National Novel Writing Month

punk rock HR worksluts

I’ve got punk rock and HR on the brain this week, so let’s build on it. A little while back, Laurie Ruettimann over at The Cynical Girl ran a great post on 5 Lessons from Henry Rollins. Tons of great stuff in there (go read it!), but the lesson that really stuck with me was “Don’t be a workaholic, be a workslut.”

As Laurie says:

Henry Rollins works hard, but he doesn’t have one job that defines him. He speaks, he writes and he plays music. He works in media, he travels and he volunteers. He doesn’t say no to opportunities that can lead to more opportunities. What’s the alternative? Sit at home and let your muscles (and your brain) atrophy?

I love this. As a jack of all trades with too many interests and too short of attention span, I’ve struggled with being defined by one job, one category, one field. How freeing to open things up and embrace it all!

We tend to over-define ourselves through our jobs and under-define ourselves through our interests and passions. Remember, there is no such thing as work/life balance. There is only Life and work is but one (significant) component of it. Every aspect of our life is a potential outlet for our passions and interests.

Some (including me) will point out there are opportunity costs to everything you say “yes” to so you need to be selective. Absolutely. But how much fun is it to be engaged it things that really jazz you. Being too focused on any one thing creates burnout – you tire of it. Slipping back and forth between interests builds stimulation and ideas and recharges. Exercise provides a great example: if you only do one exercise you set yourself up for injury, boredom, lack of interest, and diminishing returns. But if you keep changing it up, the routine stays fresh, challenging, invigorating, and your results don’t plateau.

My 11 year old daughter recently demonstrated all this beautifully (and made me feel like a no talent slacker). The world will need to step it up in a big way if we’re going to keep up with her. I recently mentioned that she wrote a short book for National Novel Writing Month last year and she’s back at it for this year. Saturday morning, I got up at 6:30 and she was already typing away before she had to get ready to compete in a horse show where she won High Point for the day and the season before leaving to go do a final evening performance in a school play (where she also sold several copies of her book to other kids) before coming home and getting in trouble for staying up too late working on the new book. Start to finish, it was a 16+ hour day of focused effort. An unusually long day for her, but a great demonstration of how to be successful in several arenas without becoming overly defined by any one.

What do I take from my daughter, Henry Rollins, and Laurie’s insights?

1. Passion is the heart to motivation. I could never-in-a-million-years get anyone to put forth the effort my daughter does willingly and without a paycheck.

2. Having several interests is good. Over-commitment is a real risk, but mixing it up keeps the spark alive. When we’re tiring of one thing we can fluidly shift to another. Also, creativity, innovation, and inspiration are ignited when we pull disparate concepts together (some refer to this as being at the intersections of ideas). From my experience, the most innovative people have wide ranging interests and experiences to pull from.

3. There is a huge difference between saying yes to all things asked of you and saying yes to the things that excite you. The first prevents you from doing the things you’re passionate about; the second keeps you focused on them.

4. You never know where the opportunity is going to come from. Pour enough passionate effort into the world and it will come back – even if it’s not from where you expect it. Name one other punk with Henry Rollins’ longevity, credibility, and vibrancy.

5. Define yourself before the world does it for you. Authenticity is a doubled edged sword, but a key advantage when used well. When we allow others to define us by their narrow perspective of who they think we are, we get typecast and stuck. Look at all the musicians, writers, and actors unable to move beyond their past success. They are damned to recreate the past over and over and over.

6. All work and no play is no good at all. But when we can hit the sweet spot of working really stinkin’ hard on “play” – our areas of passion – really amazing things can happen. I use the phrase “play bigger” to describe this. Changing the world, denting the universe, being the difference we want to see in the world is hard work and big fun.

The title of this post is Punk Rock HR Worksluts, so how can we apply these lessons to HR?

1. How broadly have you let HR in your company be defined? Are you the “payroll people” or the “policy police” or are you the place employees and leaders go to make better decisions about careers and leadership? Do people only see you when they have been called to HR (ugh!) or is HR a strong and continual presence throughout the company? Is HR involved in non-HR committees and task forces (you know, beyond the Christmas party) or is HR isolated, barricaded, siloed, and remote?

2. Do you like HR; are you passionate about it? Were you drawn to it or did you just sort of end up here? Are you passionate about people and business or did you just need a job and HR seemed as good as any?

3. Can you understand and talk all aspects of the business? You don’t need to be a CFO, but can you understand the income statement? Does the marketing strategy make sense? Can you explain your company’s core business and competitive advantage? Do you know the most important company goals for next year (and how your job supports them)?

4. What projects are coming up that you are really excited about? What new skills are you fired up about learning? What are you actively doing to make next year 2X better than this one?

5. Who shows up at work – you or the plastic worker drone persona so many of us have perfected? Are you playing safe or playing to win?

6. As an HR professional, do you like you? Are you proud of who you are, what you do, and how you do it?

Your thoughts?

really real: a short book review that isn’t

My daughter came home distraught one day when she was in the second grade. Over the previous weekend her class had an assignment to make a turkey out of construction paper and decorate it. She was upset because she felt hers looked terrible compared to all the other kids’ turkeys. She has always hated doing a poor job and it tore her up.

A few days later we got to see all the turkeys during a parent/teacher conference. My daughter’s looked like it was hastily made by a second grader at 7:15pm the night before it was due (and for good reason). The other turkeys looked like they had been painstakingly crafted by 35 year olds with serious scrapbooking technology and skills at their disposal. Not that I’m judging or bitter.

Actually, it provided the opportunity for some great life lessons about the value of doing your best and comparing your results to your own individual efforts, skills, and potential versus setting your self-worth based on the results of others.

Fast forward to November of 2011 and she was very excited about participating National Novel Writing Month. She was at the computer for a month straight, typing away at six in the morning before she had to get ready for school, in the evenings, on weekends, and begging to stay up late so she could keep working on it. I love to write and it would have been all too easy to take over so I stayed out of it almost entirely, answering questions when asked, but not much more. She did get some help from a 20-something family friend, mainly around formatting and getting it uploaded onto a self-publishing site. The story was all hers.*

I was proud of her perseverance, drive, and passion. It was pretty cool that she had written a 40+ page story. How many 5th graders could say that? How many adults could?  Good stuff.

Then we received several proof copies and that changed everything. It went from being a words on the computer to a glossy cover, paper and ink, honest-to-goodness ISBN coded book. It was real. Authentically real. Really real. She had written a BOOK! Something I had always wanted to do, but never done. She did it at 10 years old.

And then it went live on Not just a really real book, but a really real book that others can purchase – just as authentic as all the other books. Don’t know why that makes it more real, but it does. I’ve shifted from pride to outright awe. A very, very cool achievement.

Lots of leadership and HR related lessons in all this:

  • She’s a great writer. Far better than anyone her age has a right to be. Why? She loves to read and she loves to write. Her skill is not by accident. She’s exposed herself to good writing and she’s practised it. A lot.
  • Commitment matters. Results happen when you are dedicated to achieving getting it done come Hell or high water.
  • Likewise, self-motivation trumps all. I could not have forced, cajoled, commanded, or bribed the amount of dedication forged by her internal fires.
  • She’s more enthusiastic about writing than, say, spelling. As much as she strives to do great work, she never lets perfectionism get in her way. Consequently, she gets stuff done.
  • She cares more about her results than anyone’s opinion. She’s a fearless writer (and public speaker) so she makes it happen.
  • It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t know what you’re not supposed to be able to do. No one ever told her that kids don’t write and publish books. Please don’t tell her now – she’s too busy preparing to write the next one.
  • Physically holding the results – or a symbol of the results – is very, very powerful. It transforms ideas to reality. It makes the ephemeral SOLID.
  • Confidence and self-esteem comes from effort not cheerleading. Trophies don’t matter. The bloodied-but-unbowed effort behind them does.

Your thoughts?

*In case you’re wondering… It’s called “Bo”. Here’s the description from the back cover: Horses are going missing left and right. Nobody’s doing anything. The sheriff is “dealing with other matters.” One morning, ten year old Lucy sees smoke coming out of the canyon. That night, she and her German Sheppard decide to check it out but as they leave the house they find two men stealing THEIR HORSES. What follows is the start of a great adventure.