op-ed: on leadership, writing, and BC wine

op-ed: on leadership, writing, and BC wine

To grow good writers, like good leaders, we have a part to play in an unspoken but necessary social contract in which it’s required of us to hold them to task and provide an environment for them to get better at what they do. And before we unpack this loaded statement, let’s take a breath together. <breathe, please>

The sentence begins with a series of assumptions (the reader is in a democratic place, has the ability and want for good writers and good leaders), and includes an agreed upon definition of ‘good’ in relation to ‘writers’ and ‘leaders’ with a not-so-thinly-veiled layer of morality. A ‘social contract’ assumes the reader is part of a type of a (likely privileged) society, participates in it, and understands the role they play. Further, there’s an assumption we want to improve: on our participation, our status, ourselves as people along that scale of ‘good’ for themselves and the world in which they belong (the immediate and greater).

A reader can infer a lot about the writer from a seemingly simple sentence presented as opinion editorial. Recently I had opportunity to briefly discuss my inherent assumption of the social contract (thank you, Christine & David), that there is one, and how I use it as a lens through which to view my participation and the engagement of others. The conversation was challenging, but not a challenge of my ideas and perspective; it required me to ask questions of myself and in doing so helped me to better see my own lens (read: bias). As a writer, my continued development requires an awareness and it’s something I struggle to remind myself of.

on leaders

While it’s part of our social contract to engage with each other and our leaders (political, employment, community), it behooves us to do so constructively (another term loaded with assumption). On my new writing platform I’ve written about leading with heart (my friend Sandra Oldfield) and I subscribe to general concepts of leadership as touched on by poet and author David Whyte. A strong element of ‘good’ (assumption) leadership is the willingness to be vulnerable, allowing space for those around you to do the work they’re meant to do and, in doing this work, provide breathing room and growth opportunities for those in positions of leadership. It’s akin to geese flying south, each taking turns to lead; if one remained in the leadership space, it would be exhausted and the whole flying V would fail. Geese are emblematic of offering that space, of showing their vulnerabilities (“hey, I can’t do this alone”), of asking for help.

From small businesses to larger corporate organizations, good leadership can make or break its workplace culture and the culture within which the business operates. I have experience with all aspects along this spectrum, from great leaders in small businesses to poor leaders in larger ones and vice-versa. One common fault with poor leaders is an inability or reluctance to see success in others as their own. One universal strength in great leaders is the value they place on the successes of their team, as individuals and a larger group. Basically, good leaders give a damn about the people around them.

on writing

Part of my social contract as a writer involves engaging with my surroundings, looking for, and seeing, these differences. At present my surroundings include a still somewhat fragile and relatively new BC wine industry, growing at a fast rate. It’s an industry I love and believe in, populated largely with people who work tirelessly for something they might not realize in their lifetime. Friends, acquaintances, colleagues put forward a vision larger than themselves and strive to see it – and others – succeed. That’s leadership, from the ground up. A large part of my role is to identify those people, champion for them, and help direct a small light their way whenever I can.

This shining of light on the good in our industry comes with the equally important task of doing the same in the darker corners that we’d rather not speak of. Perhaps it’s part of that hard to define Canadianism where politeness obscures a need for frankness, but I struggle with how to mindfully engage these darker corners publicly – although I have an obligation (social contract) to do so. However, earlier this week I broke free of my reluctance and asked a difficult question in a very public forum. I didn’t expect an answer, although I do expect some attention be paid to it and will follow up.

And so, here is the start of an open correspondence with one of the new leaders in the BC wine community.

Mr. Peller, I’m a writer who pays attention to BC wine. Almost exclusively, as a matter of fact. I have been a small voiced champion of the BC wine industry for 1o years, since I moved to the Okanagan in 2007 and began to write. Like BC wine, my platform is small. And like a good amount writers I have a day job to pay the mortgage because many of those in our BC wine industry who value the contributions of people like me don’t always have the resources to support me with regularity. But here I am.

My commitment to the BC wine industry is in continuing to champion the great things being done by nice people who are good leaders, and now with equal weight I’m committed to holding to task those in positions of leadership within the BC wine community who have the resources and strength to truly lead. People like you and your organization. Your new social contract with the BC wine industry began the moment the physical contracts for your recent acquisitions were signed. Please know this, truly, deeply, and hold it with much gravity.

You are not alone. You have the strength of the BC wine community with you should you choose to engage with it, as good leaders. Your success can be found in those within the community you help to lead, and that happens when we’re united in realizing our collective success.

Before we head down the road of any five-point-plans, we need to look within ourselves to be the community team I know is there. That takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable. I’ve seen it in every facet of this BC wine community. I hope you, Mr. Peller, can see it too. I hope you’re willing to be vulnerable. That’s the kind of leader that can help realize the collective success of the most awesome group of skill, talent, and dedication that is within our BC wine community.

I’ll be in touch. My people – well, I – will contact your people.

~ Jeannette

 

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From a Field of Dreams: the road to Area 27

In the autumn of 2013, my website provider and business neighbour inquired if I might be open to taking on a new writing assignment. His client – a private motorsport club trying to build in the south Okanagan – had need for a series of online articles to help attract new members and position themselves in the market. Oh, and Jacques Villeneuve would be involved and my neighbour knew I liked cars. Was I interested? After a three second delay, I said yes.

Almost four years, 94 website articles, and hundreds of international media placements later, the idea that was Area 27 is now a 4.83km asphalted racetrack. Acres of unproductive cornfield (often left fallow) have been contoured and carved into challenging elevation changes with 16 corners and more than one blind apex. It might be the only racetrack where drivers look to the horizon and a mountain to help pick their line through a turn, and it’s certainly the only one I saw be paved over the course of six ridiculously hot desert summer days.

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Writing is an interesting vocation in the days of digital media and insta-sharing. Words have always held weight and they still do. Yet with an increased number of platforms to write comes an increased number of writers attempting to stake a claim on one of those platforms, resulting in a dilution of quality. Finding a channel through which to tell a story might be easier now but it’s more difficult to share that story in a way that matters. This wasn’t part of the request, but it was my task with Area 27.

We decided to add personality to an unknown quantity. Who joins a membership-based motorsport club that is yet to be built? Through a series of member profiles, we got our answers: Asgar Virji, the low-key and quick-to-smile president of Weissach Motors; Daryl Carter, founding member and now semi-retired business coach who lives quietly in Penticton with his collection of vintage American muscle cars; Robert Sinneave, founding member who modifies exotic performance cars, operates an antiques business (although he does more buying than selling), and adopts rescue horses on his Kelowna ranch; Tracy Banner, early Area 27 member and tea blender who has a love for a certain 1991 MR2; Christian Chia, who changed the new car dealership model with Open Road Auto Group (he’s founder and CEO) and happens to love to race competitively.

There are literally hundreds more unique stories of people who, for a variety of reasons, decided to take a risk and put their money where their hearts were. In taking a risk on the track they took a risk on those involved – me included. In the last four years I have met so many people who trusted me to share their story well. Once this group gets talking about why they wanted to be involved, there’s no stopping them. I’m grateful for their trust.

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We shared these and other stories on the website, building a library of information and becoming the primary location for all things Area 27. It established personality for the club. Next, we moved on to the grassroots platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to spread the news. These channels provide writers with easier access to sharing stories and yet all these voices create noise, so the challenge remains: how to make people give a damn and want to read your story. It’s not rocket science, but I can’t disclose all of my secrets here. Sorry. Let’s just say we did it and it worked.

Was it an easy road? No. Did we always agree? Goodness, no. There are dozens of things I would have done differently along the way, but although I’m the one telling the story it’s not my story.

Today, Area 27 has a significant presence in the motorsport world and a substantial measure of awareness in its community. It’s just enough to pique the curiosity of most and call to action those who are avid motorsport enthusiasts. For a private motorsport club, that’s a fine balance to hold. With limited membership numbers almost reached (capacity is 300), I’m satisfied with the presence I helped to build for Area 27.

After almost four years of collecting and sharing these stories, it’s time for me to close the door and make space for others. It’s been an interesting road and one I am grateful to have had opportunity to be on. To those who helped make this possible, I thank you. Each of you knows who you are.

Farewell, Area 27. Enjoy your life on track. I might be departing from behind the scenes but I know we’ll cross paths again.

~ Jeannette

Photo 2017-06-03, 12 17 35 PM (1)

 

(photos taken by me, while under contract with Area 27)

for the love of good: if everything is awesome, nothing is awesome

For better or worse (I argue the latter), we’re smitten with sharing naught but the supposed awesome of every moment of our lives. Social media and digital news feeds are a barrage of best day / spouse / thing EVER proclamations. Despite my want to believe in the positive and great, I’m suspect of any projected image wherein each day is the best, every dinner the most amazing, and all wines are awesome.

The lens through which I view life is one of optimistic realism. On the balance of probabilities, I accept that a “best” of something will occasionally cross my path while a “good” representation is most likely to be the encounter – with “not so good” also an option. Popular expectation of how much fantastic we’ll experience is severely out of whack. Subsequently, we have assigned a new and lower value to good. Nothing stands out from a crowd if the average is set at awesome. When did good lose its charm?

our language

In October 2014 I visited the Clare region of Nova Scotia, where my Acadian family speaks a localized French as our first language. Listening to my relatives chatter in Acadian-ese is both confusing and comforting; the cadence of their speech carries as much emotional expression as their word choice and, in some cases, more – such as when an English word is spoken with the Acadian accent. Adjectives are appropriated and change with emphasis, while nouns gain and lose syllables at random. Hello changes to ‘ello and ‘allo!, eventually becoming ‘ah-lo?! when popping one’s head into a neighbour’s house for an unannounced visit.

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in awe of the atlantic: cause of countless shipwrecks with as many stories, and steps from my father’s childhood home

Among the many interesting discoveries in translating Acadian to English is a word used by my uncle with regularity: satisfied. From discussing his recent furnace replacement to sharing a favourite dining spot in Yarmouth, my uncle referred to being satisfied rather than stating he was happy (or happy with something). I’m paraphrasing, but a typical conversation involving his satisfaction would go like this:

Me: Did you like the clam chowder?

Uncle Anselme: I usually don’t order clam chowder, because I’m particular about clam chowder. But this was nice. I’m satisfied.

or this…

Me: How is your new furnace working?

Uncle Anselme: It’s more efficient than the last one and less noisy. I’d say I’m satisfied with my choice. 

We’ve come to accept happy as a new standard of moderate descriptor for satisfaction or acceptance, displacing where once we would have used good. My circle of friends, in casual discourse, would likely have said their clam chowder was good or that they were happy with their new furnace. Can a furnace make you happy? On a cold night, yes. In the quest for life happiness a furnace might rank slightly lower – that you are satisfied with its performance is a more appropriate statement. Chalk up a win for Acadian translation.

I became accustomed to my uncle’s satisfaction, and upon return to my home life I noticed its absence here. It was also more difficult to ignore the epic, awesome, and best that surrounded me.

the decline of our level of diction

Through the wonder of smartphones we have the world in our pockets – but instead of being inspired by this access to so much, we’re becoming lazy. Satisfied has been relegated to use in surveys, and not much else. Each year more words are accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary, yet we use fewer to describe our experiences and feelings. These best of / most awesome / epic days and events do us a disservice: not only do these descriptors set the bar unattainably high for daily living, we’re less likley to be curious about individual experiences because we anticipate those particular words will convey a larger picture – an understood, unspoken description. It’s a falsehood, and we erode our cultural wealth each time we make these simple statements.

Where packaged individualism is the new socially acceptable collective norm, we strive to show how individually normal we are by sharing our every awesome moment / meal / experience. Discovering the latest hot whatchamacallit can help your voice burn brightly in the new media spotlight; however, like a flare, its shine is short-lived. In this light, the new craft brewery making an epic IPA will briefly attract more attention than the new craft brewery making good beer. Is an IPA epic? Beowulf is epic. Homer is epic. An IPA is refreshing, citrus-y, and satisfying. Can a wine be awesome? A lightning storm is awesome. A volcano is awesome. A wine can be surprising, balanced, complex. I am satisfied with how it tastes.

for the love of good

I aspire to write well and have folks who read my writing think ‘that was good’. This is the benchmark I’ve assigned: good. It lives somewhere between a B- and B+, where a C is average and an A is exceptional. At times I’ll write something that resonates with a group of people, and occasionally a sentence is structured so beautifully I want to frame it. Those are rare exceptions, as are awesome and epic. I’m more concerned with whether someone will find their own level of enjoyment in something I’ve written about – like the aforementioned craft brewery’s IPA – than I am with the length of time the spotlight will be on what I’ve written.

I’ve fallen into the awesome/epic/best trap on more occasions that I care to admit: in bite-sized statements meant for snacking, rather than multi-courses intended for a little more digestion (such as this). We snack on information more frequently than we digest stories. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook support these habits. I am not immune, although I do try to remind myself of the need for digestion.

When in the shadow of awesome, good can’t seem to catch a break. But I love good. We tend to poke and prod a little further when we stumble upon good; we’re more curious about good’s context, and the associated package defies an easy dismissal. Good is layered. Good is sexy. Good isn’t competing for your attention, because it doesn’t have to.

In a world where everything is awesome, nothing is. Let’s try for good, so we can be in awe more often.

~ Jeannette

in awe of art and the artist who lived this life: the reconstructed home of Maud Lewis, celebrated folk artist who lived outside of Digby NS
in awe of the artist who lived this life: reconstructed home of Maud Lewis, celebrated folk artist who lived outside of Digby