, fulfillment and joy, but the thing that always seems to actually work for me is about as simple as it gets: just spend more time face-to-face with the people you love most.”

Connecting with other humans; A simple concept and yet so difficult to do.

How do you reset and recharge? Do you feel shame or guilt in taking vacation?

 

I plan to continue this Vacation Series with a post about great vacation ideas for the workaholic as well as suggestions on how to prepare before a vacation to minimize the impact on your team and on your inbox. If you have other vacation related posts you would like to see, add a comment below.

How a Leader Allows People To Figure Things Out

Our director, Patricia McKee opened her reflection on the dress rehearsal with, “I saw new things on stage tonight, which means you are starting to play. Excellent!” The actors have been rehearsing for seven weeks. Opening night is in three days. The show is finally really coming together. If you have ever been part of a theater production you know the tension of opening week. The dedication and repetition of almost daily rehearsals; learning lines, assembling props, choreographing set changes, adding blocking. It all comes down to opening night.

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How does a director prepare and manage the actors in order to achieve an excellent performance by opening night?

The parallels between directing a show and managing a team in a workplace environment are illuminating. Two weeks ago, I was training managers at the local city government in how to coach and guide employees towards success. It is so difficult to act as a guide. You know the answers. You know the best way of doing it. It would be faster if you just did it yourself! And yet, by allowing an employee to try (and fail), the employee is able to own the problem and own the solution. We have all heard the importance of learning through doing or teaching a man to fish. However, I believe there is a deeper jujitsu happening.

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Let me explain by going back to the theater metaphor. Before we ever cast the actors for The Graduate, our director, Patricia McKee had to develop a vision for the show. She could see the movement of the actors, the motivation for each character, the pacing of the scenes. Once actors were cast, they began with reading their lines and discussing their character’s motivation. Next, actors begin to get into the space, moving around each scene to feel how the lines fit with movement. Then we introduce props and furniture and allow the actors to continue to change their movements to fit the actual setting. Finally, costumes and lights are added and each scene is fine tuned.

Although the director knows from the very beginning how she wants a scene to look, she lets each actor discover that vision for themselves. For example, an actor may realize that their character wants to jump out of bed instead of just stepping out. In some cases, through this process of discovery the actor brings new ideas or a new interpretation to the scene that the director had not considered. However, many of the movements or emphasis on certain words had already been visualized by the director. By allowing the actor to come to the same conclusion on his own, those decisions are more rooted in the actor’s experience. The actor owns the problem and the solution.

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The director guides the actors by giving them an exercise to try or asking them questions. She nudges them towards the vision. With this approach, magic can happen. Not only do actors buy into the vision of the director and discover it for themselves, but new ideas and creativity are enabled to flourish.

A theatrical production is the ultimate team effort. In a show like The Graduate, we have nine actors and a backstage crew of several people. Although each show begins with the playwrights words and the director’s vision, it comes alive through the whole hearted effort of every member of the team.

How amazing could your workplace be if every member of your team was guided, nudged, and empowered rather than managed? If each person was enabled to own the problem as well as the solution?

 

For those in Flagstaff, The Graduate opens this Friday, June 2nd. I am the Stage Manager for the production.

Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays from June 2-18. Individual tickets for the June 2 opening performance are $20 to $24 and include a post-show reception with the cast. Seating for other performances range from $18 to $21. A special “First Friday” pre-show reception on June 2 will feature free refreshments and artwork in the lobby.

Tickets can be purchased online at Theatrikos.com; by calling (928) 774-1662; or by visiting the theater’s box office, which is open from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and two hours prior to each performance.

 

Being Ok With Being Beginner

Trying to encourage a cyclist at the Trek Dirt Series Mountain Bike camp, I revealed to her that I struggled so much with learning to mountain bike that I went to therapy.

I told the therapist, I am here to talk about how frustrated I get when I go mountain biking. The therapist thought it was her lucky day; “This is going to be easy.”

She told me, “mountain biking is a choice, if it frustrates you so much, then don’t do it”. She smiled and I imagined her rubbing her hands together, thinking, “whew, that was an easy one”.

I persisted. “I want to work on this. I don’t want to have an activity that is supposed to be fun make me hate myself.”

With that, we got to work.

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Coach Roina instructing beginner cyclists at camp

I relayed the exchange to the beginner cyclist and she nodded with a deep knowing. She and I shared an overachieving personality and a tendency to beat ourselves up for being a beginner. As hard as it was on a hot day after falling off her bike onto the rocky trail, she got back on and persisted. She was not having fun yet, but she was not giving up either. I hoped that she could embrace the role of the beginner and be kind to herself, but I know from experience that is far easier said than done.

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A camper embracing new skill development rolling off an obstacle

One of the greatest challenges to becoming our best selves is overcoming our limiting beliefs. Jenean Perelstein writes about this in her new book, Finding Your Lighthouse. When I started mountain biking, every time I stumbled I took that as evidence that I could not ride a bike. I was limited from the very beginning with doubt and a self defeating view of my own athletic abilities. What changed for me was giving myself the gift of being a beginner. When I began thinking of myself as a beginner who was learning to ride a bike, the same behaviors – stumbling, falling, stopping on a steep hill, became evidence that I was working hard at learning a new skill. Each time I would get back up after falling I trained myself to think, “wow, you have grit!”. I also normalized the learning process by going to mountain bike camp and surrounding myself with other beginners who were facing the same challenges.

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Practicing my skills back home on the Fort Tuthill Bike Park in Flagstaff, AZ

This year as I tread into new waters professionally, I have decided to volunteer at several Trek Dirt Series Mountain Bike Camps. Each camp draws 50 women at various stages of learning. The structure allows for skill development on grass in the morning, followed by an afternoon ride to practice new skills on real trails. Through my involvement with the camp I hope to stay connected to the practice of learning and to translate those lessons into my courses on workplace communication. I will share what I learn here, so I hope you will enjoy the ride!