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Paws for Thought – Pekarsky Stein Mid-September Newsletter

September 22, 2014


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

They say that successful leaders surround themselves with people smarter than themselves.    Before you make the easy quip (you’re better than that!), I can say with total confidence that our newest Calgary hire, Lyndsey Dangerfield, keeps the streak in tact and I remain the least impressive person in the firm.   Since joining us in late July from a leading global recruitment firm in London, Lyndsey, a lawyer by training and Albertan by origin, has, to borrow one of her many Lyndseyisms, Crushed It.

In addition to being stuffed into our smallest office without complaint, living through our ridiculous renovation, gathering her personal belongings from Lethbridge to London like a contestant in The Amazing Race, moving her fiancé across the pond only to then introduce him to snow in September, and willingly and expertly taking on every project she’s been handed with a smile and immense good humour, she managed to find time to write this month’s Pekarsky Stein original article.    As you will soon see, we are as lucky to have Lyndsey as she is to have Gus.




Paws for Thought

As most of you devoted readers have probably noticed by now, it’s become something of a rite of passage (or, as I have come to think of it, a ‘hazing ritual’) for the newest Pekarsky Steiner to write a post for the firm blog to introduce them to the PS world. Shortly after I started at PS at the end of July, Adam casually mentioned to me in passing that my number was up in mid-September and that I was free to write about ‘anything that I want’. On the heels of this woefully ambiguous guidance, I found myself sifting through the blog archives in the hopes of sparking some inspiration. Unfortunately, this exercise had the unexpected effect of triggering immediate and enduring mental paralysis. Over the past few weeks, I’ve hemmed and I’ve hawed, I’ve typed and I’ve deleted, I’ve laid up at night agonizing over what to write about and I’m ashamed to admit that I even got so desperate at one point that I briefly considered a top ten David Letterman-inspired list showcasing what search professionals can learn from Jihadi recruiters. Finally, at the eleventh hour, my fiancé threw me a life preserver and suggested I write about a topic that is such an obvious source of thought leadership inspiration I could scarcely believe I overlooked it myself: our ancient dog, Gus. So without further ado, allow me to introduce you to my muse. 

Gus (a.k.a G-Unit, G-Force, G-Bear, Gustopher Robin, Constable Splinter and, in more formal settings, Sir G. Wirebottom) is a rescue dog. He spent the first five years of his life chained to a pole in a backyard in the ‘hood where he was neglected to the brink of death. He’d never even been to the vet let alone for a walk. And, perhaps worst of all, he went by the name Chucky. Clearly, an intervention was in order. Thankfully, he was confiscated in the nick of time by the authorities and, to cut a long story short, eventually ended up in my loving arms.

I adopted Gus four years ago this November and since then ole G-Bear has become a bit of a rags to riches story as he hammers through his bucket list: he now spends his summers hiking his paws off in the Rockies or posing like a hood ornament perched on the end of my parents’ boat; he went on an ‘exchange’ with me to London for two years and has now racked up more airmiles than all my grandparents combined; he summitted the highest mountain in Wales and England; he’s taken in Viking battle reenactments at ruins across Blighty; got inked (not as hardcore as it may sound since his tat is in his ear for ID purposes but still…); undergone a ‘gender reassignment’ of sorts; did a Jack the Ripper walking tour in London’s Eastend; commuted on London’s infamous Tube and taken scenic boat tours down the Thames; and, his crowning moment on planet earth to date, met Ricky Gervais on the streets of London. He has become, in short, a well-rounded and cultured citizen of the world and thus more than qualified to share some of his life advice with others. Here are Gus’s best pearls of wisdom as they pertain to search, business, and life in general:

Don’t Let Your Past Dictate Your Future

To say Gus was in the gutter for the first five years of his life would be a wild understatement. I’m sure he spent many a cold and lonely night chained to that godforsaken pole certain that this was to be his lot in life. And yet, against all odds, he broke free and now, let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time before he’s in talks for his own reality TV show.

You needn’t look far to see comparable examples of two-legged tycoons who rose up from the ashes in their careers. Consider Donald Trump, for instance: he’s gone bankrupt four times and yet he remains the man with the worst hair on the face of the planet one of the wealthiest and most powerful businessmen in the States. Similarly, Walt Disney was fired from his first job because – are you ready for this? – ‘he lacked imagination and had no good ideas’. He then went bankrupt a handful of times for good measure before building the empire that is Disneyland. JK Rowling was a single mom on welfare contemplating suicide before she penned her first novel in the Harry Potter series (which, by the way, was rejected by 12 different publishing houses before it was finally given the green light). Now she’s the UK’s bestselling living author with sales in excess of £238 million. Not bad for someone who was told to keep her day job when she was shopping her book. Even the beloved Colonel Sanders himself was barely scraping by at 65 with only a welfare cheque and a secret recipe for fried chicken to his name. Fortunately for The Colonel, he caught on to the power of franchising in the nick of time and morphed his secret recipe into the global fast food giant we know as KFC before dying filthy rich at the ripe old age of 90. The take-home pearl here – however trite it may seem – is that you should never let where you are now define where you’ll go tomorrow.

Greet Each Day with a Wagging Tail 

One of my absolutely favourite things about Gus is that he wakes up each and every day with a wagging tail for no obvious reason. He doesn’t care if it’s (hypothetically) snowing in September or if he’s having a good hair day or what he’s got in his bowl – he just wakes up overjoyed to be drawing breath with his people surrounding him. He’s such a happy soul that it’s virtually impossible not to let some of his happiness rub off on you.

Turns out, ole Gus who has never worked a day in his life is onto something that’ll help us out professionally. Jessica Pryce-Jones, author of Happiness at Work and CEO of iOpener says, “Happiness at work is closely correlated with greater performance and productivity as well as greater energy, better reviews, faster promotion, higher income, better health and increased happiness with life. So it’s good for organizations and individuals, too.”  Sheila Madden, Executive and Career Coach and an Organization Effectiveness Consultant adds: “You must decide ahead of time to be happy no matter what situation arises. Circumstances don’t determine your happiness, you do. Stay mentally focused and do not let yourself become distracted by the outside situations that you face. When your team sees you happy, determined to not let anything ruin your day, your optimism or your impact, they will learn to do the same. This will create resilience, confidence and, ultimately, more success. It will change you, your team and your workplace, forever.”

The application here is obvious: be happy. Not only will you, er, be happy which should be reward enough in itself but you’ll actually achieve more and get ahead faster at work. Win-win.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Gus didn’t have a single party trick in his repertoire when I first adopted him and within a week, he had mastered the ambidextrous paw shake (and for those of you with dogs, you’ll know this is quite an advanced move for a senior). In retrospect, I think I may have trained him a little overzealously as he has since expanded his tricks to include a move we call ‘the air jab’ (i.e., volunteering to shake a paw when there’s no hand out to receive it) if he thinks it might win him a scrap of anything edible.

At any rate, Gus is in good company. A surprising number of today’s household names didn’t find their best tricks until later in life: Julia Childs was a bored ex-pat housewife who couldn’t boil an egg until she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu at 37; Ronald Regan spent the first part of his adult life in Hollywood before wading into the swamp of politics at 55; even the great Adam Pekarsky didn’t break into the world of search until he was over 30. And of course we can’t forget the poster girl of professional late bloomers, Grandma Moses, who didn’t pick up a paintbrush until the tender age of 75 then went on to become one of the most iconic American artists in history. The point: it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. Period.

Be Loyal

This is a pearl that needs little explanation as everyone knows that ‘Stand By Your Man’ is the soundtrack of every good dog’s life. There is simply no other creature that does loyalty better. But loyalty in human life isn’t such a cut-and-dried concept as we’re often faced with competing loyalties when it comes to our careers. Interestingly, a 2013 Michigan State University study concluded that it literally pays to be loyal in the workplace as loyal employees actually come out ahead in their T4s. Susan Linz, the lead author of the study and a professor of economics tidily summarized the study’s findings as follows: “We know that firms realize financial gain from loyal workers, but we wanted to know if they share those benefits with the workers. And among the more than 650 workplaces included in our study the answer is yes, they are sharing the wealth.”

I humbly suggest we extend this concept of workplace loyalty to include previous employers and employees. It’s in your best interests to show loyalty even after you’ve moved on because you never know when you might need to draw on previous employers’ support again, even if only for a simple reference. And bosses, don’t forget this one cuts both ways. If people move on for the right reasons they can still be powerful marketing tools for your business so don’t burn bridges while licking your wounds.

So, be loyal. Not just because it pads your pockets but also because, in the words of legendary LA Dodger’s manager Tommy Lasorda, “you give loyalty, you’ll get it back”.

Don’t be Scared to Fail Now and Again

Gus is a walking gong show. He’s accidentally dunked himself in the Thames (three times) then gone into what can only be described as an aquatic seizure because he thinks he can’t swim, he’s been suctioned out of gooey mud pits up to his neck, slipped off bridges and belly flopped into streams, been lost twice, done random face plants on the sidewalk – the list is embarrassingly long and I’ll spare him the humiliation of full disclosure. Suffice it to say, he struggles to make it through a single day without some kind of an epic fail. Yet despite his never ending missteps, he’s proven to be utterly unflappable and immune to fear of failure or ridicule. They call it ‘dogged’ determination for a reason.

Here again, the history books are peppered with examples of biped legends who started out as shockingly dismal failures. Thomas Edison’s teachers wrote him off as a dud before he turned around and got unceremoniously canned from his first two jobs for being a deadbeat. He apparently had equal amounts of time and determination on his hands as he then went on to take 1,000 cracks at the light bulb before finally getting it right. Steven Spielberg was a high school dropout that got turned away from film school three times; John Grisham’s first novel was rejected by 16 agents and 12 publishing houses; both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs dropped out of college in favour of the school of hard knocks; Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team – the list is long, star-studded, and in a strange way, kind of encouraging. Imagine what the world would be like if they’d all thrown in the towel at the first stumbling block. I’d be sitting here in the dark pecking away on a typewriter, for one.

We live in a world that worships the illusion of perfection and disdains anything that falls short of it. Our society teaches us to see failure as a sign of weakness and inadequacy and not as the occasional byproduct of challenging ourselves. But I think we’ve got it all backwards. I think we should see failure as a sign of strength because it means you were willing to stick your head above the parapet and take the risk in the first place; it’s the weak ones who are too scared to even try.

If you live a big life, you’re going to make big, fat mistakes now and again and you’re going to have those days where you take a page out of Gus’s book and do a random face plant on the sidewalk. It’s inevitable.  So learn to embrace the glorious highs and crushing lows of the whole journey and take comfort in the knowledge that if you keep dusting yourself off and getting back up, you’ll get there eventually. The Queen of Bouncing Back, JK Rowling herself, said it best: ‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” I think we all owe it to ourselves to live lives that are bigger and better than failure by default.

So there you have it folks, Gus’s five bones worth of advice. I hope you found some meat on at least one of the bones worth savouring. As we go to print, he still has some availability for weddings, keynote speaking engagements and bar mitzvahs next year so book early if you’re interested. You can also join him online for his free monthly webinars at or follow him on Twitter @feeltherealgforce. As for me, I’ve got to excuse myself to go return a few calls from the  networks…

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Lyndsey Dangerfield is a Principal with Pekarsky Stein, a member of the Law Society of Alberta, an active member of the Calgary community and an incredibly funny and talented human being.