The silverware sat in the drawer, a gift from his grandmother. Although tarnished by age, the silver forks, spoons, and knives had not been used at a table in decades. The set reminded him of family and holidays spent together.
When the fire happened, little was saved. Photographs, books, and furniture were scorched beyond salvage. So too was the silver.
After the fire, he deliberately bought a small silver table set. It was used at every meal; to bake, to cook and to serve. He would wait no longer.
Our houses, garages, and offices are filled with items like this silver. Tea sets of fine china, vintage wine, Corvettes, pen sets, crystal glasses, and bottles of aged single barrel whisky.
All waiting for THE event or celebration.
The event is now and the celebration is today. Memories won’t wait until you’re ready and fires will come.
So pour the tea. Drive the ‘Vette. Drink the whisky.
Your grandmother would be proud.
My daily reading has changed focus over the past few years. In 2012, I told a mentor that I purposely avoided biographies because I found little value in reading about other people’s lives.
I still shake my head when I remember saying that.
Here’s why I read now biographies and why every EHS professional should put a few on their reading lists this year.
1. Stories matter: When you read about a person’s life, you learn that stories (not data, statistics, or bar graphs) change the way people think. A great primer in history and the art of storytelling, and while not a biography, is Heroes of History: A Brief History of Civilization from Ancient Times to the Dawn of the Modern Age by Will Durant.
2. Decision making is an art: Biographies are simply decisions wrapped in history. I read biographies to learn how leaders made decisions. One of the best for EHS pros frustrated by the business of politics is The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Modern Library Paperbacks) by Edmund Morris.
3. They aren’t special nor perfect: This was my excuse. “They” could achieve that goal, go to that school, and earn that promotion, etc. because they were special. Then I read that John D. Rockefeller was born 10 miles from my house. Colin Powell had to work endlessly for every opportunity. And Winston Churchill had an “agonizing stutter”, a lisp, and was a proponent of sterilization for the “mentally deficient”. Biographies bring humanity to people and reality to heroes. They also bring your goals within reach. If these people can…why not you? Try Colin Powell’s It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership for insight into how hard work (in the right direction) pays off.
Can’t find time to read? Here’s how one person reads only 25 pages a day (and makes it through 8,500 pages a year)!
What is your favorite biography and why?
“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” — Frank A. Clark, politician
It holds us back from progress in all areas. “It” is our collection of endless reasons, rationalizations, excuses, and perceived barriers on our path. This collection is what we put in the way, in between our present pace and our goal. This collection also protects our egos from the pain of failure and suffocates our dreams in tempting comfort zones.
Collections, like the comic books and baseball cards of our youth, can be let go.
One by one, our reasons can be tested and broken.
Excuses acted upon and pushed through.
And barriers run over by new perspective and persistence.
“Do what makes you happy.”
This may be the absolute worst advice I’ve ever heard.
What if what makes you happy is more sleep, a box of Twinkies, and four hours of Netflix?
Is that a real life plan? Is the purpose of life composed of a string of events correlating to instant gratification?
Gary Keller, author of The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, writes, “I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.”
Chasing happiness is like running after butterflies. You’ll get tired and they’ll fly away. If its butterflies you’re after, put on your coveralls and grab a shovel. Build a garden, fill it with multi-colored flowers and herbs, and place benches around a fountain in the center. Invite your friends to sit and watch as butterflies, bees, and dragonflies appear as if out of nowhere.
Are you building gardens or emptying Twinkie boxes?
Yesterday at the National Safety Council Congress opening session in Indianapolis, Kyle Petty spoke on NASCAR racing, family and safety. The famous race car driver provided insight into how a safety evolves in a sport surrounded by speed, gasoline, and concrete walls. Kyle spoke on the development of special tires, window netting, and other advances in race car design.
A third-generation professional driver, Kyle implored the audience to resist a culture that drives only reactive safety measures and to instead push the safety envelope forward by reducing needless risk…well before injury occurs. He told the audience to really look for opportunities to make their worlds safer. His motivation? Kyle’s grandfather was critically injured in a racing crash, ending his career and Kyle’s son Adam died in a racing practice in 2000.
How do we look for these opportunities?
First, drop the compliance checklist. Then, imagine this. What if someone were to visit your worksite and look around, what hazards would they see? If they gave you a list of danger areas…which would you shrug your shoulders at? Which ones have you begun to see as “normal”? How can you change that?
Many EHS professionals are familiar with the story of Paul O’Neill and the turnaround of Alcoa by focusing on safety. (If not, here’s a link to the story)
In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg describes why safety worked for Alcoa and uses the term “keystone habit” to describe a habit (like safety at Alcoa) which leads to multiple other habits and routines.
For example, research indicates that when people exercise daily, they are more likely to eat healthier meals, avoid processed junk food, and become more efficient at work. There are also correlations with less stress, better sleep, and less credit card use! Another example is family dinner. Duhigg writes, “Families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence.”
Other keystone habits include; scheduled reading, daily routines (morning rituals), food journaling, and tracking your food.
If you’ve already read The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business and want more, pick up Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life by Gretchen Rubin for further insight into life-transforming habits.
Dr. Edward de Bono, author of “Six Thinking Hats” and “Lateral Thinking”, cautioned against incrementalism in design when he wrote, “Removing the faults in a stage-coach may produce a perfect stage-coach, but it is unlikely to produce the first motor car.”
In EHS, we often find ourselves working on the stage-coach. When we recommend retraining or additional PPE in a post-incident investigation, we’re adjusting the harness on the coach. When we add more rules and increase penalties, we’re kicking the wood-spoked wheels of the coach.
But we need a motor car. Engineering out the hazard is difficult. Reducing exposure is tough. Building value through investments in safety is challenging.
Build the motor car.
We focus on a lot (and often everything at once.)
We build better systems. We craft process structure. We design foolproof methods and failsafe intersections. We draft strategy. We forecast and react to feedback from around the organization. And much more.
Much of this (un)focused effort relies on the premise that our organizations must function in an extraordinary manner with every type of employee, down to the lowest common denominator. In many cases, we create many processes, rules, and regulations so the least motivated, most distracted, and barely-competent aren’t able to throw the whole system off-track.
Instead, what if we focused all of this effort and focus on building an all-star team, instead of propping up an average team with processes, systems, and rules?
What if we listened to Pareto and put 80% of our resources into the 20% of our team that produces the most products and services?
What if we didn’t?
You thought about doing it. Then you remembered you can’t do things like that. Or people like you don’t. So you filed it away in your mental folder of unattainable dreams and wishes that “other people” do with their lives.
But then you saw it again. Whether in a magazine you picked up or in a Facebook post from those “other people”, it made you dream again.
What would it be like?
In a line from Marianne Williamson (often attributed to Nelson Mandela),
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?…Your playing small does not serve the world…it is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.”
Playing small is what you were yesterday. Today is for playing like the one that you know is there.
Step up and play.
And play big.
In The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz give us a perspective of life, energy, and leadership.
“The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but rather how much energy we invest in the time we have.”
Loehr and Schwartz go further with, “Leaders are the stewards of organizational energy-in companies, organizations and in families. They inspire or demoralize others first by how effectively they manage their own energy and next by how well they mobilize, focus, invest and renew the collective energy of those they lead.”
Your energy matters. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Your health in these four areas cannot be put off until the next promotion, next quarter or next project. When you bring low energy, you risk demoralizing your team and those around you.
Think it doesn’t show? Look around at your next meeting. How do people sit down? Are they tired from the day? Or filled with energy? Now look inward. Are you stewarding your energy to inspire? Or are you running on fumes with the low fuel light on?
Here are few ideas for building energy: Take that walk today. Build in downtime. Eat like your mother or fitness coach was watching. Meditate or simply close your eyes for a few minutes. Write down three things you’re grateful for. Make someone’s day by handwriting them a letter.
How do you manage your energy? Post some suggestions below!