There’s this woman that I know. I know her in a professoinal capacity, nothing seedy, underhand or sordid, it’s not that sort of a story. Let’s call her May because that’s nowhere near her name whether she exists or not or whether she is even a she.
May writes for a living, not books and she’s not a newspaper hack chasing disasters and hanging around politicians. She’s a bit different. She worked something out years ago and has had a rough plan for years and it seems she’s always up there when something is happening in her field of expertise.
There’s an analogy that I like to explain what she does even though it doesn’t explain the whole tale of how she does it, and has continued to do it for a long time.
The analogy is with football, (soccer).
When a player has the ball that player has an aim in mind, their own outcome, and the outcome depends on what position they play. If a defender gets the ball near his own goal then the aim is to get that ball safely up field, hopefully holding it long enough to allow the mid fielders to get in to place and the attackers to get in to their place. Then the ball gets passed to the mid field general who continues to run the show.
The desired outcome depends on what role you play in the team. The attackers run in to spaces and make themselves a nuisance to the opposition defence and make it possible for the midfield to use them to score goals. They all have an overall plan of what should happen if the sun shines and the ball bounces true. But at all times they have to be present and aware of the obstacles represented by the opposing team.
One eye on the prize, mind on the job in hand. A thought for rehearsed or remembered tactics, with most thoughts right here and right now because if you mess it up here and now then all the tactics in the world won’t restore the situation.
If that isn’t an analogy for a plan for life then nothing is.
May worked this out while she was in her formative years. She didn’t miss out on the parties or anything that extreme, but while her friends were worrying about getting that extra bit of cash for their first job she accepted that the game wasn’t just a few minutes long, it went on for 30 to 40 years. She recognised something that they didn’t, that the sun comes up and goes down, the seasons go round and round and life progresses. And that with one eye on her prize, she could work gradually towards it concentrating on being good at what she’s doing right now. Instant comparisons with friends and colleagues were something that she only indulged in now and then because May had realised that they were a fleeting snapshot. And she also knew from her research and experience that although some people sound like they are doing well, when you scratch the surface, the facade rarely matches the reality. In short some people talk a good project but too often their substance is thin.
May wasn’t noticed by her friends for a while. She beavered away at things they thought were below her skillset. But she had one thought on the outcome and her mind on the here and now.
She worked in a lot of labs doing menial work to start with.
There’s a sort of invisibility in the menial jobs that allows you to talk to people and get them to talk about their work. How they did what they did, what their goals are, how they approach procedures. People love to talk about the things they do well to an appreciative audience. She would get their contact details because she knew that everyone was important even if their time to shine is not now.
She worked through so many places learning how the places worked, learning about the people and collecting contacts. She even set aside time every now and then to talk to them on the phone, asking advice catching up, refreshing her knowledge base.
Her plan was one with a wide base and was solid. Among the people she knew were the low level technicians, they are the ones who do all the grunt work and know who’s doing what on the ground.
She talked to the team leaders who were in the middle of the politics and getting stressed and liked to unload their issues to a sensitive and understanding ear.
She talked to the project managers who ran the shows, organised the work and directed the research for the professors who were the cosseted brains behind the orgranisations.
She even took time for the money men, the accountants, the marketers and the fund raisers. She recognised early on that they all have a part to play and a viewpoint on the scheme of things.
May’s plan wasn’t world domination or espionage or extortion it was simply networking. Knowing a lot of people who did a wide variety of things.
She knew that her list would be small to start with but as she worked in more and more places and collected more people her list of people would grow. The christmas card list and the birthday card list and the catch up calls would have to be managed when the list grew. But people’s usefulness was monitored efficiently and she recognised good sources of information from noise sources who didn’t really know much. All the same everybody has a moment when they know the right thing at the right time so people didn’t get off the list. Her list, her people. They are her data mine.
She allowed her career to progress conventionally on the surface. Building her technical skills and understanding.
May is now a first class reporter of scientific information. She specialises in biological science but she has a brain that assimilates information and understands how things fit together. And she has a gift that she’s crafted. She can explain those detailed, highly technical details in a way that makes the man in the street an expert in five minutes. She can recognise the important points and explain them well.
She told the world about Ebola and the mechanisms that we should be aware of. Her information came from research but she augmented that by talking to her contacts. People who were working in research labs, from the lab tecs to the project managers. They had a unique view. She attributed their input where allowed and acknowledged it personally with words and small gifts when not allowed. Everyone deserves some recognition to give them the warm feeling that they have made a difference. A simple “I owe you one” doesn’t go nearly as far as a nice bottle of wine delivered to your door. Giving someone recognition for their part goes further than a bottle of wine or dinner when it doesn’t jeapordise their position or their future.
So that’s May. She is a quiet force to be reckoned with. She has a rough plan for life, keeps fine tuning it, keeps working on it. She has an information mine that allows her to tap in to so many places that people think she’s a witch. In some ways she is, she had a small vision based on things she had read and she worked away at it. A background business. Writing was occasional to start with but when it went from a sideline to her mainstream it was as if she had burst on to the scene.
The thing about the best personal magic is that you notice things that everyone else dismisses.
May had worked her own personal magic.