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July 4, 1976

I got up early, for me anyway, the morning of July 4, 1976. It was America’s Bicentennial and I wasn’t going to miss anything. It had already been a full few days, participating in the Kiwanis Bike Parade and the Woodstock Relays. Celebration was in the air. Patriotism at its finest.

Not long after I was up, my mom and I drove out to City Park and parked over near the pond. In front of us were dozens of fire trucks from Companies situated all over the county. You see, on the 4th of July that year they held the water fights. Water fights were the opposite of a tug of war. You had two teams, in this case teams of fire fighters, each on one side of a cement platform. In the middle was a large barrel. The goal was to keep the barrel from crossing onto your side, using the water pressure from a fire hose to hold your side’s place. I loved the water fights. My Godfather was a fire fighter and I loved to see him and his Company compete.

After a while of watching, I walked over to the pavilion. It was all decked out in red, white and blue. Uncle Bob told me I was allowed to get a drink from the giant trough filled with ice for free. The trough was always filled with my favourite, Jolly Time Grape Soda. I pulled the pop top, drank it quickly and read the joke on the bottom.

After several rounds in the tournament, we decided to walk up the hill to stake claim to our place to watch the fireworks. In all seriousness, in order to get a good seat, you had to go at least 10 hours in advance and call dibs. We had a picnic basket and a large blanket. We pretty much knew everyone around us. Our lunch consisted of tuna sandwiches, shoestring potato chips, Pepsi in a bottle with a straw, and cookies. Everyone in the vicinity helped the others to keep their places so you could leave for a bit and come back and your stuff would still be there. There was a small carnival on the other side of the fireworks platform, and once we ate, I walked over there to partake on a few rides. People were drinking beer in tents in a flat area near the baseball diamonds. There were games being played there all afternoon. There were bands in the park playing too.

By early afternoon, my mom took the car back home, in order to walk back out to the park later. You see there would be tens of thousands of people in the park after the fireworks were over and a one mile drive home probably would’ve taken 2 hours; it was much faster to walk. I stayed behind to swim.

The Woodstock Municipal Pool opened to the public at 1:00 every day. The pool was always busy but on the 4th of July it was a madhouse. But, all the regulars were there and I hung out with my friends all afternoon. By mid-afternoon, my mom was volunteering at the concession stand, selling pizza and pickles and Charleston Chews. By 7:00 we reunited and were socializing with our friends and neighbours in the area where the fireworks display would go. There were bands and more beer.

Before the fireworks began, a large plane flew overhead and a dozen or so parachuters jumped out and landed in the flat area at the bottom of the hill. But the fireworks, oh the fireworks. They went on for almost an hour. I remember the intense volume of the kabooms at the end, drowning out the marching band playing. And, I remember the long walk back home, running ahead, and once home, going out the 2nd floor window onto the roof to watch all the people walking by.

It was a Top Five day of my life.

Today is the Sesquicentennial for Canada. And while everything in Canada is always a bit muted compared to the U.S., I feel the same sort of party atmosphere as what I remember in 1976. To all my friends and comrades in Canada, I wish you great joy and happiness, and a Top Five day. Cheers!

A Question from Workhuman

The Canadian Contingent at Workhuman. Photo credit: Pam Ross.

What am I doing?

This is the type of question that can be interpreted in different ways.

As in, have I lost my mind?  Or,

How am I effecting time and space?  Or

How am I occupying my time?

This question (and its various interpretations) has come to mind several times while participating in Workhuman 2017.

I came to Workhuman to be inspired, to be ignited, to pursue action.  I love the folks who come to Workhuman and getting to hang out with them, even if briefly, is so worth it.

Workhuman is a conference about getting away from the stale and into things that are new.  It is not only about current thinking but also evidence-based reasons for change, the future. Last year I was overwhelmed and overjoyed by the focus on happiness at Workhuman.  After being armed with some new tools for bringing happiness to the workplaces I influenced seemed achievable.

Happiness is something that people can achieve individually and together.  There are many ways to achieve it. Following Workhuman last year my firm set out to start impacting happiness at our clients.  We introduced the concept of the need for happiness in the workplace in baby steps, like incorporating measurement questions about happiness into employee surveys, or discussing the topic at team meetings, or sharing websites and books about happiness.  I also got more public about the activities I was doing to support my own happiness including my nearly 1000 km walk on the Bruce Trail.

Then, early in the conference this year, it hit me, “What am I doing?”

Although in my happiness project I have been focusing in on me, perhaps because I needed it, focusing on me alone is not a great strategy for truly infectious happiness among those I interact with.  With regards to the promotion of happiness, and the adoption of tools for happiness, I need to be doing more.  And the things I am doing to be more happy have to be effective, or I need to try new things.

The first moment this came to me was when I was listening to to Christina Hall from LinkedIn talk about social recognition and employee performance. The data has indicated that performance increases exponentially by the number of recognition moments their employees received from their peers.  Just three recognition moments, increased performance of employees by 54%.  While performance and happiness are not exactly the same thing, they are correlated.

Then there is Michelle Obama.  She said many inspirational things but what I will remember most is, “Our goal must be to lift each other up.  It starts with us.”

So clearly, I need to be in the habit of recognizing of others.  And I need to be open to both feedback and recognition.  That notion of being receptive to feedback, and also encouraging others to give better feedback came to me during Adam Grant’s presentation when he and his colleagues read mean course reviews.  Enabling people to provide authentic and constructive feedback supports happiness across the entire population.

So changing, that’s what I am doing.

If HR were like my dog. . .

Recently, I received a call late in the afternoon.  It was my husband, and he said that he would be home late that night, and so I decided to venture off on a dog walk without him.  I don’t normally do this, in fact, more often than not our dog Mars goes on a walk with my husband alone; and if I go it is a threesome.

Anyway, my Fitbit was short of steps that day and so I decided to venture into another part of the neighbourhood to increase my distance.  Mars loves long walks so I was sure he wouldn’t object.  About a kilometer away, I am walking in an unfamiliar area for me, and around the bend comes two boys, one about 8 years old and another about 12 years old.  The younger one is on a skateboard and the older one is riding a bike.  Without missing a beat, both of them see me and Mars, hop off their equipment, vacate it in the street and proceed to start interacting with Mars.

They pet him and talk to him.  At first, I feel the need to say things, like, “he’s friendly”.  I’m a little nervous, I don’t know their parents, and even though Mars has never snapped at a human ever, it feels strange that they would just snuggle up with a strange dog on the street.  But when I look tentative,  they say, “Oh, we know Mars, we see him all the time”.  One even proceeds to hug and kiss him, and then they say goodbye and they are off on their merry way, talking about him as they leave.

I’ve often said that what Mars is missing in his life is a young boy, and now I know that he isn’t missing anything at all.

Very honestly, Mars is a nice dog.  He loves people.  He has that golden retriever temperament.  He lives for hugs and eye contact and despite his poor initial circumstances (he’s a rescue) he seems very unafraid of strangers.  He makes friends everywhere, so much so that I will admit to being jealous of it.

So what is it about interacting with Mars that is so different from what most people tell me is their experience with HR?  Why don’t people naturally gravitate to us like they do to him?  Why do they feel that it will be a distanced interaction?  How come we aren’t fun?  And why is it that so many HR folks I know have dogs?