Friday, April 30, 2010

The Road Not Taken

Someone today asked me “Why was the step not taken?” And, it reminded me of the Robert Frost poem about the "road not taken." We’ve all read this in high school, but I had to read it again this morning.

Keeping the broader context about life's paths in mind, it really moved me. I had to sit back and think about the paths I've taken that led me to where I am now. I have to wonder what other steps I did take and the ones I should've taken.

By the way, it's important to remember that Robert Frost was American, and this is an extremely American attitude - to pioneer, try something adventurous and know there would be rewards for the hard work.

Quotes are so often plucked from poems and tossed around in commencement speeches, greeting cards and mugs. Sometimes we have to go back to its origin, see it within its place in the poem.

The Road Not Taken -Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Speak to Me

This week I did a presentation at an industry conference. We had about 20 people in our workshop, and I already knew the fairly important ones in the audience. My copresenter has the charm and grace of a talk show host. She fell in and out of jokes and stories casually to make her point. I was impressed with her ease of public speaking.

Two weeks prior I had a poetry reading and I've been advised by experienced poets that it's important to memorize your poems. Brillant idea! But it doesn't really work since I was editing and flip flopping between the poems as I waited for my name to be called. In the end, I read 85% , improvised 10% and memorized 5% of the poems. The one thing I learned from my disasterous experience in high school when I forgot half of my poem for a French language competition is to always have paper in front of me.

Nowadays, I'm comfortable with public speaking as I'll ever be. I'm used to discussing workflows and technologies in front of clients. I deal with the challenge of facing 25 seven-year olds every Sunday at culture class. This alone has forced me to learn to maintain my audience's attention and be flexible with the program.

Last week's presentation was a new situation where the topic was definitely familiar as it was related to my work for the past two years. I had spent a lot of time on the presentation slides, adding color and custom animations. Fast forward to the day and it's not what I thought it'd be like. I'm used to standing in front of my slides and pointing out key items. This time, my slides were projected on a large screen while I was behind a podium on a stage! First of all, I had the microphone too close and had to adjust. My copresenter didn't need a microphone since she knew how to project so well. I started reading my notes for the introduction and I sounded so awkward. Let's go to the slides.

I wanted to talk about something on the screen and felt at loss because I couldn't point it out. I panicked for a moment and then I clicked the Enter button on my powerpoint. Voila, little arrows and message boxes! Oh, yes, I did add these pointers to highlight the areas because I thought it ahead it may be hard to define those.

All of a sudden, I relaxed and trusted my slides. I had spent a lot of time on them, and thought through the design carefully. And, so what if I say something incorrect. It's like the poetry reading where I improvised some of the poem. No one knew I did that, unless my face expressed it.

More importantly, I had to trust myself to say the right thing. I had started off trying to be very formal and was reading my notes (remember the poetry reading?). This was all wrong. I needed to just speak the way I would - not the way people expect me to speak. It feels like running with someone else's shoes, and all that will happen is I will trip.

So it's not so much about being able to perform in public, but to trust yourself and have confidence when all eyes are upon you. Some people thrive in this environment, while some of us have to come around to it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Connecting Across the Universe

Our school district is in the middle of a teacher's strike. As of today, it's day 4 and I heard 7 days is their max. Apparently, they haven't had a contract all year and the school board is not yielding. I don't want to comment about the actual contract negotiations since I'm not directly involved and don't know the details.

However, people have been saying the kids are the ones who are losing out. This is true. Mine has been moaning "I'm bored" for two days. She's done just about every activity possible from arts, crafts, dancing, read a stack of Geronimo Stilton and Super Fudge books, biked, made milkshakes. It's also "Turn off TV Week" and she's adhering to it. Her friends told her it's not necessary because there is no school, but she's oddly committed. She's got signs on the TVs and computer.

The impact is further than the kids and the parents. It's the whole community. I'm fortunate enough to be able to pop into work for few hours and work virtually the rest of the day. However, another colleague isn't able to work virtually, so he needed to take a day off. This meant, his team needed to balance their load around his sudden time off. His clients may have needed him, but he wasn't available. Someone else paid for a babysitter for her twins while she went to work; the next day she swapped with someone else so she could stay home. Others are sending their kids to grandparents' and relatives' homes.

We're so connected that one element does not exist on its own. These are the handful of connections that I know. Multiply this by the 12,000 students who are home this week.

Let's move to another connection. The Icelandic volcano eruption. A friend of mine has travelled to a conference in CA this week, representing her company. She's going to be working longer hours at the conference over the weekend. Why? Her colleague in England is unable to get an airlines ticket for another two weeks and won't be joining.

We think we're isolated and absorbed in our own activities. We don't believe we belong to a larger realm. Why should we? Our vision extends only to as far as we can see. But this is one of those times we need to stop seeing, and just think about what we can't. Every incident eminates ripples beyond our own sphere.

This week, we've made some crazy discoveries on Facebook of people from different circles, old and new friends, actually knowing each other. Again, more unseen connections.