Good News of July 18

Each day arrives with its own mixed bag of challenges and joys. We grow from one, we celebrate the other. One pokes at us for action, for reflection, the other reminds us to celebrate the moment, embracing it into our memories. Today is a special day for me already – it’s the anniversary of my entry into the CU Movement six years ago.

However, I’m not reflecting on yesteryear, I’m reflecting on the Good News of today, 2011. A CDFI grant has been awarded to Whatcom County, former home of yours truly. Several CU friends put in the work to win that award. I am almost speechless with pride for them, and I feel so happy for the difference this will make.

Credit unions *do* make a difference. I know this, I see it first hand, every day. This movement is made up of people whose small daily actions add up into life-changing actions. They work hard because they understand the positive impact their actions will have, especially when used in cooperation with others. Together, we’re working to paint a beautiful picture, to help our world move into a network of healthy, vibrant communities.

This is so much good news, truly.  Don’t stop believin’!

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Following Passion

If you love something you’re good at, you’ll never have to work again. – Sir Ken Robinson

As a kid, my answer to the question, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” was often representative of my current interests. I loved to draw, so Artist was frequently an answer. Around third grade I attempted to sound more ambitious with Veterinarian. That is, until I learned that vet medicine was more about cleaning teeth and shots and surgeries, and less about cuddling the animals until they felt better. (If it’d been about the latter, I would’ve been the Doogie Howser of vets.)

So… why aren’t more of us firemen and artists and vets and astronauts? Maybe the education to get to where we wanted to go was prohibitively expensive; maybe we were told that we weren’t strong enough, weren’t good enough, weren’t capable enough to have that dream career we wanted when we were five. Or life, in its mysterious ways, simply took us on a different path. Even if the jobs we find ourselves employed in look far different from what we originally sought, there’s nothing standing in the way of us loving the work we do, except ourselves.

The joy is in how we choose to look at it. If there are tasks that feel like an energy vampire, what’s stopping us from viewing it as a vampire**, and our swift, efficient focus will be the stake that ends its reign of terror. Or maybe we’re held captive by an evil ogre** who won’t let us move on to more fun parts of our job until we finish up the TPS reports… It’s not always easy. Sometimes jobs can feel so small it’s hard to feel like there’s room for any creativity. But think of dreams… Even the largest skull on the planet seems a terribly small place to hold the worlds that exist in our dreams. You don’t need a lot of space for imagination.

If your job is like a concrete block, inflexible and heavy, without room for creativity or heart… then what’s keeping you there? If you’re unable to find a small crack for your imagination to enter and grow, if your ability to express your creative self is stifled and starved, then you’re not able to make full use of your wonderful, amazing brain. You’ll need to change something: your outlook or your job. There is no reason I can fathom that justifies daily unhappiness, or to feel hopeless about our ability to be creative wherever we’re at in life.

What’s the difference between creativity and imagination? As Sir Ken put it at the Co-Op THiNK11 Conference: The difference between the two is that to be creative you have to do something. (#1 Think/imagine. #2 DO.) If you’re not passionate about your work, do something that brings your passion inside your work-place. Or start the journey that leads you to something you both love and are good at. It’s worth overcoming your fears for.

When I think about it, I’m a trainer at a (wonderful!) credit union, and yet… I’m also an artist. It’s not in the way I would have originally defined the term, or even how others may define the term, but I’m sure it’s in ways that are truer to who I am as a person. The art I create is inspired by the people I love and the work that I do. I’m lucky to be part of a great team of inspiring people that works together to advance the CU Movement.

That’s not work, that’s fun. 🙂

**Welcome to my world! It’s a happy place. The villains are concepts, not people.

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A Need for Story-Telling

Blessed with an opportunity to present on Internal Culture as part of a panel on Building Loyalty at the Co-Op Network’s THiNK11 Conference, I soaked up inspiration like a sponge.

Did you know that Credit Unions for Kids raised more than $80 million for Children’s Miracle Network since 1996? Or that we’re the third largest fundraiser for them? No? Neither did I, at least until last night. (Among attendees and valued partners, we raised more than $50k yesterday alone. WOW!) As Nancy Lublin, Founder of Dress for Success and DoSomething.org told our assembled crowd at THiNK11… Credit unions are too humble.

Here’s what I believe: We *need* to be telling more of our stories and engaging with our communities. We’ve been continuing with our good works again and again, as though hoping that our life-changing actions would speak for themselves… and the end result is that we are surprised to learn the ways that we’re making a difference. How can we expect our members (and non-members) to know the CU Difference if we’re not standing on rooftops with bullhorns, spreading the good word?

THiNK11 has been eye-opening, really. Why are we not telling more of these truths? We’re all struggling to highlight our relevance to our communities, and I keep thinking about our founding principles… specifically the sixth principle, Cooperation among Cooperatives. Perhaps we feel shy about tooting our own organization’s horn… but that shouldn’t stop us from talking about one another’s accomplishments. Together, we can not only make a difference, but also ensure that the difference is known.

As we begin to do that, attempting to touch our communities through as many channels as possible, we need to remember that it’s also more than just broadcasting… we *need* to make this a conversation. We need to engage with members and non-members alike who are willing to talk to us. We need to not only live our values, but we need to talk about the ways that we demonstrate them. As we raise our individual voices, as we sing one another’s praises, our voices will combine in harmony, and that chorus will be heard not just locally, but globally.

Nothing will bring me greater pleasure than to sing with you. And while we’re at it… let’s dance!

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Pondering the Art of Intention

Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability. – Roy L Smith

At the end of last month, I joined 15 other young CU professionals in Crashing CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. It was a monumentally good time (it always is with the Crash Network), and like other Crashes I’ve attended, it rejuvenated my energy as well as provided me with some direction to explore.

One word came up again and again, both in Crash sessions and between the lines of others speakers’ stories: discipline. This stood out to me, because motivation won’t go anywhere without discipline to see it through. I’m going to be honest — I struggle with self-discipline. As I consider the amazing feats that people accomplish daily, I recognize that no matter how passionate or motivated I am, if I do not have the discipline to see something through as I intend, then I won’t be able to accomplish all the things I’d like to do.

Self-discipline and willpower are often considered in terms of self-denial. The act of denying one’s self and controlling one’s impulses. At first it sounds negative, but I realize that some of the impulses I’ve nurtured over the years have only served to stimulate the reward centers in my brain when I’ve switched focus from an incomplete task. How do I go about rewarding the desire to transform my ideas into reality? How, also, do I go about changing myself? I ask this, knowing that time is a concept that allows us to accept a constant series of changes, and that in consciously wishing to go in that direction (of being more self-disciplined), it’ll only really be a matter of time. After discipline, I should probably work on my patience.

There are things I’ll do in the meantime, of course. I’ve started looking for ways to practice my discipline — through baby steps. And as each step becomes one I’ve taken rather than one that I need to take, I’m feeling better about the direction I’m heading.

Useful, too, is recognizing that even people I look up to face their own struggles with discipline. We are all human, and we all face human struggles. Fortunately, in recognizing our challenges, we humans have a unique ability (a gift, really!) to learn and grow and do amazing things if only we set our minds to it.

When I consider how best to prepare for success in this task I set for myself, I realize that I’m often drawn to creating and studying artful living. This, really, could be an exercise in the Art of Intention… an opportunity to allow my purpose to drive me, and to embrace that which I can learn from a concerted focus on growth.

I invite you to share in the comments section what you look to for inspiration, or what helps you to stay disciplined in your life. Thank you.

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This is a Reason

This is a reason, not an excuse: I love my job. Transitioning has taken some focus, and other areas of my life have also absorbed my attention. All is well, truly, but it does mean that writing was not my first priority.

A quick note about the inspiration for the title: it comes from the Plan B Philosophy, a blog that was mentioned independently by two people when I was Crashing the GAC last week. It stood out as a lesson in its title alone: Don’t let a reason become an excuse. So, naturally, my mind’s been running that in the background. And just as naturally, I realized there was nothing stopping me from writing for a few minutes this evening. Love it.

In the Plan B Philosophy’s  December post, Jeff Russell discusses a number of truths about life, specifically how events will come up that can affect our best intentions:

They are all reasons – valid ones at that. But when they become excuses, we lose something else – our ability to feel as if we control our own destiny.

It’s practically a given that there will be points in life where you stop, evaluate, and make a conscious choice in your life. To paraphrase Shakespeare for a line: all of life’s a choice, and we are merely choosers in it. In that case, I’d like to make a conscious choice to choose well and often.

So, with that, I intend to write regularly, as it helps me process the lessons I’m learning, and the things I’m seeing. Readers, I hope you find some value in it, even if it’s only in a periodic smile. You’re always welcome to post your perspectives on any subject, I’m curious to know what you’re thinking, and how things look from where you stand.

Posted in Change, Crash, Credit Union Movement, Passion, Values | 2 Comments

What makes an employee great?

I’ve been wondering about the title question for awhile.  It’s easy to say that a great employee is one who is engaged in the work and brings some good qualities to the table… but what about the ways to help them become that person?

Everyone is different.  That’s a good thing – we all have different talents and skills, different perspectives that can help our CU to do well.  But that makes it challenging to identify the ways to help individual employees succeed.  There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.  I’ve long thought that having a workplace that invites one’s passions in would be a good thing.  But what exactly does that look like?  How does one go about doing that?

I’ve got some ideas… It may mean focusing attention on a few colleagues at first (like the perpetually awesome Tina K Hall did for the Next Top CU Executive).  It may mean trying some new things in the corporate world or adjusting practices that make large companies like Google a great place to work, and fitting it to Verity’s scale.  Basically, I am on a mission.  It’s not just a mission, but really an adventure that includes anyone who wants to come along.

What I long to create – an inclusive environment that celebrates our differences.  I want an environment where we have opportunities to learn new things, have fun, and grow together.  This is a tough time in the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t break down walls and build our internal community in order to better serve the other commuinities of which we are members.  What can we do to inspire greatness?

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Change starts from within

When I was a kid, I wasn’t really interested in changing the world.  To me, “the world” covered about 10 square miles, and it seemed pretty perfect.  My family had a home near a lake where we could swim in the summertime.  Our neighborhood had a good-sized group of kids, and we’d build forts in the woods.  My brother and I were allowed to walk to the neighborhood store to spend our allowance on candy… seriously, why would I want to change that?  I was really lucky.

As I grew up, the world got a lot bigger.  People I had never met were suffering from hunger, lack of shelter, lack of access to medical care.  Other kids my age were struggling with parents who didn’t feel education was important, or encountered other obstacles standing between them and a positive future — many never had someone saying, “you can be anything you want to be, so be something good.”  There were a lot of problems I didn’t understand… some that I still don’t understand.  If I get to thinking too long about the problems in the world, I get discouraged — any efforts I make to aid the problems of the world seem like a drop of water in the desert… I won’t make any difference.

Which brings me to a conversation I had with my colleague Deanna.  We’ve been discussing ways to get our colleagues more involved in our community, and she mentioned feeling as though the focus of many CU people is on how CUs tie in to the world — rather than starting at home.  It’s a great point.

For me, thinking about the Credit Union Movement helps me to feel like I’m part of a worldwide change… like I’m on a team building aqueducts into the deserts.  [And to be clear about this metaphor, I’m not endorsing changing the nature of land.  Planting water-loving crops in a desert is not recommended.  If I come up with a more apt metaphor, I’ll update it.]  It’s working towards a world with cooperative, community-based financial services.  Even though I’m looking at the bigger picture, the way that I see doing this begins on the most personal of levels: with me.

Like Deanna, I feel it is incredibly important for my credit union and my colleagues to be a positive force within the community.  I want us to be recognized as a boon to the neighborhoods where our branches make their home, and I want us to actively seek community partnerships with residents and other organizations who are equally vested in the health of the community. Maybe we can even partner with other area credit unions — aren’t we all cooperatives?  Let’s cooperate!

So, for me, personally… that means bringing my enthusiasm for my CU and my community to the table daily.  When my community benefits, I want them to associate the positive changes they see with my CU (or even credit unions in general).  If we each find ways to incorporate our external passions inward to our CU, and bounce that passion back out again to our communities… I think together we could change the world.  Let’s do it.

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