I woke up today thinking about Groundhog Day. What a strange holiday. We wait for a little animal named Punxsutawney Phil to crawl out of a hole and, based on whether or not he sees his shadow, we decide how much longer winter will be. Right.
I was wondering what lessons writers could learn from a groundhog, or from Groundhog Day, when I discovered a blog post from Kevin Eikenberry. He wrote about the lessons leaders can learn from Phil. These were good lessons for leaders—and for writers, if they were adapted just a bit.
So, I’ve decided to publish Eikenberry’s four lessons here and to add a bit of commentary to them as well to make them useful for writers.
Lose the hole. Too many leaders stay in their cubicle, office or region. These are our versions of the hole. We step out briefly, and retreat to our safe, known world. Too many leaders spend too much time or frequently retreat into their hole. The best leaders lose the hole completely. What does this mean in real life? Engage with your team, peers and customers. Spend time with them, ask questions and listen. Of course there are times you have a project to work on or a major issue to confront. These times require the quiet of your office. If you don’t consciously get out and engage, you’ll become too much like Phil.
I suggest writers also “lose the hole.” Don’t let your writing become your hole. Don’t stay in your writer’s garret. Come out. And don’t let your subject matter put blinders on your, which becomes a hole of sorts. Also, don’t allow the need for promotion and focus on the business end of writing keep you hiding in your hole. Face your fear…move through it. Brave the publishing world. Interact with the people around you—other writers, agents, publishers, printers, etc.. Look around. Become aware. Know what’s going on. Follow the trends. Communicate. Listen. Learn. Show others your writing. Read your writing. Read other people’s writing.
Look more often. Once a year? Come on Phil! Even people who don’t watch the weather much check out their surroundings more than once a year! Great leaders don’t just engage, they keep their minds open to what is going on – in the marketplace, with their organizational culture and with individuals. This is about more than getting out of the hole, it is about what you do when you are out. This is an ongoing part of the work of leadership – looking, surveying and gaining a perspective that is required to lead towards a desired future.
Come out of your hole at least once a year…better if you do this on a regular basis—like every day. Evaluate your writing in the light of day. Let others read it. See what’s going on around you. Read other people’s writing. Notice what you need to change or do to keep up with the publishing world—and to get published. Discover new subjects to write about. Find new problems to solve with your writing. Check out the trends. Look toward the future. Plan (for spring, summer, fall, winter).
Observe longer. Phil gets a quick peek of his shadow (or not) and retreats. Even if you get out more often, observing longer means getting past first impressions of people, situations and facts. It also implies thinking and reflecting on what you have observed. Collect more data and gain more kinds of input. Use your ears and intuition as well as your eyes and the facts.
Indeed, don’t just peek and retreat. Spend more time out of your hole. Make sure you are outside long enough to really grasp what is going on and to figure out where you want to go and what you want to do–and I don’t mean retreating back into your hole. Return inside when you are ready to work on planning, writing, proposing, creating, or other solitary endeavors. Surely use your intuition, and align with your purpose. Keep paying attention…over time…each time you come out of your hole. All of these things will make you a better writer and inform your writing.
Celebrate traditions. Strange as it may be, the events at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, PA each Groundhog Day is a big deal. As a leader you must recognize the meaningful traditions in your organization and support them. If your organization lacks them, or if you feel new traditions could enrich teamwork, reinforce organizational values or enhance the culture, it is your job to engage others to create them. Traditions are powerful things, and they don’t have to be meaningful, except to the people who participate in them. They likely won’t be created or maintained without you. You are a leader, after all.
Rituals, prayers, holidays, and other traditional or spiritual practices have offered humans a way to mark the time, celebrate the seasons, review our lives, come together, and find meaning in day-to-day existence. If you lack this in your life, it’s time to fill the emptiness with meaning and spirit. You can even start with Groundhog Day. But definitely start. Choose some sort of ritual, holiday or tradition to mark the passage of time, to come together in community and to help you celebrate your writing successes. Enter a yearly writing contest. Develop writing goals each New Year’s Eve and celebrate the ones you accomplish. Create a writer’s group that supports you in achieving your goals and develop rituals for rewarding success.
Today, come out of your hole and learn something from Phil.