Saturday, November 10, 2007

Vision & Passion & Energy = Success

I am in Philadelphia at the Alexander Inn. My second son, Tim, has bought me a lovely week-end here - I am awaiting his arrival for Scrabble and dinner - tomorrow we'll see galleries - a wonderful 50th birthday gift. I sit at the hotel's complimentary computers because there is no bathtub in my sweet little single room and that had been my original plan while waiting for Tim to get out of work.

Having just returned from an amazing retreat I am still freshly impressed by the history I learned about regarding our president, George Cigale. He was extremely energetic in his youth, and had a passion and a drive you don't really see that much. It carried him from the age of 16 to around 25, like a shot out of a cannon, along a career path to managing a tutoring business. At such a young age he was knocking himself out for the Princeton Review, an SAT prep company. When the president decided was not really worth the energy it would take to launch it - George offered to take it over. The world was not ready for online tutoring yet, but George was so passionate and firm in his vision for it. One day I would like to gather the actual facts of all of this - rather than just what my poor memory is gleaning from a talk on the retreat several days ago. It's good stuff. I'm mentioning all of this because I feel privileged to be working for such a man. When he turned his focus on libraries to distribute the service he aligned his company with Bowker, the last company I worked for, and the founder of that company - Richard Rogers Bowker. Of course there are many differences, but I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the similarities.

When I was asked to leave Bowker it was like being asked to leave my family. I had devoted, not just hours and hours of sincere work, but my very heart to the company. I am just not the sort of person that can go to work calling it "just a job." I am a devoted person to whomever is in my life, including co-workers and the entity they represent. As a result of being this kind of person, I was content to stay with Bowker for the duration of my career and had immersed myself in the history of the company and the founder. Richard Rogers was my inspiration as I set about trying to learn what made librarians tick - what they needed, what motivated them, what was their pain that we could fix with a service or with our website. Losing that position broke my heart. I grieved. I did not feel malice, just hurt - as if someone was telling me my family didn't love me anymore. I certainly realize that this seems very foolish and immature. I maintained many friendships with my Bowker co-workers and seeing them is like good medicine when we get together. But not to be sitting in that office, walking the halls, representing the brands in the marketplace - it just hurt.

So now I find myself in a new company - one of those miraculous situations that I won't go into when it comes to how I got the job - and for the first three months I just put my head down and worked hard. Learning the details of the company's structure, culture, processes, etc. was fun and exciting as I dove into marketing to librarians, which was already just like breathing. But something was missing. I was holding back. I was going along, going to work, working hard, but something was missing. I didn't realize what it was until it came up like an old memory coming up in conversation. The love. I felt my heart coming around. My sense of devotion awakening. At first I resisted it. Just like not wanting to fall in love after your heart has been broken - I did not want to devote my heart to a job that might go away like my last one did. How could I let myself be so vulnerable again? But there it was, knocking on my door, that familiar passion I thought was lost for good - scarred over from getting burned the last time.

I stepped back and looked long and hard at it. Yes, that was it. The passion and devotion I was proud of once before. It carried with it the potential for greatness: awakening at 3am with a brilliant idea, creative juices flowing when I least expect it, a shine in my eye when I talk to a customer that they recognize and respond to... and it carried the potential to hurt me. I trusted my last company - can I trust this one? Can I trust that hard work combined with creative, positive energy and fantastic results like more sales, better exposure, better brand recognition won't result in my position becoming obsolete? Bowker is trying to ride on my years of dedication like a plane coasting on the wind. Eventually it will land. Eventually they'll hire another marketing director to take them off the ground again. I wish them well. I know, however, that they will never find anyone who loves their company and is as dedicated to them as I was. I know that because I know that the crazy combination of events in my life were pretty unique, and I'm not your average smart cookie or go getter. I'm a different breed of passionate which, in most cases, produces another kind of person - an entrepreneur. I would love to have been one - but, back to unique events in my life, I am a single mother of six. Not many options to take huge risks.

Well, I went on the retreat at just about the same time I was considering letting my sails fill with wind and taking off toward full devotion to this new job. Listening to my new president speak about his youth, the devotion and passion he displayed, the events in his life that led to starting and building into the young thriving company it is now, well - that was the push I needed. Young Richard Rogers Bowker was so devoted to books that he really devoted his life to booksellers, publishers, and librarians - and was there for them in many varied leadership capacities. His core belief drove him - that books were the key to unlocking a better life for all Americans - rich and poor alike. That books could teach you anything and access to books could make anyone unstoppable in the pursuit of his dreams. Let me try to remember a quote from him: "the Book is the light that lights the whole world" - I'm sure that's not exact, but it's close! This was what drove his passion and dedication to The Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, the ALA, the Library of Congress, Copyright law, new postal regulations for books, the list is mind blowing of all the ways he impacted our modern world of books and libraries.
Now, here I am in a world where books are ubiquitous. Access to books, and the quantity of books, and the brilliant minds making new books every day, are without end. Richard Rogers should be smiling in his grave. The internet has brought books to every home, and the knowledge that is in books is now virtual, electronic, digital - accessable from cell phones, handhelds - you name it - knowledge is there, information is available.

But education, the system that is failing our country's youth every day with standardization, a barren wasteland when it comes to creative thought and leadership - let alone art supplies - a framework for the least common denominator of teaching and a constant, endless trail of assessments and measurements that choke out any hope of independent activity and thought and creation - education is the frontier where a vision is needed.

We can't change our educational system. It's riddled with cancer - crowd control, poor materials and lackluster educators for the most part, are the daily routine of the average school. Sure, there are shining lights - a teacher, an administrator, that has figured out how to stay strong and inspire originality in students in spite of a system that chokes it. But most kids are not lucky enough to run into more than one or two of those in their school career. I have seen six children come up through American school systems and I spent the entire time trying to help them work with what they were given and squeeze out an open-minded, creative adult at the end. It was hard work.

At we give something more to kids than the classroom experience. We give them a chance to do better in school. A chance to feel good about themselves. A chance to get As instead of Ds when the school system just doesn't have the funds or the lack of red tape to help them the way they really need to be helped. I wish my kids had had this. When the teacher doesn't know how to explain, can't make a way to check that each child understands, that's when a one-to-one tutor after school can save them from frustration and eventual indifference - the worst result of all.
I LOVE reading the comments kids leave at the end of their exit surveys - "I used to hate math, now I love it!" I read stuff like that all the time. The internet, technology, and the passion, vision, and energy of one man have brought this miracle to thousands of kids. I can't imagine that anyone will see him as less than a revolutionary visionary one day, just like Richard Rogers. I know it's a little unfair to insult the educational system when it's full of hard working, devoted teachers. But it's just as full of callous, narrow minded, mean-spirited folks. I wish there were a way to purge the whole system of anyone that didn't truly love kids. That would be something. My kids all suffered such humiliations as being called stupid or an idiot by their teacher. Being punished for picking up a pencil someone dropped. Being openly shamed for not knowing something. These behaviors are inexcusable, but they go on every day. I'm just glad that there is somewhere kids can turn for genuine support. A live person who is paying attention to just them at the moment they need help. No judgement, no criticism - just help.

Well, my son is due over here to the hotel in about 10 minutes to play Scrabble - cool, eh?!! I'm pretty lucky.

Thank you for reading my thoughts on all of this. I needed to share them. It was really just pushing its way onto the screen as I rode the Amtrack, got to the hotel - it just had to come out. I feel pretty relieved now that it has. Ready to dig into my job - give it my heart and everything my smart, creative brain can offer it. What will the result be??? I don't think I can lose whenever I am true to myself.

OH!!! I almost forgot the icing on the cake (sorry!) - 40 Fulton Street - where is headquartered and where I work every day - is the exact location where Richard Rogers Bowker worked as the Vice President of the Edison Electric Illuminating company (the address was Pearl St. at that time). The modern building I work in has a big bronze plaque in the front saying this is the site of the original Edison Electric building. Pretty wild, eh? It makes me think about Richard Rogers every day as I pass the plaque to work on a new vision I'm sure he would fully support himself were he alive in this day and age.

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