Cultivating an Authentic Voice: My Journey to Work-Life Integration
Though hard to believe now, it wasn’t until the mid-90s that there was any sort of ‘life’ part in my Work-Life Balance equation. I’d just created a family and was raising twin boys on my own, and every summer we would venture to my family cabin that was located high on a hill on a lake in Ontario, Canada’s Algonquin Provincial Park. With no electronic distractions allowed and 45 kilometres from civilization, some of our entertainment involved paddling around the lake visiting neighbours and friends. Along the way I collected all kinds of stories and in the early 2000s started self-publishing some of them to local acclaim. A few local bookstores picked them up to sell to visiting tourists interested in local human history.
In hindsight, it’s a bit odd I realize to use the term ‘human history’ as isn’t all history human? But most of the titles in the main local bookstore managed by the Friends of Algonquin Park tended to focus on the history and ecosystems of the birds and the bugs and the amphibians and the fish and the mammals, not the people. So I became somewhat of a ‘central square’, where the oral history was passed on. Since those early days, ten books of stories have been the result of 25+ years of story collecting and my role as the local historian has been somewhat institutionalized. Though only a few dozen of each title are sold each year, it’s been enough to fund further research and interviewing efforts, the occasional return to the Park for visits and has been a source of great joy, pleasure, and self-satisfaction. So in addition to raising my sons, my home life had been reasonably balanced but completely separate from my work life.
The first shift in this world-view of separate but equal work and home life began In 2002 when I started collecting stories from my fellow former Tandem colleagues, I had no idea that someday there would be enough content and enough support to write a 260-page book on the history of what was one of the finest corporate cultures that Silicon Valley has ever created. Now of course it was helped along by a fabulously successful employee reunion at Bay Meadows that year, which led to an outpouring of social media postings. But for me it was the demise of the Tandem Library the following year that triggered the beginning of the journey from idea to action and enabled the seedlings of the integration of life with my work to be planted in a unique way. As I said in the book’s foreword, the foresight and willingness of the then librarian, Patty Turner, to give me access to review some of the early records before they were lost to some cavernous storage facility was amazingly prescient. But it was the closing of the Fremont Manufacturing Facility in 2009 and the loss of my corporate job in 2011 that really turned the tide. With time and headspace, the creative juices flowed, and Tandem Computers Unplugged was born. Though this book was a business book, and therefore fell on the ‘work life’ side, things did start to get a little blurry as publishing and promoting it all got assigned to the ‘home life’ side of the Work-Life Balance equation when I started working for real money again.
Fast forward to 2016, where once again circumstances beyond my control redirected my journey once again back to expressing my creative voice through unpaid work. The main trigger was once again a job loss, but also a deeper work worry, which was that many of the basic premises of strategic planning were not keeping up with the times. to the world of strategic planning and I was convinced that the practice was not keeping up with the times. I had learned painfully through the previous decade that having a great strategic planning process that generated fabulous strategic initiatives was useless if the initiatives couldn’t be effectively implemented. This led to my second work and life integration, which was a creative attempt to find my ‘new ideas’ authentic writing voice. With colleague Allan Leeds, I strove to integrate the best practices of the ancient strategic planning process with key concepts from the agile software development world of sprints scrum masters, continuous development, and incremental improvements. The result was a six-pronged Agile Strategy Execution Framework™ that focused on the collection and use of ‘Actionable Intelligence’ from the internal and external ecosystems that fed real-time decision-making and drove incremental innovation based on aligned and linked crosss-functional priorities.
Called Agile Strategy Execution – Revolutionizing the How!, I had foolish fantasies for this book to be the one to take me to the NYTimes ‘Best Seller List.’ But it was impossible to compete with the big guys such as McKinsey’s Agile Organization themes. However, I think it was and still is an important contribution to the continued evolution of the practice and philosophies of strategic planning. The exercise did though strain even more my still quite rigid Work-Life Balance equation.
Fast forward again, this time to 2019 when I started to write more business articles on LinkedIN. Most continued the theme of management agility and adaptability, but were they ‘Work’ or were they ‘Life’? I was becoming less and less sure, to which bucket they belonged. Years and years of effectively compartmentalization was really starting to break down.
Alas, everything changed in the summer of 2020 when COVID-19 lock downs happened. Once again I was jobless and Algonquin Park was shut to visitors. Given that people couldn’t buy books, the only course open to me was to try my hand at podcasting. To my surprise, I found out that I had a knack for writing scripts and a reasonable skill in telling those stories in front of a microphone. But more importantly, I discovered a new and different audience that was interested in Algonquin Park history but much preferred listening to reading. Since then, on my podcast, called Algonquin Defining Moments, I’ve posted 50 episodes with over 22,000 downloads and can reasonably say that the podcast has been a success.
In parallel, my LinkedIn writing exploded. Since April 2020, flowing out of me have been 16 articles on a broad range of topics from how to lead attentively, to reimagining hybrid work, to building sustainable corporate cultures, to guidance for leaders on how to rebuilding the trust and bridging/networking connections that have been lost since COVID started. With all this has been the realization that it isn’t about balancing work life and home life, it’s about integrating the two into an authentic whole and using that authentic whole to project an authentic voice. Compartmentalizing the two is just silly because they are tightly connected and deeply intertwined. Accomplishments in one builds skills for the other. Success in one spills over to success in the other and vice versa.
So, what has this new Work and Life Integration journey, evolved to now? Two of the oldest cottages on the lake that house much of the early Algonquin Park history were built by two lumber barons in the late 1890s. Their lumbering efforts ended in bankruptcy in 1900 and the cottages were bought by a Dr. Alexander Pirie who had emigrated to Costa Rica in the late 1890s who still liked to return to Canada every summer (as I do to this day). This location he decided would be a marvelous meeting point for all the extended family. Over the years his wife Jean Bertram Pirie was responsible for keeping large crowds who occupied over a dozen bedrooms happy and well-fed all summer long. This she did with intensity, superior organizational skills, and a lot of hard work including the daily provision of ‘Afternoon Tea’. Along the way, she amassed a treasure trove of recipes, some dating back to the 1890s. Dr. Pirie’s grandson, Sandy Lewis, whom I’d interviewed on my podcast had spent years sorting and transcribing them into a document that he was interested in having published. Well what started out as possibly a simple publishing venture turned into a massive research effort. It began with the Costa Rican roots of the family, extended to the history of cooking equipment, and techniques, and later evolved into investigating the history of many of the recipes themselves, whom it turned out had their own stories as well.
Of course, things didn’t stop there, as one can’t publish a cookbook without having tried any of the recipes, so last winter was spent testing a sample of each of the recipes in each chapter. The focus was on ones that were new to me or had ingredients and instructions or equipment and techniques that were unique to those times. It was a grueling but fun experience. One evening my son, as one of the key taste testers, was served six different types of cake instead of dinner! Needless to say, he was not impressed, though agreed that all were tasty.
So last month the finished product Early 20th C Algonquin Cottage Cookery (1890-1940): A Whimsical Stroll Through the Recipe Box of Jean Bertram Pirie was launched. It’s part culinary history, Pirie family storytelling, and part cookbook.
I’m not sure that I can easily explain how I went from corporate culture to cookbook, but I am grateful to live in a time where the emphasis is on integrating work and life not just balancing between two battlefields. It is this integration that enables the authentic voice to appear, which I think is a win-win for everyone. I have finally retired my common refrain ….. In My Other Life…… My authentic voice happens to be the written and spoken word. Your’s maybe something entirely different.
So, if early 20th C recipes are your thing and remote work at the lake is a reality for you and your family, do check out my new cookbook offering. It’s a set of tried-and-true family recipes, specially selected to recall the heydays of British and Canadian Afternoon Tea and a new world of cake recipes that had taken North America by storm at that time. All of my books are on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca. For signed copies, via [email protected] is how you can reach me. The podcasts are available on Apple and Google podcasts, Spotify and Pandora and a ton of pictures on my website www.algonquinparkheritage.com. A few have even been turned into videos on my Youtube channel., which also hosts a few Videoscribe Change Orchestration videos that I’ve also built over the years. Never let it be said that my life is ever dull!!!