Tuesday, October 16, 2018

We Could All Use a Little Snail Mail Right Now

I read this in the New York Times recently and shared it with my family.  Their response They liked it so much that I wanted to share it with you.

I love the last line of the essay!

What the world needs now? Handwritten cards and letters.

Hand written notes and cards may carry more weight with their
recipients than their electronic counterparts, but research shows
they make us feel good too.

By Susan Shain

Oct. 8, 2018

Oprah Winfrey. Richard Branson. George H.W. Bush. Taylor Swift.

Besides fame and success, what do all of these people have in common?
Something surprisingly unglamorous and gloriously analog: a love of 
physical cards and letters. Of notes that need a lick and a stamp 
instead of a click and a swoosh.

Over the past decade, the number of first-class mail items sent through
the Postal Service has dropped by more than 50 percent. Not counting
holiday cards and invitations, the average American household receives
just 10 pieces of personal mail per year. Nearly half of British children, 
according to one survey, have never sent a handwritten letter.

In an age of torrential email, incessant group texts  and lackadaisical 
Facebook birthday posts, snail mail has become quaint, almost vintage.
But that doesn’t mean its days are over. As a recent CityLab story 
pointed out, we can save snailmail — if we want to.

David Sedaris, the best-selling author and humorist, is known for writing
letters to his fans, his boyfriend and everyone he works with on book 
tours. He will also send a thank-you note if you have him over for dinner.
“I just feel like it’s classy to do it with real mail,” he said.
“It’s too easy to do it on email. And it also doesn’t mean as much.” 
Not to mention, he added, “It’s nice to be thought of as classy.”

Whether it’s to say thank you, hi or I’m sorry — or to send a Q-tip
attached to a sheet of paper, as Mr. Sedaris’s pen pal, the late comedian Phyllis Diller, once did — here’s why it’s time to bring snail mail back. 

Writing by hand feels good. When we write by hand, 
we retain
information better and may even boost our creativity. Plus, because we
do it so rarely these days, it can be a welcome respite from typing.

“It’s more fun,” said Margaret Shepherd, a professional calligrapher
and author of “The Art of the Handwritten Note.” “It is such a delight
to see that ink go on that beautiful paper — to pick out a stamp,
to slow down and realize you thanked or consoled somebody in the
best way possible.”

The warm fuzzies that accompany writing are more than anecdotal.
In one study, Steven Toepfer, an associate professor of human
development and family studies at Kent State University at Salem,
asked participants to compose three “letters of gratitude” over the
span of a month.

They could write to anyone, as long as the content was positive.
With each letter, the writers experienced higher levels of happiness
and life satisfaction, and lower levels of depressive symptoms.

Mr. Toepfer said we all have a base of gratitude inside us, 
which can lead to positive psychological effects. “But we have to tap
into it — and use it — to get its benefits,” he explained.
“I think writing letters does that.” Handwritten notes spread love.

If you want to show you care, snail mail is an effective method.
Think about the last time you received a hand-addressed missive —
didn’t it make you smile?

Saeideh Heshmati, assistant professor of positive psychology at 
Claremont Graduate University, recently researched what makes people
"feel loved." She found that “small gestures in everyday life,” like people supporting you without expecting anything back or showing compassion during
tough times, were what participants most agreed upon as “loving.”

Since cards require more effort than email, Ms. Heshmati said recipients
will likely “feel more loved because you took the time to do that for
them.” She added, “It’s the care that comes with it that signals the love.”
Snail mail is, well, slow (and unique).

Whereas emails are something to rush through on the way to 
Inbox Zero, cards and letters are something to cherish; to set on a desk,
to stick to a fridge, to bind into a book for future generations.

In the digital age, we are “assaulted by a barrage of information —
much of it having little or no importance,” Florence Isaacs wrote in her
book “Just a Note to Say.” “Yet personal words on paper often are
saved in a shoe box, becoming a memory to be revisited through
the years.”

For proof, look to Letters of Note, a popular site that offers an intimate
window into history and the characters who shaped it. While there may
someday be an “Emails of Note,” it wouldn’t impart the same romance.
After all, the swirl of the letters, the smudges of ink and the pastiche of 
paper are what brings us into each writer’s world.

You don’t have to be a writer or an artist to send meaningful notes.

Because of snail mail’s novelty, what you say — and what it looks like — 
often matters less than the act itself.

“My husband sends handwritten notes scratched out with a pencil, 
and people just sit up and sing,” said Ms. Shepherd, the calligrapher.
“They’re so happy to get something in the mail, even if it doesn’t have
lot of production value.”

If you find yourself struggling to find the appropriate words, 
she recommended keeping it simple and writing as though you are
talking to your recipient. If you don’t know whom to write, start with the
children in your life or reach out to deserving strangers through initiatives
like More Love Letters or Operation Gratitude.

When one of Mr. Sedaris’s friends comes out with a new book or play,
he sends a card with specific details like: “I loved it on Page 38 when you
did this.” “I just realize how much it means when somebody 
goes into details,” he said. “I know it makes me feel good, 
and it’s not that hard. … A little effort is all it takes.”

Getting started is easier than you think.  Mr. Sedaris is right: 
Although snail mail requires more work than its digital kin,
it’s still not hard.

Avoid the agony of scouring last-minute, overpriced $5 cards in the 
drugstore by purchasing a set of blank cards to keep at home. Craft fairs
and farmers’ markets usually have lovely handmade ones, and 
even the dollar store sells passable sets. If you have a favorite artist or
illustrator, they may have an Esty or Gumroad shop where you can buy
their work printed on blank cards.

Then grab a book of stamps and a nice pen and toss it all into a shoe box.
Now you’re ready for snail mail — with minimal hassle.
(You can even batch cards at the beginning of each month by scanning
your calendar for upcoming birthdays and celebrations.)

The next time you’re tempted to send a congratulatory email or a digital
birthday message, try a card instead. If you’re looking for an event to
kick you off, consider making this holiday season the one where you 
offer friends a chance to get on a holiday card list — no strings or
reciprocation attached (if that’s O.K. with you) — and send a personal
note to each loved one who signs up.

“There’s something permanently charming about getting an envelope
in the mail,” said Ms. Shepherd. 

“It’s as if somebody gift wrapped their words for you.”

                                                                               Recent sunset in Asheville, NC 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The career advice I wish I had at 25

I was just cleaning up my computer and came across this.
I thought you might like it. It's some pretty good stuff!

The career advice I wish I had at 25
By Shane Rodgers

In the future, when we turn 50, we will each be given a ticket to a time machine and, just once, we will be able to go back in time and talk to our 25-year-old selves.

Even then, time travel will be expensive and wreak havoc with frequent flyer programs. So there will only be one trip. So what if we could? What would we say? What advice would we give?

I often wish I could do this. Just once. So, just in case the time machine ever comes along, this is the career advice I would give my 25-year-old self.

1. A career is a marathon, not a sprint
Chill. When we are younger we tend to be impatient. As you get older you realize there is no real rush. Life, and the careers we pursue to fill it and pay the bills, needs to be approached on a long-term basis. If you sprint you will wear out or start to resent work that you previously enjoyed. Allow yourself time to breathe and grow. Things will come if you work hard and allow yourself time to get good at things. Always rushing only leaves you empty, and tired. It is fine to give yourself permission to take some time in the slow lane with the hat people. You will find yourself seeing things on the journey that you didn’t realize were there.

2. Most success comes from repetition, not new things
I remember hairdressing legend Stefan Ackerie telling me this in 2003. I had never really thought about it before. A few years later Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant book Outliers was published, promoting the idea that you needed to spend 10,000 hours on something to become truly expert at it. This applied to the Beatles and their Hamburg gigs and Bill Gates who, through a series of fortuitous accidents, ended up spending more time than almost anyone else on a computer.

The lesson here is get good at things before you try to move to the next thing. Genuine expertise belongs to an elite few. They seldom have superpowers. They usually have endurance, patience and take a long-term view. They also love what they do. If your find that, don’t let it go.

3. If work was really so great all the rich people would have the jobs
It is well established that almost nobody laments on their deathbed that they didn’t spend enough time at the office. This seems obvious. Yet still we let contrived circumstances and fairly trivial issues keep us from important events like school sport days and kids getting badges for picking up rubbish. I wish somebody had schooled me about these priorities at 25. I can remember every sport day and certificate presentation I missed. I can’t remember any of the reasons I missed them.

4. Deprioritize your career when your kids are young
If you have skills, commitment and passion, careers tend to take care of themselves. Over the long haul, it really doesn’t matter if you have a few years when your career is in canter mode while you priorities young children. This should apply to men and women. I was watching some video of my kids when they were little last week and I realized, again, that the little people in that video don’t exist in that form anymore. They have grown into pride-worthy adults but the tiny people with wonder in their eyes were just passing through. If you miss that time meeting deadlines and finishing reports, you never get it back. Childhood is fleeting. When it is in its formative stages, you get one chance.

You can also miss the chance to learn. Children teach you a lot more than you teach them. They give you a second chance to see the world for the first time through their eyes. And you will be astounded what you miss in the clutter of life. Hold onto those times while you can. As the nun sang in The Sound of Music, you can’t keep a wave upon the sand. And you look kinda ridiculous trying.

5. In the workforce, always act like you are 35
A recruiter gave me this advice some years ago. It is quite inspired. What she meant was, when you are young in the workplace, don’t act as a novice. If you are smart and competent, step up and do whatever you are capable of doing in a mature way. Similarly, when you are an older worker, don’t act like it. Approach your day with youthful energy. To quote a famous Frank Sinatra song: “You’re 35 and it’s a very good year”.

6. Management is about people, not things
It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that all people are equal, behave the same every day and have a generic capacity to perform. Humans are simply not made like that. Business guru Jack Welch says the workforce consists of 20 per cent of people who are high performers, 10 per cent that you should get rid of and 70 per cent who do okay. The problem is the 70 per cent. Most managers want everyone in the 20 per cent. We need to be careful not to believe that the 70 per cent are underperformers. Sometimes we need to celebrate the competence of the masses not the superpowers of the elite. As managers, we are not managing things, we are empowering people and making the best use of whatever it is they bring to the table.

7. Genuinely listen to others
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we have all the answers as individuals. We don’t. As a group we are far more powerful. We need to learn to genuinely collaborate and really listen to the opinions of others. And we need to ask our own people first. So many managers and firms fall into the trap of asking external consultants for answers and then trying to implement the recommendations over the top of tried-and-true employees. In almost every case, our own people already know the answers. We need to avoid letting familiarity blind us to the talent sitting around us.

8. Never work for horrible bastards
Life is way too short to tolerate really bad bosses. If you find yourself working for one, unless you are desperate or starving, start looking for a new job. Immediately. Then sack the bad boss. By leaving.

9. Recognize that staff are people with finite emotional capacity
This is one I really wish I had known earlier. It is clear to me now that humans have a finite emotional capacity. If there is something challenging happening in their personal lives, they have limited capacity left to deal with issues at work. In nearly 100 per cent of cases I have dealt with of people suddenly under-performing at work, it has nothing to do with work. When good people have problems, managers and companies need to carry them. This should be a personal mission. If we learn to carry people when they most need it, we become a stronger community and we empower people in ways that we probably can’t imagine when we are young. A re-invigorated broken employee is a corporation’s most powerful force. They become a slightly better version of themselves without the need for a V energy drink.

10. Don’t just network with people your own age
Beware the whiz kid syndrome. Smart, young people have a habit of forming communities of other smart young people and feeding off each other’s energy. In the older world they are seen as “bright young things” that give confidence that the future is in good hands. Argghhhh. How many times have you heard that? Youth enclaves can actually be restrictive. Smart 20-somethings should make sure they network with older people too. In fact their networking should be about meeting useful mentors and career champions who can open doors and fast track careers. Similarly, older, successful people shouldn’t just sit in musty clubs talking about the 1970s. They should be proactively seeking out smart, young people who can shake them out of their comfort zone and open their eyes to new ideas.

11. Celebrate cultural differences in the workplace
One of the big mistakes we make in Australia is failing to adequately recognize the value of overseas experience and people from a variety of cultures. Diversity brings a richness to our workplaces that benefits all of us. Overseas experience is real experience. We should take every opportunity to inject new thinking into our workplaces. It is where the magic begins.

12. Take the time to understand what your business does
I love the story of President J F Kennedy’s visit to NASA during which he asked a cleaner what his job was. The cleaner replied that he sent rockets to the moon. All of us should feel part of what our organizations actually do. We should take the time to be part of the big picture and always feel connected with the true objectives of our workplace. Don’t wait for someone to tell you or lament that internal communication is crap. Find out for yourself.

13. Don’t put off working overseas
Geography is becoming less relevant. We are all citizens of the world. President Obama made the point during his University of Queensland speech that the world was becoming smaller and even the Pacific Ocean was now just a lake. If you get the chance to work overseas, and you aspire to do that, take it. There is never a right time. And we always regret the things we don’t do far more than the things we do.

14. Work in an office where you have friends
You will spend a lot of time at work. You should work with people you like. I used to be a bit skeptical about a question in employment engagement surveys asking people if they had a “best friend” at work. I realize now that work is much better if you are among friends. The happiest people are those who do things they are passionate about with people they really like. Further to that, if you find you have taken on a job you hate, ditch it quickly. Your career can survive a few well-intentioned detours and mistaken pathways.

15. Never sacrifice personal ethics for a work reason
Crucial to workplace happiness is value alignment. If you work somewhere that compromises your personal ethics and values, get out of there as quickly as you can. Good people will be unnerved by things that don’t feel right. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Bad things only manifest when good people don’t take a stand.

16. Recognize that failure is learning
As bizarre as it might sound, failing is not failure. Researchers recognize that failure is just part of a process to eliminate unsuccessful options. To misquote Woody from Toy Story, when we make a few mistakes, we are not failing, just falling - with style. Even fairy-tale princesses recognize that you need to kiss a lot of toads before you find a handsome prince. Thomas Edison articulated this best: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” If we fear failure we tend to take a minimalist approach to our jobs and the opportunities around us. Takes some risks. Sometimes failing spectacularly is the best evidence that we are alive, human and serious about aspiring to the extraordinary. There is no value in being ordinary when you have the capacity to be remarkable.

Now, to get started on that time machine…

Comments in these posts are personal. Shane Rodgers is a business executive, writer and marketer with a keen interest in social change and what makes people tick. He is the author of Tall People Don’t Jump – the curious behavior of human beings.

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