Putting the “Dead” Back in “Deadline”

Pere Lachaise Cemetery
The graveyard is full of great ideas that were never heard (Photo: Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France)

My friend Greg Crawford had a wonderful saying he once shared with me. “I love deadlines,” he deadpanned. “I love the sound of them as they go whooshing by…”

Boy, can I relate. Even with the discipline of having been a journalist for a daily newspaper (read: daily deadlines), I struggle with those commitments, mostly the ones I make to myself. That’s why I loved hearing the audio promo from the August 2013 issue of SUCCESS magazine, in which Publisher and Founding Editor Darren Hardy cites a story about a French mathematician who learned the value of deadlines.

Évariste Galois was a young Frenchman who was born with amazing brilliance in math, particularly algebra. But it wasn’t until he was challenged to a duel that he took the time to furiously scribble 60 pages of notes, ideas that would later lead to a revolution in higher algebra. Sadly, Monsieur Galois lost the duel… thereby putting the “dead” back in “deadline.”

Why is it we’re our most productive when there’s a (literal or figurative) gun to our head? Mr. Hardy of SUCCESS Magazine says this story demonstrates the need for tension, pressure and urgency to push our ideas out of us. “Otherwise the feeling that we have an endless amount of time is insidious and debilitating to the mind,” he writes in his publisher’s letter. “Our attention and thoughts become fractured and dispersed. Our lack of intensity makes it difficult to jolt our brain into high gear, into that higher state of creativity and mental lucidity.”

One of the reasons I love coaching people in mid-career is because somewhere around 40, we start to hear the ticking of that proverbial biological clock. The career trajectory that we saw as endless opportunity in our 20s suddenly has some very real parameters around it. If we don’t do what we were designed to do now, then when? Barbara Sher wrote a book called It’s Only Too Late if You Don’t Start NowJohann Wolfgang von Goethe, known as Germany’s Shakespeare, is often quoted as having said “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Maybe the  best quote of all is from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “Don’t die with the music still in you.”

In other words, we need to get off our duffs (OK, need to get off my duff) and get busy, creating whatever it is we’re going to create. If you want to start a business, begin working on a plan. If you’re dying to become a professional speaker, sign up for one of the many National Speakers Association Speakers Academies around the country. (Shameless plug: I’m dean of the one in Chicago that starts in September–visit NSA-IL for details.) If you have an aria to sing, find a stage and some folks to listen.

While we may not be facing a duel tomorrow morning at sunrise, we don’t get any guarantees. What would you scribble on those 60 pages if you knew your days–even minutes–were numbered? What’s the music still left inside of you?

Barn-Raising 101

Many years ago I read the book Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want by Barbara Sher with Annie Gottlieb. The book had a profound effect on me and I’ll never forget one of the analogies the author used to encourage her readers to ask for help from others to accomplish their goals. Ms. Sher referenced a barn-raising to reinforce the power of community, enrolling others in your mission to move there faster and more efficiently.

You’ve seen pictures of a barn-raising, right? Think of an Amish community in the rolling hills of Ohio or Pennsylvania. A young couple is about to be married, and they’re moving into their own home after the wedding. They need a barn, so the community comes together. In one day, they “raise a barn,” accomplishing something it would take the individual months, maybe even years to do. (If you want to see an example of a barn-raising, watch “Witness” with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis–it’s a great thriller with some steamy romance thrown in.)

Barbara Sher blames our culture of rugged individualism on the tendency for folks to insist on going it alone. But it really does take a village… to get our goals and dreams accomplished. That’s one of the most powerful reasons to seek and participate in a professional (or trade) association.

I recently joined the Association Forum of Chicagoland and people laugh when I tell them it’s “the association for associations.” Associations are big business-VERY big business. In 2012 the Association Forum did an economic impact study of Chicagoland associations conducted by CliftonLarsonAllen, one of the nation’s top 10 CPA and consulting firms. The study reports there are more than 1,600 associations based in the Chicago area, and these associations pump more than $10.3 billion directly into the local economy each year. Together, membership exceeds more than 27 million individual members and 250,000 corporate members. These Chicago area associations provide nearly 44,000 full- and part-time jobs with a total employee compensation of more than $4.2 billion.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with you? Essentially, this means there’s an association for everyone. If you’re in the healthcare field, an accountant, an attorney or in any one of the many occupations listed in the Occupational Outlook Handbook which includes approximately a bazillion titles, there is a group of people in the same industry or occupation who share your interests, skills and, most importantly, educational needs. Most associations exist to serve the professional development needs of their membership, along with often representing them as a powerful lobby. Associations are fascinating entities and if you’re not part of yours, find one. There may be more than one–try them out and if it’s the right fit, join. Get involved. Become a member of a committee and, if you’re engaged in their mission, you’ll find yourself on the board before you know it.

Then, when you’re in the process of building your own barn (read: career, mission, goal, company, project), you have a community to help you. Oh, sure, you can build a barn by yourself, one nail and one plank at a time. But there’s urgency to get your barn built! And it’s a lot more fun when you accomplish your goals surrounded by people who know and care about you. It’s called “networking.”