Just Keep Swimming

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.”  – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

clownfish under water

When Finding Nemo first came out, I liked the sweet movie about a father doing all he could to find his lost son. Now, as a father myself, I appreciate it on a different level. My son likes the movie a lot—as many toddlers do. We had watched it not that long ago, and he really liked the goofy fish, Dory – voiced superbly by the amazing Ellen DeGeneres.

In the movie, Dory is a seemingly aloof blue tang fish with a short-term memory. She serves as the comic foil to the grumpy clownfish, Marlin, voiced by the equally suburb Albert Brooks. Throughout their adventure, Dory keeps trying to cheer Marlin up, who hasn’t been happy in years. No matter what Dory does, she annoys Marlin.

My son and I were watching, and he was laughing and I was smiling when Dory sang her famous line. No, not “I will name him Squishy” — although that was a pretty good line. The line that pretty much sums up what I believe to be the theme of the movie.

“Just keep swimming.”

It’s such a succinct, beautiful way to describe perseverance.

Perseverance is a remarkable skill, but a hard skill to learn and to master because to learn it, we must be broken. At some point, life will break us all, sometimes it will break us over and over again. However, that’s how we learn perseverance. If people are never broken, how can they learn to put themselves back together?

There’s a Japanese art form called Kintsugi. When a cup or a plate is broken, rather than throw it away, the item is glued back together and dusted with gold creating a beautiful sparkling seam. The item was clearly broken, but now it’s stronger than before, as well as more beautiful. The art of Kintsugi acknowledges that we can’t separate the broken pieces from our history. Whatever we faced in life, and overcame, is now a part of us. We are stronger at the broken places. It’s important to remember this — always.

I understand the irony of using a Hemingway quote to begin a post about becoming stronger when the world breaks us, but I did it intentionally. While Hemingway lost his final battle when the world broke him for the last time, we need to remember to never allow ourselves to get to that point.

At the end of Finding Nemo, Marlin and Dory kept swimming. Through it all, they kept swimming. Both Marlin and Dory had moments where they were tempted to stop swimming. Yet, they ultimately decided to keep it up, and they found Nemo.

Perseverance is will. It’s a matter of endurance – nothing will stop us, not even ourselves! All the great philosophical and literary quotes on perseverance can be incredibly challenging to keep in mind when the world is in the middle of tearing us apart. That’s why I feel Dory’s line matters. It’s simple. It’s powerful. It’s inspirational. It’s truth.

When life is breaking you, just keep swimming. Your Nemo is counting on it.


If you or someone you know is in need of help, please know there are millions of others who have gone through or are going through similar challenges. They understand. They feel it, too. Getting help is not a sign of weakness. Getting help is a sign of power. Keep swimming for yourself and for others in your life. Just keep swimming. I got the following information from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The Company We Keep: Live On Purpose

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” – Epictetus

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Selfie with Steve Browne at #SHRM18. This photo is symbolic of my transformative experience at the Conference. It’s a journey I’ve been on since! #HROnPurpose #LiveOnPurpose

Having introverted tendencies can be a challenge. You know you need to go out and fulfill certain obligations, but it’s so tiring! Ugh, if only I could stay home with my books and music and Game of Thrones.

But alas, even introverts need human contact! It’s what makes us human. It’s what KEEPS us human! And this is a good thing, of course. Personally and professionally, we all have those people in our lives that help us find our internal strength, courage, and energy. Those people are the ones we should focus our time on. This blog post will blur the lines between professional and personal – because life is blurry.

Plenty has been written about introverts and their goofiness. (Same goes for you extroverts and ambiverts). And plenty has been written about how we need people in our lives to help us through the good times, bad times, and every time in between – especially in an HR context where the battles we face seem never ending.

This post is about those themes, but my focus is more about sharing a quick personal story rather than a profound list that helps introverts (or others) win friends and conquer enemies.

It was June 2018. I was at the SHRM National Conference in Chicago. As my first national conference of any kind, I was quite blow away! The magnitude could have been stifling. Amazingly, 20,000 people attended the conference – all of them in the McCormick Place conference halls. 20,000 people is more than the total population of a lot of cities and villages.

Upon arriving to Chicago, I checked into my hotel and immediately felt determined to make the most of this experience. I connected with some people I “knew” on Twitter and met them at a nearby restaurant. This was so out of my normal comfort zone! I sometimes have a hard time speaking to people I know, and here I was going to meet people I wasn’t even sure existed in real life! I mean, at least half my Twitter followers are bots…. 😊

Upon meeting these amazing people out and about (yes, they were real peeps), I immediately gained confidence and felt a desire I never felt before. I was going to try to meet as many new people as I could, even if it meant, GASP!, walking up to them and introducing myself.

This experience of getting out of my comfort zone culminated with a personal goal I had since I first registered for SHRM 2018. At the time, I had read “HR On Purpose” by Steve Browne of LaRosa’s Pizza fame. The book, if you haven’t read it, please do, really helped me reexamine my own outlook on HR management, and life in general, really. So, I wanted to meet Steve. Thankfully, he was booked to give several presentations at SHRM 2018, and if I attended them, I had a chance to meet someone who was a major influence on my professional development!

So, I went to his first presentation a little early – probably way earlier than I needed because I was one of four people in this giant hall. But I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.

I was waiting patiently when I saw him, well heard him, coming – a giant man with a booming voice and a bright tie dye shirt was yelling as he walked down the hall that he couldn’t wait for us all to get “geeked;” he had an infectious laugh while yelling at us.

It was intimidating! I felt nervous and almost backed out… How could I just go up to this man unannounced? He’s busy! I’m not important enough. He’s got other things to do.

Nonsense, I told myself! Stop that Old Paul. The New Paul cares not for your excuses! I felt that desire and determination again! I wasn’t going to let my emotions control what I wanted to do.

I got up and walked right up to Steve to introduce myself. Steve smiled and said he was happy to have met me in real life – he remembered us interacting on social media! I was humbled that this giant in the industry remembered me! I told him that his book was a game changer for me, and I thanked him for writing it. He thanked me, and I then spontaneously asked if I could take a selfie with him. “Of course!” he said. I took the selfie, and he said come see him after the presentation! I did, along with a ton of other new people I got to meet in line, and he signed my copy of “HR On Purpose.”

This was transformative for me. SHRM 2018 was the beginning of me challenging my internal struggle to make meaningful connections simply because I was afraid to approach people I didn’t know. I let myself be vulnerable enough to make new connections. And I was lucky because the people I met were more than willing to help me, they were active participants in my transformation, whether they knew it or not!

Since then, I have kept in contact with many of these #HRPeeps. Some of us have even formed the affectionately named #StateLineCrew – a group of IL and WI HR pros (and more importantly, friends) who meet once every other month or so on the IL-WI state border. We meet, talk, laugh, and grow. I have confidence enough to say we’ve become pretty good friends, not just colleagues.

What this has taught me is at the end of the day, keep good company. Most of all, remember to keep good company within myself! This will help in more ways than anyone can truly know!

I was originally going to end this by naming all the people I met at #SHRM18, but that would be incredibly difficult the more I thought about it. I would inevitably forget someone. I met so many wonderful people and continue to do so! However, I want to send a special shout out to Claire Petrie (Twitter: @_strclaire) for helping me get started on this journey with a simple Tweet – “We’re meeting at Elephant and Castle on W. Adams if you wanna join!” So incredibly glad I did! Thanks for the invite, Claire! And thanks to everyone who I’ve met along the way!

Message in a Poster

“Our own life has to be our message.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

white and blue cardboard box

At the beginning of my HR professional journey, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. So, I decided to take a SHRM Essentials of HR course. At that point, I had somehow never heard of “shroom,” and barely knew HR meant human resources, but I felt like I needed to take an intensive birds eye view of the profession to see if I really enjoyed it. Thus, the Essentials course seemed like a good idea at the time. As it turns out, that class changed my professional and personal direction forever.

The teacher of the course was named John, and he had personality! The man is a born entertainer. He had a way of making HR fun! He ensured we were smiling throughout class; and when he couldn’t answer a question, he assured us that he’d “swirl on it” (while he swirled his fake glass of wine) until he figured the answer out. That class was so meaningful because John LOVED human resources. He LIVED human resources.

During one of the lessons, John challenged us to write a professional mission, vision, and values statement. I wrote a few things down, but didn’t really follow through on it because, frankly, I forgot about the challenge – the class was so PACKED with HR amazingness that it sort of just slipped my mind.

Several years later when I was named to my first HR Director position, I randomly came across the Essential of HR notebook I used as I was looking for another notebook. I turned to the mission, vision, and values challenge page. I read my handwritten note, quoting John:

“Mission is what you want to do, vision is what you want to be known for, and values are what you stand for.”

I smiled, remembered a “John-ism,” and began to “swirl” on my own mission, vision, and values. I then created a colorful poster to showcase those items, which hangs on my wall at work.

I felt so proud that I could hang that poster on my wall. It really showcased who I was, but then, something funny happened. I forgot it was there! No, not really. I see it every day, but I don’t really SEE it every day. Like most people I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of work life. I’m talking to staff, walking the building, replying to emails, or forgetting to reply to emails, returning phone calls, or forgetting to return phone calls, writing up reports, prepping for a meeting, trying to figure out new metrics to use, and so on and so on and so on.

During all that, I get angry. I get frustrated. I become human. I fail to live up to my mission, vision, and values. So, in a sense, I do forget that my poster is there, and I act in a way that doesn’t further them in my professional or personal life.

Sometimes life gets away from us, and we forget who we are. Well, that’s OK. As Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist master, once said so eloquently, “No mud, no lotus.”

I think that’s apropos. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to remember who we are when we’re knee deep in the muck. But we must remember that being knee deep in the muck doesn’t destroy us; it helps us be who we are! The muck should remind us that we hold a valuable message for the world, and we should post it and then live it.

Luckily, I still keep in touch with John to this day. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him, learning from him, hiring him! Of all the things I have learned from John, it’s that to be yourself, to be authentic, is the greatest message we can deliver to the world.

The Obstacle Is the Path

“That which is an impediment to action is turned to advance the action. The obstacle on the path becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations

So, here I am. After months and months of hemming and hawing, I am finally putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard, rather. A blog. A blog about… what exactly? A blog about nothing? Nah already been a mildly successful TV show. A blog about music? Maybe occasionally. A blog about personal life? Well, not always, but maybe sometimes. A blog about HR? Well, it is in the name!

OK, then. Another HR blog. Aren’t there 72,000 blogs on HR topics? Why are you contributing to an already well attended to niche, Mr. Paul? What do you have to offer that isn’t already being offered by countless other HR professionals?

Well, there in lies the answer! This isn’t a journey necessarily for others. This is my journey, one for myself. This journey has been an obstacle for me, and the obstacle must become the path if we are to make it through to the other side!

I love to write. I believe I can be pretty good at it – spelling errors notwithstanding. I blame English. I mean… through, though, tough? Come on now, but I digress. I love HR. I truly am excited about HR. I love that the HR profession is about bringing people together. It’s about helping people be better individually and collectively! The idea of writing about HR really excited me, but I just couldn’t force myself to do it! Why was this such an obstacle?

Well, I didn’t have enough time! Balderdash! We make time for what’s important to us. Well, I just don’t have a niche that’s interesting. Again, lame excuse! YOU ARE THE NICHE! You are interesting, have a perspective, and can make sense of nonsensical situations! Well, I’m scared! Now, we’re on to something, but still, not an excuse.

What helped me get over this last hurdle is my wife. She just started a YouTube vlog about makeup – shameless self-promotion warning: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2y7KWlKwrfMrJDXerbjhyA. It took her a long time to get over her fears. And she did it, and loves it. I am so proud of her, and she inspired me to finally do this thing.

So, that’s how this tiny little obstacle of fear has become the path. Start small. Blog because you’re afraid to do it. Then, do something else you’re afraid of. Eventually, you won’t allow fear to control you. Being afraid is human, and so is overcoming fear.

I hope you come back to this spot again, Paul. Once a week seems like a good time to visit. Thanks for the time, and keep going down your paths.

asphalt dark dawn endless
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