The swimming pool strategy for work

My epiphany this summer that I am just figuring out now: I use the swimming pool strategy to find meaningful work.

For a few years out of high school my brother Scott and I worked at the local swimming pool as swimming instructors and lifeguards. Wonderful work, especially in the summer.  A flexible schedule, well paid, new and unexpected friends and a lot of fun.

The challenge was that we were part of a huge pool of casual employees working part-time hours.  Each of us was lucky to get 20-26 hours a week.  When saving every penny for university in the fall, we had our eyes on the extra shifts that came up – some at a moment’s notice, others when we saw an opportunity and took it.

As I reflect on this, I see two strategies that play out for meaningful work – then and now:

Play in the pool

A hot day is a wonderful day to do what you love – play and float around in the pool.  On a hot day the pool will also fill up with hundreds of other people.  There is a head lifeguard whose job is to make sure that there are enough lifeguards keeping an eye on things and make sure everyone is safe.  But since there are not enough lifeguards in the schedule, more will be needed.

When you love your work, it shows.  You are available to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.  Let the head lifeguard know explicitly that you are ready to serve when needed. While it might not be your turn on the rotation, others might not be available and voila!  There you are.  Doing what you love and ready to serve.

  1. The above applies to a hot summer day and an outdoor pool – I have to be conscious of the context each and every day
  2. I will be called on when I am needed.  If others are called, they are needed, or it is simply their turn
  3. When having fun, genuinely, I make myself more available
  4. I show up for work,  even if I don’t know I will be needed, to see what will happen
  5. Play and have fun, splash, float, swim, bob

Do the hard work

We also had our eyes on the work nobody else wanted.   We cleaned the grunge off the waterslides.  We tarred the filter tank.  Crawled into the crawlspace under the pool and then crawled into a 1’ x 3’ hole into the surge tank to scrape the slime off the walls.  Then volunteerd to do it again the next year.  We cleaned the changerooms.  In all of the above, we played music, joked around, and laughed hysterically – usually right when our boss showed up to see how we were doing.  Every time we thought we were in big trouble, especially when our boss found a big blue happy face (the clean part) on the brown floor of the changeroom.  Now we see that we were never in trouble because we were doing the work others did not want to do, we were doing it happily and we were getting the job done. Well.
  1. Volunteering for grungy hard work is an opportunity to do good work
  2. Volunteering for grungy hard work is an opportunity to have great fun with my mates
  3. Do grungy hard work with mates

Elect a President

There is an election for my professional association, the Alberta Association of the Canadian Institute of Planners.  I have put my name forward as candidate for the position of president-elect. The successful candidate will serve one year as president elect, 2 years as president, and 2 years as past president serving as AACIP’s representative to the Canadian Institute of Planners.  This is a significant commitment to the profession, one that asks me to consider completely why I would wish to take this role on for the profession.

As I look back at what really interests me about the planning profession, it is about how we as a collective are in a position to support our communities as they strive to thrive.  We are in service to something far larger than our individual jobs, or even the planning profession.  Collectively, we work in service to the fullness of community.  To best do that, we need to continue the evolution of our professional association while holding two distinct priorities: the development of our profession as technicians and effective practitioners, and the development of the health of our communities.  This involves a new era of professional practice where we acknowledge that we offer so much more than technical services to communities, or technical learning opportunities for ourselves.

The October 2010 AACIP conference is focusing on 2 questions:  What if we are not planning to survive? And who is planning our future anyway?  These questions can relate to both our professional membership, as well as our communities.  As a profession, we need to explore these questions – among ourselves and with our communities – in order to fully respond to what we are called to do.  It is time for us to notice what we, ourselves, are planning for and what we need to do to get there.

As I reflect about why I put myself forward in this way, the answer I keep coming back to is about my passion for the development of our professional practice that is in tune with what our communities need from us.  I see I have a role to play in this.  So, for your consideration:

The skills I offer for my colleagues’ consideration:

  • Executive leadership – senior leader in municipal/regional government, University Board of Governors, numerous community boards
  • Effective resource management – $17 M operating and $250M capital budgets
  • Strategic leadership focus amidst competing demands
  • Strategic alliances and relationships with government, stakeholders, and other professions
  • Appropriate balance between confrontation, cooperation, and collaboration
  • Meaningful processes for conversation – between ourselves, our professional colleagues and our communities

The platform I offer for my colleagues’ consideration:

A leader these days needs to be a host – one who convenes diversity; who convenes all viewpoints in creative processes where our mutual intelligence can come forth. ~ Margaret Wheatley

Without collective intelligence and wise, effective action, the future of our organizations, our communities, and our planet remain imperiled. ~ Thomas J. Hurley and Juanita Brown

After 50 years, AACIP is transitioning into something new: the Alberta Professional Planners Institute (APPI). Along with the name, the planning landscape has changed as well: now over 800 members, a diverse collective practice, and communities facing complex economic, social, ecological and governance challenges. Under the legislation creating APPI, the profession now has an explicit relationship with the public interest.

For the next 50 years, the world will continue to change.  To be effectively in service to our communities, it is time to engage with each other and the larger community to ponder the following questions:

  1. What is the public interest?  What is APPI’s relationship with the public?  What could it be?
  2. How can the collective voice of APPI serve the public interest?
  3. What skills do APPI members need to support the communities we serve?
  4. How can APPI collaborate with other organizations to serve both its members and the public?
  5. What values are at the core of our work?
  6. What is our unique service to the public?
  7. What are the emerging qualities of a new standard of professional practice?

Please cast your ballot.

Focus, Flow and Fun


I have been pondering the significance of last week’s soccer scrimmage. I found myself on the field in default mode: going full tilt, fast, shoulder to the wheel, focused effort for results, more effort and more focus for even better results, put in the time and the effort and what I want to come to pass usually does.

But there was a voice over my shoulder, my coach Michael, who could see something I couldn’t see about how to play the game better.Behind me, his words to me were: “slow it down”.On another occasion: “just take the ball, hang on to it for a few seconds, then decide what to do with it.”I couldn’t believe the results.

Now I must note that I need to get feedback from Michael about what he saw – I am relying on what my subjective self sees and feels.I don’t know if he saw anything different, but I felt very different: my body was just doing what it needed to do, without really focusing on it.Putting things together that I hadn’t put together before.It was like those times when I look straight at something and I can’t quite see it no matter how hard I look, but when I look just to the side, I can see it better.My body was doing the things we have been learning all winter – ball control, passing, position, shooting – but without me actually focusing on these.From time to time, I felt a sense of flow.Things unfolded as they needed to in response to the circumstances of the moment.

I fell out of this feel of flow frequently, and then I could still hear Michael’s voice, though it was now me reminding myself. Other times, it was Michael pointing out technical things to do, like: “let the ball hit you straight on.If you turn to the side you have no idea where it will go.”Michael suggested I focus on something specific, but of course that is not the only thing I was expected to focus on.I had to file this information, these things to focus on, into the mix.In the end, I found myself falling in and out of precision, and in and out of intuition.A friendly and usefull tug-of-war between focus and flow.

The game, and life, is about the tug-of-war.It isn’t all or nothing, but rather noticing that both are in play and welcoming them.I notice that in my head and my body, I have a strong tendancy to work hard to get the job done, but not necessarily skillfully.The effort and focus I put into things often makes it look like I am better at something than I truly am.My skills improve when I take the risk of a split second to pause (or take Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink) and check out what the circumstances really require of me.This is not logical – but I can trust that I will know the right thing thing to do, and do it skillfully if I let myself.And if I try to do both – ie focus on flow – I won’t get either.Pulling both ends of the same rope gets you tight rope.

My coach has lessons for me on and off the field and I appreciate the time he has voluntarily spent with us, every week, over the last two years.We are learning technical skills – how to handle a ball, the rules of the game.We are learning about how we do not have the same skills or abilities or aptitudes.This is not only welcomed, but we are learning how to use this diversity to build an effective team.We are supported in our individual learning as well as our collective learning as a team.When we are ready, he shows us something new, always making sure the stretch is one that challenges without overwhelming us.
We are recognizing how we are doing something well and how we are not doing something well so we can see and feel how to improve.Most importantly we are having fun.

I see now that this week’s scrimmage, for me, was about focus and flow – and that welcoming both comes with fun, lightly holding the conundrum.

ACE Volunteer Experts in New Sarepta

On June 16, 2009, volunteers from New Sarepta, Sherwood Park, Leduc and Leduc County gathered to explore volunteering. Their goal – to sustainably recruit and retain volunteers.  Again, in my work with ACE Communities ( I facilitated the creation of their goal and identification of strategies to reach the goal.  Their main finding: we  know what needs to be done, we just needed to take the time amongst ourselves (as individuals and together) to find it.  We just have to do what we forget we have to do.

Here is their work and what their conclusions:


I was burned and sick and tired

Reminded why I will continue

A boost to run a festival!

Appreciating people where they are

I reemphasize the importance to reinvest

Taking time to consider

What we are doing right

I will mentor others and transfer the best I can

I found categories of why we volunteer

Making it easier to work with my agencies

I take away this process

In organizations

We will know what we are about

And what is expected

Keeping board members with more effort

I will mentor

An interesting thought

Why do I volunteer?

Oh, ok.Now I get it.

I bring connections to my volunteers

I don’t just say be intentional

I can be intentional

I actually know

That I am an expert

ACE Volunteer Experts in Thorsby/Warburg

In my work with ACE Communities ( I had the pleasure last night of facilitating a workshop with volunteer experts – the people who showed up to learn about how to recruit and retain volunteers.
With ACE leaders at Leduc County, we designed an experience that brought out the experts in Thorsby and Warburg. Here is their work and what they concluded at the end of the gathering:

The value of the conversation and commitment:

Sharing it all, networking
We know more than we thought

We renew positive
Remembering why
With inspiration
To appreciate

Encouraging community
Still cares
We don’t let the nay-sayers get me down
We keep trudging along
Walking with more support
With people like me
Not alone

What wonderful work we do
As volunteers
We do all those things!
It’s nice to hear once and a while!

We will appreciate volunteers more
I will appreciate myself more

Good to hear what others are doing
Hearing from other volunteers
I have taken in a lot
I can’t say just one thing

We are out of the box
With 39/20 networking
When we need it
We are out there

We are impressed
So many with similar ideas
We know what works
We’re on to something

We will find more people
That don’t know the word no
Always the same faces
But there are lots of kinds
Of volunteers
Worker bees and people like us
Start saying no to no!

We have lots to take home
Actions to remind myself
Once and a while
Fanning connections
What everyone said is what I was thinking

Try harder
The Terry Fox run will be running
Playing off one another
Making the connections between us