Do the Write Thing: When Oral Law isn’t Enough


This past December, I wrote my (secular) New Year’s Resolution article for the Jewish Week called, "Live Like a Movie Star.". In that article, I made a commitment – in print – that I would stop thinking about myself as a coach who just happens to write a column of careless musings, and to start regarding myself as a real writer.

At the risk of plagiarizing myself, here’s what I wrote: "I asked myself, "what would a professional writer do?" A professional writer would take direction from her editor, and commit to the entire writing process…A professional writer would set a time to write and stick to it…and a professional writer – especially one who wants to have a book contract in 2011 (there, I said it) – would find a way to write almost every single day."

I typed that up, I sent it to my editor, I emailed it to you, and I committed to it. And guess what? Last week – less than five months later — I signed that book contract.

Thank you. I am thrilled, too. And yes, of course you can have the first copy.

So, what made this life goal of mine different from all others? I didn’t just talk about it and wish for it and work towards it and pray about it: I did all of those things and I also wrote it down.

What’s more is that I wrote it down where witnesses would read it (that’s you, so feel free to take some credit), which added a layer of accountability to my goal.

Our central prayer, the Shema, asks us to do the write thing, too. Even way back, before DVRs and carpooling, God knew that we would be living busy, distracted lives. In order to keep Him central in our minds and hearts, He asked us not just to love Him, honor His commandments, and talk about Him to our kids. He commanded us to write His commandments on the doorposts of our houses and gates. Saying it wasn’t going to be enough. Believing it wasn’t going to get the message out. Wearing it around our heads and arms was better, but He wanted more.

Having those commitments written down and publicizing them on our doorways was how He wanted us to publically declare "I’m one of your people, and I’m in!" I don’t know about you, but my eclectic collection of fused glass, wrought metal, hand-painted mezuzahs signifying my Jewish commitment, accountability and belonging are part of the beauty of my home.

Whether you put quill to parchment, pen to paper, or fingertip to iPad, writing can have a transformative effect. It can serve as a reminder, a commitment, a goal setter, or an immediate call to action.

One of my favorite and shortest writings was a sign that I made last year for my office, as a personal call to inaction: "Take a Day." I must admit, I get excited by almost every opportunity that comes my way – whether it’s a work assignment, a flight bargain, or an invitation to Shabbat dinner. My natural exuberance drove me to say "yes!", and then think about it, rather than the other way around. So with the help of one of my coaches, Sandy Steiner, I created a sign to remind me that almost anything I had to decide upon could wait a day. "Take a Day" has helped me to take a breath, take some time, and take control of my decisions, rather than the other way around. All by writing down just three little words.

One of my clients, Odetta, sent me something she had written that served as a constant workplace reminder of her unique core values and work styles she had uncovered through coaching. At her new job, on her new desk, she has a single piece of paper that says:

What are My Values in the Workplace?

1. Team collegiality – how can I promote it?

2. Respect for my process which can be more methodical, thoughtful and prefers study before action or speech – how can I support others’ work processes?

3. Opportunities to interact with people in the course of projects – remember to include or at least ask if someone wants to be included.

4. Seek projects that play to my strengths of: Organizing, Building Consensus, Relationships, Strategic Planning, Research, Writing and Reading and Synthesizing Ideas. Look for the strengths in my co-workers and offer participation based on those strengths.

5. Opportunities to learn what I don’t know – ASK ASK ASK

6. My pace matches the office’s pace, but be ready to shift into higher gear when needed!

7. I want to be valued for the skills and knowledge I already have – show my coworkers that I value them for the same reasons.

In one page, Odetta has written her own core value list, personal work style sheet, critical thinking tool, call to action, and relationship builder that will serve as her personal compass in both gentle and rough winds at work.

What would your list look like? Write some thoughts down.

Another client, Jason, keeps a copy of his BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in the notes pages of his iPhone. How big and hairy should a BHAG be? If it’s too overwhelming, intimidating and impossible to write down, then that’s the one to write down. Writing it down doesn’t force your hand, but it can nudge your fingers in the right direction.

Suri has moved from job to job, but not by her own choice. Through coaching, Suri realized that hasn’t been taking credit for her work, advocating for her needs, or being recognized for her contributions. So I suggested she find a "battle cry" to write down as a reminder to stand up and fight for what she needed and deserved at work. Suri’s pick? "Nobody puts baby in a corner!" from the movie Dirty Dancing. Other ones could be "There’s nothing to fear but fear itself" or "Make my day!" or "Eat to live, do not live to eat" – just write down something that will inspire, motivate and fortify you when you face a skirmish with a colleague, a family member or a box of Oreos.

In the words of Sholem Asch, "Writing comes more easily if you have something to say." And trust me, you have plenty. Here’s to you writing your BHAG, battle cry, book – or blog posting below!