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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Focus on shaping the letters

“I don’t LIKE writing!” he states emphatically.

It’s an all-too common scene. Sitting at his little desk, my son struggles against the work in front of him. Being six years old and practising basic writing skills can be daunting. In his mind, it’s a mountain to climb and he doesn't think that he has the gear.

The problem isn't that he can’t print; it’s the challenge of writing out a paragraph. That’s a LOT of words! Too many words! It’s, like, a whole BOOK Dad! (I wish.)

He’s overwhelmed and, in classic fashion, has dug in his heels.

And I get it.

As I sit here looking at my to-do list for the next few days, filling up the better part of a page, I'm overwhelmed. That’s a LOT of things to do! It’s hard to concentrate on taking action when the list is daunting. It’s easier to turn the list over, to pull out the toy action figures and fade into a land of imagination without lists. Without tasks or things to do. Without…writing a paragraph.

In 1986, I found myself working in a kitchen, the first of many kitchens I would work in over the next few years. A dishwasher in the truest sense of the term, washing most everything by hand with just the assistance of the tiniest of machines to help sanitize the wares. After the dinner rush, dishes would be piled everywhere. Bus pans bunched up on racks, filling counters, and arranged in rows down the hall. But I was strangely happy in that job because I knew the secret. Wash one dish at a time as well and as quickly as possible. Get that dish cleaned properly and I’d never have to wash it twice. The process became Zen-like as the dishes went by one by one until the kitchen was once again clean. A life lesson learned in the dish pit.

And I also know that I can write. I can write a single paragraph in a session - oh ya, I know how to do that. It’s a manageable task for me. I've learned to complete small, measurable tasks and I ‘try’ to focus on the doing the best I can on the work in front of me.  

As I remember this, I look down at my son, stuck at his desk, and tell him, “Don’t worry about the paragraph.” He’s confused.

“Let me ask you a question. Can you write one letter really, really well?” I ask. And he does it beautiful.

“How about another letter? Show me that.” Again, he does it in textbook fashion.

We continue this little back and forth for a minute, me calling out letters while he knocks them out. He starts to get it. The paragraph isn't important – the letters are. And he can do the letters!

Eating the elephant one bite at a time. Measuring twice, cutting once. We have lots of descriptions for this. But at the core, it’s about doing one thing at a time to the best of your ability.

Focus on shaping the letters; the words have a way of figuring themselves out.

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