Death is taking people around people dear to me: the violent murder of a co-worker, the suicide of an old friend, the passing of a dad who’s lived a full life, and an uncle released from a long battle with mysterious illness. In contrast, spring is about to pop out in bright green glory.
As life comes to a close, whether peacefully or violently, new life comes.
Transition is life – and the relationship I have with the transitions within and around me is essential to how I make my way through the world.
I pause to notice transitions and the potential within them…
The end – today – of 5 years service to the Alberta Professional Planners Institute
A book substantially complete and the question of where now to put my energy?
A call to serve my city – as a living museum
A call to work with cities as habitats that need the care and attention of their citizens
I pause also to notice that these transitions are cyclical. While the content and questions may change, it is a natural and regular occurrence to feel wobbly and uncertain. It’s not possible to manage change. It is possible to live well with changing.
Notice what you notice. These wise words of my friend Michael Keller fuel the spirit of the Nest City Blog. Since April 10, 2009, 358 posts have appeared here, starting with a wee piece on what I learned about teamwork and leadership on the soccer field – when I swoop in and help my teammate I may be harming my team’s ability to perform. It is often better to give your mates room to do their thing.
That means I have to trust them.
All these posts later, this thought pervades much of what has emerged as the Nest City book: as we each pursue our passions in our city, in our paid or volunteer work, we are improve the city. It is a selfless act to do the work you want to do because, in doing so, we recreate and regenerate our cities so they serve us better in return. It requires that we trust everyone around us – that their particular work is helping the whole in ways we do not know.
Nest City is almost finished. It began as a slow release, and now that it is tangible for me, while I my hunt for a publisher, I choose to share it with you. It makes no sense for me to keep it to myself.
If you’d like to receive these wee bits of book, starting April 13, 2015, please subscribe to my newsletter – Nest City News. Look for a box on the right that looks like this:
I have to laugh – a fork was in the road on the street in front of my house, recently released with spring’s warm embrace. It is not my fork; it is a found fork, a little worse for wear. It symbolizes the cosmic carrots floating around me at the moment.
Over the course of the winter, like my city planner friend Nola, I have been pondering my desire line – the path I want to be travelling in my work. In January, it was perfectly clear. My book is nearing completion and it is time to prepare for its release out into the world. For seven years, I have enjoyed a wonderful balance of time to write, and time for paid work with wonderful people, in the form of small contracts. This has been wonderfully nourishing and I long to merge what I have learned in writing with my work out in the world.
I long for two things:
to tangibly and practically put Nest City into action
to work with a team of great people
Of course, I have been putting into practice, and working with great people; I long to put these two things together for the long term, for larger contribution to the well-being of cities and citizens.
In response to these longings I extended an invitation to 13 local, wonderful people with whom I want to step out into the work world, to be a team of some sort. We quickly met to begin our dive into an evolutionary purpose I sense we serve for cities: to create the conditions for cities to serve citizens well, and for citizens to serve cities well. We to discern the work we are called to do for the city. We called it the carrot of potential.
And no sooner does this process begin and the Universe taps me on the shoulder to test my resolve. A cosmic carrot.
It came in the form of a phone call from a headhunter inviting me to apply for a job. I surprised myself and said yes to exploring the opportunity. I went for coffee with the bigwig to see if he and the organization were a fit for me, then had a first interview, and a second interview. I am now waiting for word.
And while I wait, another laugh as another cosmic carrot emerges. This time in the form of a tingling, an attraction to a big idea, to a way to serve my city and cities everywhere.
Invisible thresholds emerge to test me. Like the fork in the road, they are emerging as the snow melts. And because they emerge, my destination is changing too. I am emerging to a new destination. It may be a big job, or a big idea, or some combination of both. The discernment I have in front of me is to figure out which destination will move me in the direction I want to go. For now, I sit in the unknown, nourished by these cosmic carrots.
And yet another laugh. In this fertile ground of carrots volunteering themselves for my nourishment (including a fork to eat them with??), I find a post I wrote 2 years ago today, the spring equinox. As I made the transition from writing Part Two of Nest City, to Part Three, I noticed that I had no idea what I was going to write. I had no idea what would come next. The helpful tips I found for myself in Focus, learn, emerge, for life while emerging to new destinations, apply as well now on 2015’s first day of spring:
I have to laugh. The moment I feel I finally have a clear sense of purpose and direction in my work, the universe delivers a tantalizing carrot, enticing me to other work, testing my resolve.
Before this carrot arrived, I called a circle of 14 remarkable people, to begin a dive into an evolutionary purpose I sense we serve for cities: to create the conditions for cities to serve citizens well, and for citizens to serve cities well.
Each of us, in our own ways, are in the throes of discerning the work we are called to do for our city.
Here’s what I caught in our closing words before parting. A carrot of potential…
A carrot of potential
A carrot of potential
me to grow
in me stretching
energy in the heart
of the dragon
here, in me
in my city
in an ensemble
growing a whole
The words that instinctively came out of my mouth were wiser than the words I scripted for myself. At the opening of the Alberta Professional Planners Institute conference, in front of the crowd, I was to named the conference theme, “Lifecycle of a Planner,” but the word “lifestyle” came out.
This made immediate sense to me as professional citizenship, and the practices that enable professional life to include the interests of the citizen in each of us, as well as the citizens (and the public interest) we serve as professionals. As I listened to Paul Bedford’s story of this life as a professional planner, including as Chief City Planner for the City of Toronto and now as an urban mentor, I found these underlying questions that underpin a lifestyle of professional practice that serves both self and citizens well.
What fascinates you?
Do you get paid to do what you love?
Where do you have a contribution to make?
Who are you? Where do you belong?
What are you learning?
What do you do to nourish your self, and your creativity?
Do you feel good about your work?
How much courage do you have?
What are the principles that guide you?
Where am I growing?
Explore these questions in your own way. On a walk, in a journal, while at the gym or playing the guitar. Find some time to settle into you, and settle into a question, recognizing that any one of these questions is a point of entry into the messiness and confusion that is naturally a part of being human. Transition from one part of your life to another part of your life is part of the lifecycle. How we live in these transitions sabotages or nourishes our personal growth. The lifestyle with which we live the lifecycle matters.
I had clear instructions. Introduce the speaker and remind the audience about the hashtag #lifecycleofaplanner (for twitter), the conference theme. What came out of my mouth was #lifestyleofaplanner. As I listened to the speaker, I realized I wasn’t wrong. My mouth knew something my brain did not know.
Drawing on a lifetime of experience working as a city planner in Toronto, including as Chief City Planner, Paul Bedford described the life of a planner: connecting the dots, capturing the heart and mind, and the need to be bold or go home. He described a lifestyle. The planner as a person and the work s/he does are not separate. As he put it, the ability to learn is the only constant in change. That is lifestyle.
To be the planner our cities need of us, you:
Live, breathe and love your city. You choose to be a part of your city. You dive into your city to better serve your self, citizens and your city.
Know what you believe. You have figured out your personal beliefs, and they align with your work.
Live your work as a privilege. You approach your work with curiosity and passion. You choose this work, or maybe it has chosen you. You do not take it for granted and fully enjoy
Live as a change agent. When you know what you believe, and you choose to live what you believe, you make change happen. Anywhere and everywhere.
Serve citizens in the present and future. You are positive and proactive.
Search for, and make decisions based on purpose and principles. You are connected to the underlying purpose and intention of your work. You are flexible in how you get there, noticing which methods are the the best things in each given context.
Experiment with creativity. As you learn and grow in your practice, you explore how to experiment and be creative in your work.
Connect the big picture and the ground in simple ways. You find synthesize and integrate everywhere you go, enabling yourself to better understand your context, as well as others. You find language that has meaning for others.
Welcome the constant renovation of life. You recognize that you are always under renovation, as your city is too. You shed what you no longer need, and allow the new to come forward.
Choose to swim, not float. You choose the direction you move in.
This is the lifestyle of a planner who serves citizens well. This is professional citizenship, a lifestyle, a personal journey on the inside that shows up on the outside in the work we do. If these do not apply to you, you are in the wrong job, or the wrong line of work.
After hours and hours of listening to the public – and answering tough questions – during a series of public engagement events, my client took a few moments to hear what they heard. It was powerful.
My client is an organization at the beginning of a multi-year negotiation process with another organization. Caught in the middle are a number of citizens that will be directly affected by how this shakes out. After a series of meetings with the affected citizens, my client pulled together all staff involved in the engagements to debrief. The objective of our debrief was simple – to pause and hear what we heard over the last month.
We took the first 15 minutes of our hour-long meeting to pass a talking piece around the table, allowing each of the 15 of us to notice our response to this question.
With all that you have heard, what is resonating in you?
Here’s what they noticed:
Citizens are searching for a place for their voice to be heard
Citizens are searching for a place in the decision making
Citizens are confused by mixed messages
Citizens want to know how the proposal will affect them personally
There are many voices among citizens – they are not unified
There are varied reactions to the proposal; for some it’s a threat, for others an opportunity
They moved past the information collected, and they moved past the process used to collect the information. They discerned the undercurrents of the work they are doing.
The process underway is complicated and complex and will take years, the result of which is uncertainty and confusion. Most importantly, they recognized that their work affects peoples’ lives in real ways.
Here’s what they noticed about themselves:
We are here to serve citizens
“Us vs. Them” does not serve us – or citizens
As an organization, we need to step up
When threatened, it is hard to listen
We need to demonstrate that we care. Saying it is not enough
We have a lot of work to do internally to ensure we can deliver what we say we will deliver
They learned to take a few steps in others’ shoes, and they let those steps change how they dance with others. Wonderful.
Our cities are transforming, and so is the role of planners in the midst of this transformation.
Last month, I hosted a conversation at the Canadian Association of Planning Students annual conference about transformations, to give them an opportunity to dig into what they know and see. Here’s what we found.
We are transforming into organizers. We think of planning as a linear, mechanistic activity but cities don’t work that way. What’s coming is a new social habitat, so we played with this idea using a World Cafe, using these new operating principles:
Create places for you and others to experiment
Know and trust that the transformation never ends – it’s a never-ending quest
Cities will forever learn and adapt, and they will only learn and grow as much as we – the component parts – learn and grow
There’s great stuff underway in our cities and we are transforming into cities that are about people. We are paying more attention to public spaces, to diversity, to our cultures. We celebrate with food and festivals. There is a shift underway, where we share more. Technology and social media are changing how we look at our cities and planners. Everything is more visible.
And we face significant challenges.
When we resist change, we are at our most vulnerable. We are lured by convenience. Small thinking and lack of vision make us vulnerable. We feel the pressure to do it “right,” yet it is not possible to know what is coming. We grapple with the unknown. The choices we make matter. The leadership we create and support matters.
There is a way through.
Look at the whole. Grasp a vision and keep it in mind. It’s not about sacrifice, its about choice, and choosing to be informed and to inform. It’s about facilitating understanding, so that we can hold and consider new possibilities. Its about respecting and honouring roles and responsibilities, but also challenging them to see and pursue new possibilities. It’s about improvement.
We have no idea what we are transforming into. We just know that its underway. And we can transform into what works for us, or what does not. The only way we’ll get what we want is if we choose to engage with the transformation.
What transformations are taking place that you wish to nourish?
_____ _____ _____
This post is a wee bit of the book I am working on, while I am working on it. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City – The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities:
As I look back at the range of conversations I had with aspiring city planners at the Canadian Association of Planning Students conference in Toronto last week , I noticed 7 recurring messages in what I was saying. Here is a summary of my hot tips for the quest for a job:
Have a sense of the kind of work you’ll enjoy. The more clear you are about what you want to do, or even simply explore to see if you like it, the more likely you’ll find work that will serve your development. This last post might help you figure that out.
Have a sense of the kind of work environment you’d like. Are you most comfortable in a fast-paced environment, or one that is more stable. Do you need a serious place to work, or one that is more fun? Do you want to work in the trenches, or serve in other ways?
Draw on all your work experience – paid and unpaid. All volunteer work counts as work experience. Notice the skills you learned while volunteering and give them prominence along with your paid work.
Say what you can do in your resume. Your resume tells other about your work experience, but what can you do? Are you a good organizer? Do you know how to handle tough customers? Do you know how to resolve workplace conflict? Do you have any stories about how you took initiative?
Tell stories in your interview. Draw on all your experience in your interview and tell a story or two about when something went sideways and you pulled through. These are not stories of vulnerability, but of your strength in seeing when you go wrong and your willingness, and effort, to get things back on track. Be specific. It shows your employer that you know where you have room to improve.
Pick your boss. Is s/he going to invest in your development as a planner? Not just the money your employer may have to send you to conferences, or other professional development, but is s/he going to invest time in you as you learn how to do the work of planning? You want to do well, and if s/he is uncomfortable with the question, or can’t answer, the job might not be a right fit, but…
Learn from every job. You might not get your dream job when you start out, but it will have a lot to teach you. If you don’t get to pick your boss, that’s ok. Show up for work and care about what you do and it will be noticed. You will find other work, or it will find you. You’ll be alright.
As I look back at the range of conversations I had with aspiring city planners at the Canadian Association of Planning Students conference in Toronto last week , I found 5 recurring messages emanating from me. Here is a summary of my hot tips for city organizers everywhere:
Get to know yourself. The more you know about how you work, and what drives you, the better you can serve others. I entertain regular conversations between my ego-self (who is afraid of what people think, judges others, and can get overly competitive) and my highest Self (who, when I choose to listen, always know what to do and how to best do it). I entertain these two aspects of me in a journal and they even talk to each other when I go for a walk. The more you know your Self, the more you…
Notice what is life affirming (for you). When you work in ways and places that are life affirming, you make your city and your world a better place.What we put our attention to is what we get more of, so when you focus on things that don’t work, or things that don’t fill you with joy, you get more of what doesn’t work, more of what fills you with “ick”. Trust that when we all pursue what makes us feel good, the diversity among us ensures that all the bases are covered. Choose work that feels good.
Notice what you and others believe and understand – without judgement. If everyone feels that what they believe and understand is true, and its not the same, then can you find a way to accept that they are all true? Are you able to honour the diversity? This is great subject matter for your self and Self to talk about. To better understand these perspectives, this post on values might help.
Learn to speak multiple languages, then speak theirs, not yours. I’m not talking about Mandarin, Portuguese, or French (though that’s also a good idea). When touring the Steamwhislte Brewery the tour guide asked who we all were and someone replied, “we are practitioners of the planning and orderly development of our urban and rural environments.” That answer didn’t cut it. Someone else said, “city planning,” and our guide understood. It was just enough information in a way the tour guide could receive it.
Figure out what you want to say, then translate it. This applies to anything you do with anyone. Take some time to be clear about what you want to say, in any situation, then make sure that what you say is in a language your audience will understand. The result is you will be more clear.
Journalist Christopher Hume has noticed that we are all terrified of who we are. But we each have to be who we are to ensure along the way that we create the cities and communities we want. Everyone’s work matters, because our work generates and regenerates cities. All together, and terrified, we make our places. Be yourself, well, with others.
You are your own secret weapon.
You are our secret weapon.
_____ _____ _____
This post is a wee bit of the book I am working on, while I am working on it. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City – The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities: