Oct. 17, 2015
Judy Smith, the founder and president of crisis communications company Smith & Co., left, is interviewed by ABC News' Rebecca Jarvis at Chicago Ideas Week.
Photos courtesy of Chicago Ideas Week
‘This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.’
—Gollum’s riddle in “The Hobbit.”
The answer: time
Time is inevitable. It goes by quickly when we’re having fun, and slowly when we’re bored. It is the one honest disappearing act; once it’s gone, it’s truly gone forever. There are no trapdoors one can use to make it reappear.
At the fifth-annual Chicago Ideas Week Edison Talks on Oct. 16, I learned a lot about time.
The topic this year was “Is There Time?” with a good lineup including Michael Strahan (pictured below, right), an NFL Hall of Famer and star of “Kelly & Michael,” Judy Smith the crisis communications expert whose career inspired the hit TV show “Scandal,” and Sal Khan who used videos to help his niece do better in school and turned that passion into the Khan Academy that now helps children worldwide learn.
Obviously if the answer were “No,” the talks would have been pretty short. Jennifer Eigenbrode’s talk on “Is There Time to Live on Mars?” would have gone something like this: “Nope. Thanks for having me.” (For the record, Eigenbrode, a NASA scientist, does believe there will be a time and a way to get someone to Mars one day — and maybe even back again — even with all the obvious and not-so-obvious challenges).
So, of course, there’s time.
As author and time management expert Laura Vanderkam said, if something is a priority, you will find time to do it. Former Olympian and horologist John Coyle argued that chronological time does not matter; experiential time does. He cited former KPMG CEO Eugene O’Kelly as an example: O’Kelly was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2005 and was given 90 days to live. He wound up living just a little longer than that, but he chose to “maximize the time he had on Earth.”
As a journalist, I hear “So and so doesn’t have time to do an interview” all the time. I even heard it at this very event. No time to talk time at an event called “Is There Time?” Curious.
Of course, I’ve said “I don’t have time” as well; most of us have.
But “I don’t have time,” no matter who says it, is really not about “time” as much as it about “not being willing to make that time.” It’s an excuse; we have time — if it is of interest to us.
We have time to change our careers. Blues musician Leo “Bud” Welch, who played a couple of songs at the event, didn’t record his first album until he was almost 82 years old.
And sometimes times change our focus.
While I intended to write a lot more about what I heard during the conference from the inspirational speakers’ comments, it was a peripheral event that changed my focus.
During the lunch break, hundreds of attendees walked a few blocks north from the event to a nearby restaurant to eat lunch. We were told to grab a boxed lunch and drink and sit at a table with people we didn’t know. With my phone dying, I picked a spot in the back corner near an outlet and waited to see if others would join me. A group of five people came a few minutes later. I sensed they were together, and they were. They had broken the “rules,” but I’m glad they did.
The woman to my right told me her name is Jill Becker. Her husband, who sat across the table from me, she said, is Eric Becker, who is the co-chairman of Chicago Ideas Week. Good table karma, I thought.
As I was chatting with Jill, she told me about her company, LEMA J, which she started with her sister, Jenny Benscher, and how the company makes and sells bracelets to raise money to help cancer patients.
This struck a chord with me. I explained to her how my Mom has been battling leukemia for the past 15 months and the miraculous improvements she’s made in the past five or six. I also told her how I’ll be walking in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night walk on Oct. 25 to raise money for research.
She got a little choked up — as did I — but for reasons I couldn’t have predicted.
After a short pause, she explained that she started her company to raise money for the Karma for Cara Foundation, which Jill and her family founded with their daughter, Cara, as she battled leukemia. Tragically, Cara died in 2012 from complications from leukemia at the age of 21. As a son watching helplessly as his mother battles this illness, it’s been gut-wrenching. As a parent raising two young children, I can’t even imagine the pain Jill and her family have had to endure.
Recently we published a “Time and Attendance” Roadmap, which certainly serves a purpose in showing companies how to manage their time issues, but the fact is in life there are no road maps.
Had ABC News’ Rebecca Jarvis, who hosted the event, not gone up to Colin Powell when she was in high school and insisted he make time for an interview — “If not now, when?” she reasoned — perhaps she wouldn’t have become the well-known journalist she is today. Had Sal Khan not given up his job and waited anxiously for months until his academy finally took off after Bill Gates mentioned Khan’s website at a conference, the world might have missed out on a new way of learning. Had Michael Strahan’s brothers not teased him when he was young by calling him “Bob,” short for “booty on back” because he was overweight, he explained, perhaps he wouldn’t have bought those Jane Fonda workout tapes and gotten himself into tremendous shape and ready for an amazing football and post-football career.
Jill Becker never expected to go down the road she’s on. As parents, none of us expects to lose a child. But unfortunately in a world where 1 in 5 people will get cancer, according to Dr. Peter Bach who also spoke at the conference, almost everyone will be touched by cancer in some way in their lives. But it’s people like Jill Becker who persevere time and time again. Sadly her daughter Cara didn’t get enough time, but even in sickness she was able to start a foundation that will help others for years to come.
So is there time? Definitely.
Perhaps the better question is: Is there motivation?
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