Five Reasons to Make One Decision: Catchafire

Tanzania flagI wrote in September about Catchafire, an organization that matches social-good enterprises with professionals looking for meaningful volunteer opportunities. I stepped forward to apply for some work and promised to tell you about it. Our project had a delayed start, but here’s the report (finally!).

The GLK Student Fund raises money and grants scholarships to needy and worthy students in Tanzania. GLK took a chance on me as a pro bono professional. My project included some important copywriting work. Here is what I discovered in the process.

  1. GLK, like so many other small non-profits, is driven by committed people looking to make a difference. As I worked with Gayle at GLK, it became obvious to me that she was putting every ounce of energy into her work meeting the needs of these students. Witnessing that energy, commitment and sacrifice was and continues to be an inspiration (especially on those low energy days that we all sometimes experience)
  2. These organizations value and respect the opinions and contributions of pro bono professionals. If you are feeling under-appreciated at work, grab one of these volunteer gigs. You will be a huge help and will feel better about your work, value and place in the world.
  3. Catchafire lets you filter and search for just the right project. Select your skill, filter by organizational mission, and get to work helping in a way that can stir your soul. The GLK work was a perfect match for me on several levels. Look and you’ll find one that works for you, too.
  4. After completing the project, I have stayed in touch with Gayle and we have been sharing ideas that have gone beyond the project. This has turned into a meaningful professional friendship. Who doesn’t like that?
  5. Doing this work allowed me to be creative and got me engaged thinking about something outside of my day-to-day. Before this project, I never would have known that the per capita income in Tanzania is less than $600 or just how difficult getting a decent education there can be. I can even point to the country on a map. What will inspire and challenge you?

What are your plans to do something different and meaningful in 2013? You don’t know who needs you until you look. I welcome any questions that you have and hope that you will share your experiences. Do something that really matters to celebrate the New Year!

Be sure to follow this blog and share your stories. Thanks for visiting!

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Book Review: Linchpin

I picked up the latest Seth Godin paperback release at the airport bookstore last week and devoured it. After being inspired by The Dip and The Big Moo, I was excited to have the opportunity to grab five hours of flight time for a Seth pep talk. It was worth the 16 bucks.

As an entrepreneur and someone who is constantly working to do remarkable work for my clients, Godin’s focus on artistry resonated and validated what I and many of my clients do every day: Engage in “artistry” (Godin’s term), rising above the pack to add that which cannot be described in a policy manual or procedure, adding that special something – creativity, emotional energy, caring – that sets my work above the rest. You probably do that too, and are at your best and most energized when you are in that zone. Godin profiles people including coffee shop employees, CEOs and sales executives, creating opportunities to identify commonality between the reader and Godin’s subjects.

One of the reasons that I still prefer paper books over the Kindle for non-fiction with lasting value is that I like to scribble in the margins. Stars, checks, lines, comments and other visual reminders of, “Hey, this seemed important at 30,000 feet,” make up my system. This book is now filled with them.

Are you working for someone else? Become a linchpin. Be indispensable be doing more than is expected, by adding the qualities that are unique to you.

Are you an entrepreneur? Work hard, work fast and give you best as a gift to your clients and employees. You too will become indispensable.

Godin’s point is simple, but profound in its ramifications. If your job can be described in a training guide or a policy manual, if it can be automated or given to someone else willing to do it at a lower price, you are cooked. He challenges us to think and act, working to be remarkable, indispensable artists of our trades.

Ideas to Action

Getting started on a new project or business venture requires many ingredients, and one of the most important is passion. Also near the top is skill. Have you taken the time to think about your passions and skills and how they could translate into a new business or initiative? Maybe you have thought that you would like to start your own business (who hasn’t?), but you have no idea where to begin.

Start with your talents and interests and allow yourself to get creative. Start with a large piece of paper, a pen, pencil or favorite crayon, and start freewriting. I suggest that you write “My Interests” in the middle of the page. You can get another piece of paper and write “Things I’m Good At.” Start writing quickly and without editing yourself. This exercise could take five minutes or five days. It’s up to you. Keep going and fill the page, scribbling if you have to.  Most importantly, don’t hesitate and don’t avoid writing something because you think it’s silly or of no value.

After you have had a day or two to think about it, review what you have written. What do you see? Any themes? Anything surprising? Is there anything there that spurs ideas for businesses? Here are two stories that may help illustrate my point.

I have always received good feedback and solid grades on my writing. Whether the writing was for work, for school or community activities, I was always told that I wrote well and that my work was engaging and interesting. I also have an interest in career development and have done a lot of recruiting and interviewing. I was always amazed at the inconsistent quality of resumes that I saw. A few were great, but most were boring. More than a few were terrible. I thought, “I can do better than this.” After thinking and researching, I plunked down my $15 for a business certificate, set up a website and started telling people that I write resumes. Almost two years later, my business is growing well and providing some useful income.

A very close friend was helping a friend with her dog grooming business. He spent some time in her shop and overheard customers asking for dog feeding stands, the kind that raise the bowl off the ground so the dog has an easier time eating. Michael is handy in the woodshop and got the idea to tinker around and make a few models (single and dual-bowl, small,
medium and large). Now you can buy these feeders at the shop and at the festivals and fairs where he has a booth. His interests and talents came together with opportunity to create a new business.

No, these aren’t dissed college kids starting Facebook stories, and I’m sure that Wall Street’s next big IPO won’t focus on resumes or dog feeders, but they illustrate the point that your next opportunity can come from a little time invested exploring your own inventory of skills and interests. For more ideas on brainstorming, visit UNC’s website. To help you determine if your dream is for real or just a fantasy, check out John C. Maxwell’s book on the topic. All the best to you in your self-discovery.

Creativity: No Permission Needed

Have you seen this turtle? How about the pirate? Maybe you saw them while growing up in your favorite comic book. Draw the turtle, send in your work and find out if you are good enough to attend the correspondence art school. Do you think the admissions standards were tough? I remember seeing these guys on matchbooks. It’s fun to think about some guy sitting in his F150 with his new pack of Marlboro Reds thinking, “Maybe I am good enough to get into art school!” OK. It’s a Saturday and we are getting ready for a big party with coolers filled with frosty drinks, so forgive me for the silliness, but consider this: Has anyone ever made you believe you aren’t creative.

Conformity and uniformity are valued by some, and we are all taught it from the very beginning. Boys and girls, line up against the wall, and no talking! Order and discipline have their places, for sure, but have you ingested this sleeping serum at the expense of your creativity and quest to do something great.

We aren’t talking about writing the next great novel, though that would be fine. What do you want to do? What do you think about when you sit around on January 1st considering the next 365 ¼ days? What is keeping you from using your gifts, interests and talents?

Think about the technology and tools that you have at your disposal right now to do something creative and special. Do you want to write? Start a blog. Take pictures? Start shooting. Start a new business? Get to work and write a description of your idea on an index card. Do you want to help others or get deeper into your faith? Do it, whatever it is. Do something
and don’t worry about what other people think. You will make mistakes and you will have failures, but you will learn. And don’t worry about asking for permission.