Proper way of coaching the young and anxious

I’m sure that like me you have been hearing about the increasing number of young people who feel anxious and depressed, even suicidal. And this is not just the poor and the unqualified. It includes many of the brightest and the best, the most educated and affluent.

In a BBC programme the other day there was a feature on the increasing number of suicides in Kenya, and later an interview with a life coach who talked about helping her clients to stop indulging in “negative self-talk”. Then I read an article on the BBC website about “insecure over-achievers”, and another on why young Germans are pessimistic.

What a gloomy collection.

I related all too closely to each of these items, as in the last few weeks I have been coaching several young graduates, all extremely bright and multi-talented, all with extraordinary academic as well as non-academic achievements behind them… yet all so anxious about themselves and their futures.

In addition to excelling in their studies they had experienced success in sports and the arts, they’d been chosen for leadership positions, and had contributed as volunteers in their communities.

Despite all their talents and achievements though, despite possessing the needed energy, confidence and boldness to have performed as they did, they felt deeply unsure about themselves. They spoke of lofty aspirations to make the world a better place, yet lacked a sense of where and how to proceed. “I feel quite lost,” one of these super-achievers admitted to me.

So what does a coach like me do? What, as someone who is currently training to become a coach asked me recently, is my “coaching model”? First, I ask my clients to tell me about themselves – which most find it surprisingly awkward to do. When I asked one to tell me which of her many achievements she was proudest of she fumbled, confessing she had never considered the question.

As I have observed such awkwardness over the years I have deduced that a common cause is not wishing to “brag”. Some of my clients worried they would come across as “impostors”, indeed saw themselves as such, leading them to lose their self-assuredness when talking about themselves.

So accepting this is how they feel, the next step is to have them talk about their achievements as if they were a disengaged outsider straightforwardly examining the evidence, with neither hype nor understatement – as stated in their CVs, yet embarrassing to articulate.

I press gently, knowing it will be hard for them, helping them to shed unwanted baggage accumulated over the years.

I express my admiration for them, urging them to relax and share my enthusiasm, to accept, enjoy… celebrate.

I also help them create the missing link between their achievements and the strengths that explain them with the self-esteem to which they have earned the right. It should be easy and obvious, but it is not, neither for them nor for countless other over-achievers. I adopt a light touch, teasing them with their refusal to link how wonderful they are with how they see themselves.

They begin to relax and shed their self-inflicted burdens, allowing us to explore how what they have shown they offer to the world, what they enjoy doing and are good at, can be matched with what the world is looking for. Now they are ready work on a much higher impact version of their CVs – their sales brochure, and then launch a confident sales campaign to promote a product of which they are proud.

Before I close, let me say how pleased I am that the Ministry of Education has at last decided that all universities must have offices for careers services. Forty years ago, through AIESEC and Rotaract, I began running self-exploration workshops at universities to prepare students for the workplace.

Then and now, at both secondary and tertiary levels, such support is virtually absent. No wonder therefore that so many of our most talented graduates feel confused and directionless. There is much work to be done. But it goes way beyond outlining career options. The process must start by going deep within the individual psyche.

What to do when mounting sense of frustration hits

By coincidence, last week not one but two of my coaching clients asked me to take time with them so they could do a better job of handling growing feelings of frustration.

As a result they were becoming unduly irritable and sometimes downright angry; they were more intolerant, even shouting at those who did not deserve their wrath.

As I prepared for my sessions with them I immediately thought about the need for emotional intelligence, in which those who rate highly first acknowledge their own emotions and feelings. They then manage them, and next carefully assess how those with whom they interact are feeling and hence behaving, before working at building positive relationships with them.

My clients were having to deal with an unusual number of people who were acting unreliably, disrespectfully and unethically. But despite how they felt about the unfortunate way they were being treated, their emotional intelligence challenge was to find the strength to separate their feelings from their behaviour, aware of the negative consequences of not doing so.

For those with emotional intelligence remain calm and disengaged enough to evaluate what behaviour will work most effectively in making difficult situations better, rather than to stagnate or degenerate further. They try to empathise with their awkward others despite how they are behaving, figuring out what lies behind their unhelpful posture. (Maybe how they are confronting them is disconnected from the root cause of their behaviour.)

How can a non-performer, an antagonist, be won over to deliver what is wanted, to become an ally? How can we use our negotiating skills, our powers of persuasion, a lightness of touch, to get to some adequate win-win resolution of an issue? What can we offer to make it easier for the other party to reciprocate with their own reaching out, responding positively to our requests? Imagine how a mediator would approach the situation, going back and forth till both sides feel adequately satisfied.

At times it may feel good to give vent to our frustrations, to allow ourselves to ‘lose it’, knowing that’s what the other deserves. But the immediate sense of gratification is quite likely to make the situation yet worse, and yet more difficult to recover from.

Not always, mind you, and in particular if we have been allowing ourselves to be taken for granted. Then it may be just what’s needed. Better still if we actually had not lost control but had actively decided that showing our frustration was what was needed.

Another option is to pull back and disengage, having assessed the chances of being able to move forward as slim: there’s no point wasting emotional energy for nothing, right? It’s why we are advised to choose our battles carefully.
Over the years I have been running workshops on stress management, in which I advise participants to divide their sources of stress into three categories. The first is where the possibility exists to change something that will immediately and completely remove the source of stress. The second is an intermediate position, where over time some progress may be possible. And the third is one where there’s nothing we can do to change what’s happening and so we must just live with it – while seeking to migrate to happier environments, at least for some of our time.

As a way of detaching myself from those who are frustrating me I console myself by writing about the issue – often in my journal, and if I am really upset through hammering out an angry poem. It’s very therapeutic. Certainly sharing frustrations with a family member, a friend or a colleague is helpful, and if possible combining with others to pursue a common cause.

In search of solace and inspiration many turn to prayer, and some to meditation. Exercise is helpful too, as are hobbies – anything to occupy our minds and our bodies in uplifting ways. All this we know.

The challenge is that when frustrations mount, we must not wait too long before we pray or run or write or do whatever helps us cope. So breathe deeply and smoothly, friends, and this too shall pass.

Our economists should have more influential voice

In 1967, having graduated from university with a degree in economics, I earned the right to place BSc Econ after my name. Had I gained the equivalent qualification as an architect here in Kenya I would now call myself Arch. Mike Eldon; if I would have become an accountant I would now boast of being CPA Mike Eldon; and as an engineer I would swagger in the glory of being identified as Eng. Mike Eldon. Not to mention our “learned friends” in the legal profession. Yet as a ‘mere’ economist I must humbly introduce myself as simply Mr. Mike Eldon.

Why is this? The question has fleetingly passed through my mind from time to time. But it was only when I heard from Dr. Julius Muia, the Principal Secretary in the State Department for Planning (at least, having earned a PhD, he is able to place “Dr.” before his name), that one of his goals is to uplift the status of economists in this country that I began to think about the issue more seriously.

I reliably learned that the national government has over 400 economists who functionally report to the Principal Secretary, Planning – but that no fresh ones have been recruited since 2011.

Dr. Muia informed me that the State Department for Planning recently asked the Commission for University Education to establish how many students are studying economics and related programmes in our universities, and he was amazed to be told that it was over 25,000.

So now he wants to create closer links between them and their professors, and the economists in his ministry; and he also is looking into how to form an Economists and Statisticians Association of Kenya, ‘ESAC’. (Yes, another neglected discipline, the statistical one.)

Back to my education in economics. Sure, economists are often mocked, and maybe, just maybe, for good reason. First we are told that they can never agree on how to deal with the issues in their field – hence the line that ‘if you were to lay out all the economists in the world end-to-end you would come to no conclusion’.

And then, right back from when I was a student over half a century ago, it was said that economists could never get even their diagnoses about the economy right, never mind any prescriptions, as they were “always applying yesterday’s theory” – that was by now already out of date and discredited. (Shades of the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme?)

Leaving the all-too-easy mockery aside I am so grateful that, lacking enthusiasm for my science A-Level subjects in high school, I went along with my father’s suggestion that I should consider studying economics at university – as he had done in the 1920s at the London School of Economics, travelling from his native Romania to do so.

My years in the mid-sixties at University College London opened up my powers of critical analysis and connected me to the big economic issues of the day, assets that I have carried with me ever since.

Little wonder therefore that I am still in touch with Vicky Chick, one of my lecturers from my time at UCL, and that a few months ago I was happy to respond to an invitation to pay tribute to Prof. Spraos, the then head of the economics department, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

A belated benefit of my BSc Econ is that in my work with the World Bank in recent years I have been forced to resuscitate my dormant economics grounding, allowing me to speak in the language of industrial-strength experts in the domain.

In conclusion let me applaud Dr. Muia for his determination to raise the profile and status of economists and also statisticians, so that together they can develop a more influential voice in our society as they lay out the options we face, and help us reach rational sustainable solutions.

We are all potential beneficiaries of such a noble initiative, and so I am all for it.

Lessons from the character of John McCain

Like millions of others, I witnessed the uplifting memorial service to honour former war hero, senator and presidential candidate John McCain.

Mr McCain’s daughter Meghan was the first to pay tribute to him. “We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness,” she lamented. “The real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly.”

And later, in the most quoted part of her address: “The America of John McCain is generous and welcoming and bold, she is resourceful and confident and secure, she meets her responsibilities, she speaks quietly because she is strong. America does not boast, because she does not need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great.”

Former Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman was next to speak. Mr Lieberman was Republican McCain’s first choice as running mate when he stood for president in 2008, but conservative Republicans were uncomfortable with Mr Lieberman’s support for abortion, so he was not selected.

Among those listening to Mr Lieberman’s personal and at times humorous speech about his friend were the Clintons, the Bushes and the Obamas – the three couples sitting next to each other in the front row, alongside three former vice presidents, Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden.

Ninety-nine year old Henry Kissinger followed Lieberman, speaking in his heavy German accent about McCain’s important role in reconciling America and Vietnam following the war – despite having been a prisoner in Vietnam for over five years and being tortured repeatedly.

Now it was the turn of George Bush, eloquent and statesmanlike, and then his successor in the White House, Barrack Obama. Mr Obama revealed that McCain had called him earlier in the year to invite him to speak at his memorial service. A sure sign, winked Mr Obama, of the man’s sense of mischief. “What better way to get the last laugh than to get George and me to say nice things about him to a national audience?”

Earlier, Mr Lieberman had referred to the incident during Mr McCain’s presidential campaign when a woman at a town hall meeting spoke offensively about Mr Obama and Mr McCain told her off. Mr Obama now told us he wasn’t surprised that, as Mr Lieberman had put it, by instinct and without needing to consult anyone, this man who so lacked prejudice did the right thing.

Mr Obama also shared that when he was president, from time to time he would meet with Mr McCain to talk about policies and politics. They certainly didn’t agree on everything, but they learned from each other and they laughed together. “For all our differences, and they were deep, we never doubted that we were on the same team.”

He praised Mr McCain for “always striving to be better, to do better” and, like all the others who spoke before him, Mr Obama wished Americans today could indulge in more of the bipartisan and civilised political engagement (“not small and mean and petty”) that Mr McCain so richly personified. He disparaged those who “appeared brave and tough”, but more likely spoke out of fear.

Each speaker condemned the current divisive and abrasive style of US politics, telling positive stories about the man they were honouring, about how he forgave and sought forgiveness, about how honest, fair and civilised he was. They regretted the way the broader American society had regressed, wishing it could follow the example set by Mr McCain.

But would anything that was said make a difference? Would any of America’s leaders, never mind Mr Trump, behave any differently as a result? I was not holding my breath, and I was right not to. Any more than I do after our National Prayer Breakfasts and similar occasions here, where equally uplifting sentiments are expressed by the high and mighty, only for them to revert to the default aggressive, abusive language immediately they leave the venue.

One commentator asked if some of America’s younger senators would take on Mr McCain’s mantle. And by the way, will any of our younger politicians rise above the lowest common denominator of Kenyan politics? Will our recent “Handshake” take root, overcoming the never-ending divisive campaigning? Or will our politicians and voters continue playing our same dysfunctional games?

Firms grow with systems, vision and inspiration

Some years ago I wrote enthusiastically about John Kotter’s “eight steps to change” that many, including here in Kenya, have followed as a guide to transforming their organisations.

Kotter laid these out in his 1996 book, Leading Change, and then 10 years later, together with Holger Rathberger, he published Our Iceberg Is Melting, that brought the eight steps together as a fable in the style of Who Moved My Cheese?

The iceberg that Harvard guru Kotter wrote about was in Antarctica, home for many years to a colony of penguins. Then one day, a curious bird discovered a worrying crack under the ice.

But at first no one seemed interested. Gradually though, he persuaded penguins of greater emotional intelligence and influence to help the colony overcome its resistance to change — following Kotter’s eight steps.

So its leaders were eventually persuaded that the iceberg was under such threat that if they were to survive they would have to migrate to another location.

I have recommended the book to many people and now, a decade after their penguin fable, I was delighted to see that Kotter has again collaborated with Rathbeger to produce another one, about a large meerkat clan in the Kalahari Desert.

Following years of easy growth, managed through well-defined command-and-control hierarchies and strict job descriptions, with supporting systems and rules, the meerkats were threatened first by a drought and then by deadly vulture attacks.

As things got worse the clan’s harmony disintegrated and the blame game erupted.

The “Alpha” executive team quarreled about possible solutions, and doubted whether they even needed to change their rigid systems.

Suggestions from front-line workers were met with the classic change-averse response: “That’s not how we do it here!” Hence the title of the book.

Nadia, a bright and adventurous meerkat who had been identified as an emerging leader, was so fed up that she left the clan and went in search of new ideas to help her troubled folk.

She discovered a much smaller group that operated with wonderfully participative teamwork and agility.

The meerkats here had developed innovative ways of finding food and evading the vultures, as a result of which their numbers started growing rapidly.

But the more new meerkats arrived to join them the more difficult it became to sustain the informal approach that had worked so well when they were fewer.

While the leadership style remained great, they lacked the robust management systems needed to deal with issues in a disciplined way, and so coordination became impossible and morale and motivation levels collapsed. Things fell apart.

Nadia began thinking about how to combine the best of both worlds: the benefits of the systems that handled the large, disciplined, well-managed clan, along with those of the agile, creative leadership that drove the smaller, informal one.

She returned to her original clan, where she set out to convince its traditional leaders to adopt more of the agility and innovativeness of where she had just come from.

And despite initial resistance, with the expected reasons-why-not mindset, eventually complacency and conservatism declined among enough of them, the organisational pyramid flattened, and with new energy and confidence they succeed in growing and flourishing again despite the ongoing challenges.

The moral of the story is straightforward: as organisations face uncertainty and the increasing complexity that comes with scale, both the disciplined systems of management (without the commonplace stultifying bureaucracy) and the vision and inspiration of leadership are essential.

It need not and should not be either/or: as I have always believed, any good manager must be a good leader and vice versa.

This book, this fable, has spelt it out more clearly and vividly than I have ever seen it attempted before. It concludes with a chapter suggesting how to approach having the cake and eating it, in which we are advised to follow Kotter’s original eight steps to change: create a sense of urgency; build a guiding coalition; form a strategic vision; enlist a volunteer army; remove barriers; generate quick wins; sustain acceleration; and institutionalise the change.

All this must take place without killing off the founding fast, entrepreneurial culture that needs to remain egalitarian, fluid and innovative.

Involve staff in layoff plan to ease feelings

In the last few months I have come across numerous examples of employees who, as a result of a planned restructuring of the organisation in which they work, feel they will be losing out.

They expect to suffer from woes such as diminished seniority, influence, control and prestige — even redundancy, while more practically also worrying about reduced earnings and cramped career prospects.

Why does restructuring occur? It can be because of new market circumstances or technology requirements, and so the need for different skills and attitudes; it can flow from mergers and acquisitions, or just from new leaders with different preferences (hopefully not simply wanting to make their presence felt or to fill key positions with loyalists).

These upheavals can result in a wider or narrower geographical presence, increased or reduced staff numbers, and many other consequences too, all tumbling around together. Then, the larger an organisation becomes the greater the need for multiple reporting relationships within intricate matrix structures; and also for temporary work groups that can respond with agility to new opportunities and challenges.

Inevitably, salary structures and incentive schemes must be revised to align with these changes.

So much volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity: the VUCA thing! No wonder it leaves many perplexed and frustrated. While the fear of impending loss may be misplaced, either way how the people feel is real, and for some the loss may indeed be significant. So like with the loss of loved ones, they will journey through the well-defined stages of grieving: from denial to acceptance to mourning… and hopefully to eventual healing.

People react differently when dealing with loss. Demoralised and demotivated, some may withdraw, perhaps sulk, but not always obviously. The angry and aggressive will resist the new situation, fight back, protest, perhaps sabotage it and disrupt those around them, suppliers and others. Others will rise to the occasion, go with the flow and become reluctant heroes to their bosses and others.

So how can one overcome people’s feelings of loss? How can they be helped to come to terms with it, sacrificing their immediate wellbeing? And how can their bosses and colleagues work with them to mitigate the consequences of these losses? Do they show sympathy? Offer support?

The first requirement from their superiors is to recognise that in any reshuffle there are likely to be losers. Identify who they are, and accept the reality of how they feel. Then find ways of comforting and compensating them.

One company with which I am familiar is planning a restructuring thanks to the ongoing growth of its branch network, and is doing so in a highly participative way. As part of a strategy review meeting of the board and top management, those leading the teams whose jobs will be affected were tasked with proposing how the new structure may look. Brainstorming followed at the meeting, in which the pros and cons of the alternatives were assessed and consensus built around one.

In another organisation I have also been impressed by the leaders, who inspired many of their people to make short-term sacrifices in order to strengthen their personal longer-term prospects while building a more robust future for the whole entity.

The “losers” who perform most nobly today will be duly rewarded in the rosier times ahead, while graceless grumblers will either drop out or be asked to leave.

Much of the stress that accompanies restructuring is caused by a transfer of sales prospects from one part of a company to another. For example, larger projects may be moved to specialised head-office functions, with those in branch offices losing out. So can the branch people still play a role, benefiting from at least a share of such revenues and of the accompanying bonuses?

So my plea is simple. Not because a leader should be “nice”, but in order to keep the workforce together as a cohesive and motivated team, do consider ways of reaching an adequacy of win-win – particularly for those who would otherwise become unhappy and thus less productive losers.

Leadership character can be used positively to empower others

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to be a panelist on NTV’s am Live Friday morning Leadership Forum, and when anchor Debarl Inea told me the theme would be “Leadership Character” I began thinking about how to fill the few minutes I would be given within the programme to present on the subject.

My mind immediately went to the World Cup football match between Colombia and England I had watched a few days before, in which the Colombian players behaved with uninhibited aggression against their opponents, not least when English players looked like striking at goal.

Yellow card followed yellow card, and then a penalty was awarded against the spoilers, showing them that their inability to hold back from manhandling the English players did not pay.

Thanks to the presence of the referee, and hence to bad character being penalised, the more restrained English carried the day. Then, as I drove to Nation Centre for the early morning show, even at that pre-dawn hour I encountered numerous examples of rude driving, and not just by matatus. Gratuitously ignoring priority, lane discipline or any kind of courtesy, wherever such road-hogs saw the opportunity to jump ahead of others they took it, with no second thought.

So finding the strength to hold back from doing the wrong thing became the mantra for my slot about what it takes to be of good character. The next examples I talked about that morning were positive ones, first about the faculty at KCA University.

Just the day before, as chairman of its University Council, I had told the Commission for University Education committee carrying out their five-year audit about how our staff have launched numerous initiatives to become really lean, making great sacrifices in time and money, taking more courses with no extra pay, understanding it was to build a stronger future for the university and for themselves.

They showed great character, as did the university leadership in leading the way and inspiring them to such mature behaviour.

Next I went back to my time as general manager of a British IT multinational in the late seventies, when my mzungu bosses expected me to be the feared macho manager, the Big Man who gave instructions and whose word was law. Somehow, I found the strength to defy them by trusting my people, empowering and supporting them, against the inclinations of my superiors… who therefore saw me as “weak and indecisive”.

Rising to the national level I hammered the kind of win-lose leadership character embraced by the likes of Trump and Turkey’s Erdogan, leaders who lack the strength to hold back from stirring up their bases against “the other”… an approach likely to end up in lose-lose.

I contrasted these disrupters to win-win consensus-builders such as Obama, Trudeau and Macron, who bring their people together around a higher purpose and shared uplifting values. I also praised our local “Handshake” duo, while condemning all our politicians who take the easy way to electoral victory by appealing to ethnic loyalties and treating their supporters “generously”. These supporters meanwhile are fully aware of who would make the better leader, the one who would bring development and improve services. But most lack the strength to hold back from casting their vote for an ethnic posturer, and a cash-spreading one at that.

I concluded by reading the quotation by Henry Ford from the back page of the day’s Business Daily that ‘Quality means doing it right when no one is looking’. (As, by coincidence, was previewed earlier by my fellow panelist Gituro Wainaina.) I and my fellow panelists agreed that it is the leaders above all who must find the strength to hold back from doing the wrong thing, and it is they who must inspire others to do so – ensuring there are rewards for behaving with good character and penalties for falling short.

Around the time I was writing this article I watched a CNN programme on Washington DC in which this quote from Abraham Lincoln featured: ‘Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.’ Including testing their power to hold back from doing the wrong thing.

Monitoring, evaluating… and then what?

This is an article I wrote for ‘UN Special’, a magazine published by the UN for civil servants.

Click here (link will open in a new window).

Book review: NEW TOME: A journey through Ethiopian churches

And here’s a link to one of my book reviews which was recently published in the East African:

Click here (link will open in a new window).

Write more like you talk to get the message across

When I came to Kenya in the late seventies I was struck by how very differently people here wrote from the way I had been used to in the UK. It was as though I had journeyed back in time to the Edwardian or even Victorian eras of stiffness and formality.

As I wondered why the way I had been brought up to write was so much more relaxed, I same across how “Commercial English” was taught in schools and colleges.

Just as at occasions where formal speeches are delivered, everything was (and to a large extent still is) about being “proper” and observing “protocol”. Never mind among lawyers in court, with their horse-hair wigs and their white bands instead of ties.

No wonder bolder speech-givers, not wishing to waste time, now open with the “All protocols observed” short cut… except that too many still only do so after already having recognised a long list of dignitaries present. (At my cheekiest I have taken this further by launching speeches with “No protocols observed”.)

The formalised writing style is perhaps at its most stultified in minute-writing, as those taking them too often prize convoluted elegance over meaningful, punchy reports.

I experienced a classic case of such “proper” minutes following a recent council committee meeting of a state body of which I have been a council member.

The minutes were presented at the full council that followed, with all the statutory requirements fulfilled but with nothing of the robust brainstorming that had dominated the proceedings included: all that was important had been ignored, leaving only empty expressions of compliance.

In a session on effective written communication I ran a few weeks ago at the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications I asked the participants how alive their writing was. “How different is the way you write from the way you talk?” I posed, and not surprisingly the reactions were overwhelmingly that their writing was indeed very different, requiring so much more effort.

I then introduced my central message, urging them to write much more like how they talked, to think about dictating what they would otherwise have said: to write conversationally, as though it were a transcript. And for this to happen it was essential that they unlearned what they had been taught in school and college about what was “proper” English.

Here I quoted novelist Elmore Leonard, who claimed: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” And a further thought came from another novelist, Ray Bradbury: “Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” Tell a story, I suggested in my last column, which means have your narrative flow, with a good beginning, middle and end.

Next I turned to my experience as an editor, where (particularly for those with “at least a Master’s degree”) I help them simplify their language, using short words in short sentences in short paragraphs. Another quote helped me on my way, from Churchill: “Short words are best.”

I couldn’t have put it more clearly! I talked about using verbs more interesting than “have” and “get”, about keeping to the active rather than passive forms, and I encouraged them to occasionally pose questions that they then answer. Oh, and to sort out the difference between colons and semi-colons.

Not just here, too many people merely aim for adequacy in their writing – more so in this age of texting and tweeting. It’s just to get the basics of a message across, with no thought of quality.

Others, though, feel disrespected if they receive scruffy writing that hasn’t been Spellchecked or proof-read. So as we rush out our texts, whether on our laptops or our phones, it pays to pause and read through what you have written – and not just once. I don’t know about you, but I am frequently surprised by some typo or other issue that had escaped by notice till that extra perusal.

My concluding advice for those at my session was to “Write, write write; keep getting better; and be proud of what you have created.”

Greek philosopher Epictetus put it well: “If you want to be a writer, write.”