I’ve recently finished an inspiring life reflection by an Auschwitz survivor and remarkable human being. Elie Wiesel’s “Open Heart” shares his thoughts after 82 years, penned after facing his own mortality a la emergency open heart surgery. An author of more than 50 books, Wiesel has lived an impressive life in all regards. He’s been awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, honorary knighthood of the British Empire, and Nobel Peace Prize. While digesting the intimate thoughts of what matters most to him, I was struck by these words in Chapter 25:
I still believe in man, in spite of man. I still believe in language, even though it has been wounded, deformed, and perverted by the enemies of mankind. I continue to cling to words, because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension, rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal; to wound or console.
Like Wiesel, I too believe in language. Granted, I’m bias, but I see words as the shining communication medium to articulate human experiences beyond our own selves. Some may say music, dance, or art are their preferred method, but for me, words are the true “instruments of comprehension.” Why? When I consider it, words live at the heart of many of my most meaningful life moments: My prayers, uttered to a listening God; the quiet realizations I’ve written in journals during the past 20 years; notes and letters from people I love; the special words spoken at my wedding ceremony; and my whispered, teary welcome to my first baby.
Clinging to words suits my soul. You too?
You know writing is good when you feel you have a one-on-one relationship with the author after reading their words. (Does this feeling grant me first name basis? Hug to you, Ann!) Today I’m finishing “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage,” a collection of essays by New York Times bestselling author, Ann Patchett. Each of these curated essays are autobiographical in nature, painting the scene of her dashingly successful writer’s life.
While disparate and not chronological, each chapter spells out the broader story of Ann’s life. She uses simply poignant words, sharing her successes without shying away from her faults. She loves her dying grandmother, swipes a puppy from a child, leaves her first marriage thinking she’d never succumb to matrimony again (although, spoiler alert, she does on p. 265.)
While I find Ann’s personal life interesting, what really intrigues me is her advice on writing. I think of her with something akin to awe, impressed at her gumption and raw talent. She also inspires me to go after my own writing dreams:
If a person of any age picked up the cello for the first time and said, “I’ll be playing in Carnegie Hall next month!” you would pity their delusion … Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. (p. 28)
With that wisdom in mind, I’m recommitting myself to make time to write, for the sheer pleasure of learning how to write better. You can see the Chinese fortune I’ve kept for years. “You have a charming way with words and should write a book.” Sometimes this fortune taunts me, reminding me I haven’t yet quieted the compulsory urge to be an author. I don’t aim to be the next J. K. Rowling; I’m not after fame and glory. It’s more the sheer delight of capturing a story in words I’ve never gotten over, not since kindergarten.
I sometimes get distracted by other interests, but I’ve always felt writing beckoning me. I’ve had idea after idea, and even started a few books, but put them off with internal justifications. “I’ll get to it after I’m done with grad school assignments,” was the reasoning for a long time, and now, “Oh, maybe when my baby is older, or when I’m in my thirties.” The most logical (and true) excuse is my lack of desire to even look at a computer after a full day of office work. (As Ann states, “The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.“) While there is validity all of those reasons, something inside me knows I’m procrastinating my own good. (Besides, I make time to keep up with multiple social news feeds. Time’s there for the taking.)
And so, this week I’m following my own fortune, even if I’m starting small. I publicly commit to write for one hour every day this week. I’ll report how it goes.
Here’s a question to consider: If you could write your own fortune – what you really want to achieve – what would it say? And are you going in that direction?
While political polls revealed final American voting counts last night, here’s another worthy poll result for writers: Who wins in the writing lineup between men and women?
The world’s “best grammar checker,” Grammarly, conducted a study with 3,000+ participants to settle the matter. Nick at Grammarly reached out to me with their results in the infographic below and offered to donate to a charity promoting literacy when I shared it. (Um, sweet.) Besides, it’s favorable to my gender. How can I not share that?
What do you think about these results?
“Brands don’t have target markets, but target moments,” said Lisa Wang, of Twitter’s Sales Operations in Singapore. It seems to fly in the face of traditional marketing and PR, but it makes total sense. Communication, at lightning-fast social speed, has changed drastically in a handful of years. Make that the past few months.
Lisa spoke as a keynote speaker the final day of the CCI Conference on Corporate Communication last month. As I listened to her talk, “The Power of #Moments: Redefining Marketing in the Age of Real-Time,” I couldn’t take notes fast enough.
Sense of Universal Connectivity
We live in a big world, but all ultimately want the same three things in life. What are they? Find out in this captivating video Lisa shared – see if you can watch without getting the chills. It gets me every time:
See what I mean? On our universal wish list, we all want to 1) feel connected 2) feel relevant, and 3) be an active participant. Social media grants us the ability to do all three, and isn’t it amazing how the whole globe feels within reach as we scroll through to see what others are up to? Each social network has it’s own twist on how to engage users, but Twitter’s ability to hold live, public conversations makes it a unique place for clever companies. Those who think quick and make the most of those “target moments” when they know users are watching will be rewarded.
“Digital Campfires,” #Gather Round
Within the Twitter organization, they refer to hashtags as “digital campfires” because they gather folks with similar interests around a certain topic. As you know, there are hashtags for almost anything. (Surprised to see the non-word redline under “hashtag” as I type this. Guess it’s not in the dictionary yet?) Lisa shared a number of clever company examples, like Arby’s calling for Pharrell Williams to give back their hat during the Grammy’s, and Kit Kat posting a tic-tac-toe game for Oreo to compete for the heart of #chocolate fan. With a little creativity, companies can hone in on the right times (target moments) to tell their story.
I’ll be sharing more on social media in the coming posts. In the meantime, give Lisa Wang a follow on Twitter at @ldubs.
Image is a screen shot from the video “The Most Astonishing Fact.”
Every year on July 24, Utah celebrates a state-wide holiday: Pioneer Day. The celebration of parades, fireworks, and rodeos honors the state’s settlers, Mormon pioneers, who first entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. After leaving the comforts of their sturdy homes and trekking for months through unknown lands, those pioneers must have felt such relief to finally see the “right place” to settle their homes.
Now what does this have to do with writing? Recently I read a journal entry of one of my own pioneer ancestor, Danish-born American folk artist, C.C.A. Christensen. He wrote the following in 1856 when coming through Iowa City:
At the campground we encountered our first trials, in that we had to give up books. . . . We were only allowed to take fifteen pounds in weight for each person who was to travel with the handcarts, and that included our tinware for eating, bedding, and any clothing we did not wish to carry ourselves. . . .”
“Our train consisted of between thirty and forty handcarts. Each of these had an average of five person. . . . It was usually necessary for small children to ride in the handcart which the father, mother, and older brothers and sisters of the family pulled. . . .”
These people didn’t have tablets, iPhones, and TV to entertain them. They had no days off, no air conditioning, or comfortable cars. Theirs was a reality of daily challenges, one of back-breaking work, with their faith alone to motivate them. Books were their connection to anything beyond the trails and trials before them. Giving up books must have felt like leaving behind good friends.
I’m glad to live with modern comforts. And grateful to Christensen, who painted the pioneers on the plains, leaving behind first-hand illustrations. He said, “History will preserve much, but art alone can make the narration of the suffering of the Saints comprehensible for the following generation.”
Image: A detail from the “Mormon Panorama” series, as described here.
Now this PR gal knows how it feels to be the subject, rather than the writer, of a press release. With a background in public relations, I’m all too familiar with press releases. I find it incredibly rewarding to find stories worth sharing and putting others in the spotlight. (Thus, Saturday Spotlights.) Well…
I’ve had a taste of prime time myself this week!
When WSU University Communication’s intern, Marcus, interviewed me about my international award and gratitude research, I recalled I had his exact job (except at BYU) six years ago. As a Features Writer Intern, it was my job to track down newsworthy research findings in two colleges. Fast forward to now, and I’m answering instead of asking. Quite surreal.
Since Weber State University’s release Tuesday, it’s been a flurry of sharing my research on gratitude. Wednesday brought a newspaper article with a shout out on the front page, Thursday a prime time TV interview, and countless congratulations in between. What a rush. I never could have guessed my little abstract, submitted last fall without expectation of acceptance, would garner such attention. I’ve thought a lot about the quote that serves as Jabari Parker’s Twitter bio:
“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.” (John Wooden)
I don’t expect to have every future endeavor fall into place as this one did. Hard work rarely results in such visible results. But I will continue to share stories worth telling, and pursuing my passions. As the Weber State press release quoted me, “I am coming away feeling empowered to continue to surprise myself. I want to be a contributor, whether that is in a professional or an academic sphere.” I don’t know where exactly my interests in research, communication, and gratitude will take me. But this writer sure hopes there’s a book (or three!) along the way.
I can’t end without saying thanks. I feel a swell of gratitude for this experience. Thank you to Weber State University, the MPC program, CCI, and MarketStar. Thank you to the Standard Examiner and KSL 5 for sharing that gratitude DOES matter in the workplace. Thank you to my Ryan, who literally goes around the world and back to support my dreams.
And thank you, reader friend, for joining the journey. Your support means a whole lot to me.
CHECK IT OUT
WSU Student Recieves International Award for Thesis on Gratitude in the Workplace (Weber State press release)
WSU Study: Gratitude Rates High in the Workplace (Standard Examiner article)
WSU graduate receives international award for master’s thesis (WSU Signpost article)
Crystalee Beck Receives Best Theoretical Paper Award (CCI press release)
Sometimes when you shoot for the moon, be ready surprise yourself.
Turns out writing can take you places – literally – and here’s my recap. It’s been a month since I returned from attending the CCI Conference on Corporate Communication 2014 at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University where I presented findings of my master’s thesis. Thank goodness for pictures and press releases, or I might think it was merely a dream.
Putting the “International” into CCI
My first time to such a conference, where 25 nations were represented by scholars and professionals, I loved saying “the United States” when asked where I was from. I met friends from Italy, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, England, Australia, Canada, China, Malaysia, Netherlands, and many U.S. states. We all spoke English. Imagine the variety of accents! I didn’t realize it would be such an academic crowd; the majority of those who attended hold a Ph.D. and teach at universities. A fascinating group, they truly understand communication – our meals together were noisy with buzzing conversations of common interest.
My Turn to Present
During that four-day conference, I soaked up as much as a jet-lagged body could from others who are also passionate about communication. By the time it was my turn to present on the third day, a pit of nervousness welled up. I’d seen so many impressive presentations from these intellectuals, many of whom had decades of experience on me. Yet, when I stood up and looked out at the crowd, including my good husband who took a trip around the world to be my support crew, I felt at ease. I was among friends. I did my best to represent my university and company, sharing key findings of my research on managerial gratitude.
That night at the Awards Dinner, I had one of the biggest surprises of my life when MY paper was named “Best Theoretical Paper” of the conference. I’m still stunned, and have replayed those couple of minutes many times in my mind. The standing ovation. The applause of new friends. The heavy glass award. I held back the surprised tears, barely. Thank you to the CCI Conference Judging Committee for selecting my paper. It made all my hundreds of hours in the university library definitely worth it. And shout out to Christina Genest, CCI Associate Director and Michael B. Goodman, Ph.D., CCI Director, who made everyone in attendance feel like family.
Want to know more about Corporate Communication International? I know I’m a huge fan. Check out the CCI site, here.
I recently stumbled across a fabulous TED Talk. Elizabeth Gilbert, known for her internationally acclaimed memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love,” shared insights into what it was like to have skyrocketing success as a writer.
Surprisingly, such writing fame made her feel the same misplacement of self as she did in her years as unpublished waitress. The heights of success and lows of rejection felt the same to her subconscious: an unsettling distance from her center. After that explanation, she really caught my attention by saying she needed to get back “home” as quickly as possible.
Gilbert describes home as “what we love more than we love ourselves.” For her, it’s writing. When I grant myself the time and space to flow with words, I really feel at home too.
What is “home” for you?
Ok, world record books, listen up. My baby recently graduated from a master’s program! She attended classes (in utero), patiently let me write my thesis during maternity leave, and sported her own mini cap and gown. Yep, she’s quite the accomplished 12-week-old. Ha!
All jokes aside, it was a thrill to graduate last week from the Master of Professional Communication program at Weber State University. Being in the Class of 2014 came with special allure during the university’s 125th anniversary year. You can see sheer joy in this picture. I felt such relief to have pulled off my degree as an exhausted new mom, and literally could not have done it without an ultra-supportive husband. He’s the best.
There are many reasons folks go after advanced degrees. I wanted to polish my skills, and increase my professional confidence (double check). Besides the new line on my LinkedIn profile, less in my bank account, and a fancy piece of paper for my wall, what did I get out of grad school? Allow me to share a few key takeaways.
This very blog was launched as part of an Advanced Writing class assignment in summer of 2012. It’d been a long-time desire of mine to start a blog, and getting school credit (and editing on my initial posts, a la Dr. Josephson) was enough to jump-start a launch. I made a marketing plan, threw myself a “blog party,” and here you are, reading the outcome. By having a digital platform, I’ve had many, many people approach me who I never would have met otherwise. It’s been wonderful to make these new connections and learn so much from professionals featured on Spotlight Saturdays.
New video skills
I’d never once edited a video before the MPC. After a summer of practice in our New Media class, I felt comfortable enough to try my own video. Little did I know it would go viral. My pregnancy announcement on YouTube has had 38, 600 views to date.
Published master’s thesis, presenting at an international conference
It’d been one of my goals of grad school to be published. That meant I needed to write an original paper worth publishing. I learned through the process that sometimes when you shoot for the moon, you hit it head-on. I submitted an abstract of my thesis topic awhile back and was delighted to be not only accepted, but asked to present at an international corporate communication conference. My thesis is titled, “Perceptions of Thanks in the Workplace: Uses, Effectiveness, and Dark Sides of Managerial Gratitude,” and it was the most challenging academic project I’ve ever done. After nearly 150 hours recruiting, researching, data-analyzing, writing, and editing (all during pregnancy and maternity leave), I’m really pleased with the result. I’ll be sharing key findings on this blog in the coming month, so stay tuned.
Conflict resolution capabilities
The class that stretched me most was Clair Canfield’s “Conflict Resolution” class and his “trust the process” mantra. Before that eight-week block class, I saw conflict as something to be avoided. He opened my eyes. I came away liberated from old fears, willing to see conflict (two parties expressing seemingly opposing needs) as an opportunity. Don’t make me mediate Russia and Ukraine, but I do have tools now to creatively work through my own personal conflicts.
Associations with intelligent professionals and mentors
Our 22-student cohort has spent many, many hours together in the past two years. I spoke at our master’s hooding ceremony, and as I shared then, I literally have learned from every one of my student peers. We’ve laughed together, worked through group projects, and shared much of ourselves.They are a fun, talented bunch, and I will miss them. I’ve also really appreciated the supportive MPC Director and my empowering Thesis Committee. Kathy, Sheree, and Susan, your belief in me and my ideas has helped me believe in myself.
My mini graduate
Saved the best for last. My favorite line of my 46-page thesis is in the Acknowledgements section: “And finally, thanks to little Lydia, who made the author a mother during the course of this research.” Being her mother is the best thing I’ve ever done, and having her during my master’s program made it all the more memorable.
In sum, I grew in grad school. Grew my skills. Grew my network. Grew a baby. You can say I’ve gained two new titles in the past three months, both of which I cherish. Call me Mama, MPC.
Like people, words come in all shapes and varieties. Some are much easier to swallow, and much more fun to write.
I’ve been chin-deep in writing my master’s thesis lately. While I can pull it off, this type of academic writing is true work for me. It’s detailed. It’s exact. It’s stretching me in ways that make me feel I’m really making my graduate degree more than a piece of paper. (If you’re interested, I introduced the topic here.) I guess I’m a glutton for a good challenge, because I chose to include quantitative research. While I’m really proud of myself for putting together a publishable academic article (my thesis abstract has been accepted at an international corporate communication conference!), this is not the kind of writing I’d want to do every day.
No, in my heart of hearts, I have a thing for writing (and reading) essays. Personal narratives, to be specific. Pouring my heart into words does make me feel vulnerable, but it’s such an exhilaration to know snapshots of my life have been recorded in word.
Happy to share the first paragraph of my recently published essay, “The Pregnant Lady in My Mirror,” on Mamalode:
One day I met a pregnant lady in my mirror. She appeared there suddenly, after two positive lines indicated a big change was coming. Her eyes sparkled with joy; she’d dreamed of this for a long time.
Read the rest of this essay here.