Roast Beef, Politics and the Forest

Two hours. That’s how long it took me on Saturday night to drive into Toronto. My most wonderful friend Rochelle, her wife Amy and their 13 year old son were hosting me and my son Rory for a birthday dinner. The roads were slick and slippery, and when I reached the Don Valley Parkway, it lived up to its nickname of “Don Valley Parking Lot”. I sat quietly in my car, not moving, trying to be patient.

By the time I reached Rochelle’s, I was weary, but excited about the standing rib roast waiting for me inside. And when the door opened, love from my friends and family poured out the front door, enveloped me and carried me up the stairs. In a heartbeat, I had a glass of wine in my hand, been hugged by everyone in the house, and the insanity of the drive had vanished.

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Me and Rochelle, changing the world at at TFC game.

We enjoyed an amazing meal, with oohs and aahs about the incredible “roast beast”. We stayed at the table post-meal and solved the problems of the world. Where to start? First, we tackled what we were each reading, and what books intrigued us. Next, we moved on to movies and TV shows, including Star Wars and Dr. Who (naturally). But try as we might, we were unable to avoid the elephant in the room. “He who shall not be named” kept surfacing and we finally succumbed to talking about Trump’s first week in office.

I imagine that many thousands of people across the planet were doing the same thing. Trying not to talk about Trump and the US, and what the future holds for us, but eventually ending up voicing concerns, anger, and fears about what direction he is taking that most powerful country.

I said how, on the morning of the election results, Jaime called me in tears, not believing that he could have been elected. Rory talked about involvement in politics, and what that would mean. Rochelle echoed that, noting how friends had suggested that she might be someone who could throw her hat in the ring, so to speak, in Toronto/Ontario/Canada to make a difference. As a woman, who is Jewish, and in a same sex marriage, she has the cards stacked against her if she lived in the US. But here, she is just another incredible, wonderful and compelling individual who can make a difference.

But politics isn’t for her. So how to make that difference? What can any of us do?

Politics reminds me of nursing…for some, thankfully, it is a calling. For me, it is intolerable. Politics falls into the same category. So where does that leave me? What can I do to be a voice, to speak out, to make a difference in this time of political, social and cultural chaos? If I’m not entering politics, and I am simply Susan Gesner from Belfountain, what can I do to help the world be a better place?

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Just Susan Gesner from Belfountain, spreading a bit more love.

I will do what I always do, but even more. I will make a conscious and mindful effort to look at everyone I meet as an individual, to speak to them, to learn about them, to value them. People will know that I see their value, that I am curious about them, and that they make my life better by knowing them. Age, colour, race, religion – nothing like that matters at all. If I can do that, perhaps those people I meet with do the same, and we will become a huge, growing snowball of consideration, attention and value.

I challenge each of you reading this (and usually I have 2 or 3 people who at least click on my words) to do the same. Be sure your friends and family know you are doing this, because they may choose to follow suit. Make the snowball grow, and we can blanket the world, or at least our part of it, in goodness and caring. Margaret Mead, perhaps the most famous anthropologist in the world, helped us learn about anthropology’s holistic vision of the human species. It was she who said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

To quote another powerful thought leader of our recent history, Winnie the Pooh said “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

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Janey, Marj and Julie leaving their corner of the forest. Let’s all do it!

I’m not going to stay in my corner of the Forest. I am going to continue to go beyond, to meet and talk and value and share. I know many of my friends will do the same. Let’s try to be the change this world needs right now.

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Sunk costs, adapting and connecting!

I just spent a day at a 2 day Change Management Conference. I hoped that it would provide critical and meaningful insights into change, and help shape my future as a change leader and manager. The agenda had references to a variety of exciting change specialists (Rick Maurer, John Kotter), creative thinkers (Michael Bungay Stanier) behavioural economists (Neil Bendle) and a host of others on the cutting edge of business change. But I left the conference without my expectations being met. Not even close.

On the drive home, I called my father and he asked me what I learned, despite my disappointments. This caused me to do some critical thinking as I explained my thoughts. I then sat down this morning and reviewed the notes to compare them to what I had shared with my Dad. There, I found some ideas from Michael Bungay Stanier of Box of Crayons fame (http://www.boxofcrayons.biz (that I had read on my iPad while I was bored during one of the presentations). These made real sense to me, and had it not been for my distraction at the conference, I may not have read them. Have a look and see what you think:

Be guided by opportunity, not sunk costs: This conference was expensive. As an independent consultant, I rarely indulge in professional development that costs more than my per diem. But I decided this might be worth it, and “sunk” a lot of money in the Conference – the registration fee was my sunk cost. (Economics 101 tell us that a sunk cost is any past cost that has already been paid and cannot be recovered.) In my case, the first day of the conference was a bust, but since I had already invested the money, surely I should return the second day. But if I returned simply because I had already invested in the conference, I would let myself be led by that sunk cost.

Missing the conference to enjoy morning coffee was all worth it!

Missing the conference to enjoy morning coffee was all worth it!

I chose to be guided by opportunity. If I didn’t return, I would be gifted with the opportunity to have a morning coffee on my deck, to complete an exciting project proposal AND go for a long trail run with Lucy Blue. I jumped at those opportunities, because they were more valuable to me than the sunk costs of the conference.

Be ready to adapt: Michael explains that he saw a presentation by a senior manager at McKinsey, a company known for its strategic planning excellence. This individual noted that they don’t really do strategic planning anymore, and to paraphrase Michael (who is also paraphrasing the individual) …”We meet every three months, test out a range of different scenarios and imagine our best responses to them … and then make our best guess on the direction for the next 90 days.”

Clearly this rock was heavy, so I adapted by holding it up!

Clearly this rock was heavy, so I adapted by holding it up to get by!

If McKinsey can adapt and excel, then so can I! I started my career as a wildlife biologist and educator/interpreter; adapted to become an education specialist, and as I moved further in my career, found that the skills sets that I was acquiring – communications, facilitation, consultation – make me uniquely qualified to help lead and facilitate change. My plan of being the best educator/interpreter got re-routed as I acquired new skills, and I adapted to become the new and improved Susan Gesner!

Connect with those who matter: To quote Michael “To get back on track, reconnect with those who hold you with love and generosity in their hearts. “ I believe that’s not always easy in the business world, but  if we do it in our personal lives, it may make us stronger and more capable in our business life. This is one idea that I take advantage of on a regular basis. Connecting serves to ground me in reality. Too often, sitting in board rooms or conference rooms, I find myself wondering if senior managers with whom I work have a real life on the outside, or if they tuck themselves under their desks at night and rise, fresh and refreshed, the next day. In my work, I strive to meet the real people behind the leader/manager role, and remind them that human connection is both acceptable and beneficial in the business world.

I can't think of any people I'd rather connect with than these two.

I can’t think of any people I’d rather connect with than these two.

Don’t sweat the sunk costs – be guided by opportunity and what might be the unexpected result of an expensive conference. Be ready to adapt: if it makes more sense to read your iPad or talk to your Dad, or take advantage of evolving skill sets, then do that and adapt to those new outcomes. And don’t forget to connect with those who matter, because they will help you realize what is really important in business and everyday life.

Those three pearls of wisdom guided me today: I took the opportunity not to go to the conference and to finish a proposal (and have a coffee and go for a great run); I continue to read, learn and adapt as I aim to become a better change leader, facilitator and consultant; and I will be heading out to my deck shortly to have a cold one with my friend Bonnie and try to answer all the important questions of the world.

Consider your own day (week, month or life), and share with me how you’ve embodied these three ideas. I find it helps if I write things down and share them. Why don’t you do the same and share them here!

Stuff That Really Matters

“And I felt a change
Time meant nothing
Never would again.”

From “Time Warp”, by Richard O’Brien

I saw a picture of my friend Kathleen today. Kathleen is the Executive Director, Chief Pooba and heart and soul of the Cleveland Restoration Society. If memory serves me correctly, we entered the world 24 days apart, so we are the same age….just youngsters, by my count!

Kath’s photo was taken during Cleveland’s 2015 Community Luncheon. She looks outstanding, with cool glasses, great hair and passion simply emanating from her being. I was so proud of her!

Kathleen, the President!

Kathleen, the President!

Then I looked at a few other pictures of folks attending this luncheon. Boy, there were lots of grey haired people, and folks who looked their age, if you know what I mean. Not my Kath, though. She looked younger and cooler than anyone else I could see in the photos.

Was she? I mean, given the demographic of the group who were made up of representatives of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, perhaps she was. Or was it what I saw when I looked at her? Did I see Ms. Crowther, power professional from Shaker Heights, Ohio? Or did I see Kathy Hackman, who biked across southern Ontario with me one summer (from youth hostel to pub, etc), and then the next summer, hiked Assateague and Chinctoteague Islands with me (waking up to the wild ponies at the door of our tent in the morning!).

These guys would show up near the tent in the morning!

These guys would poke their noses near the tent in the morning!

When I look at her now, I see etched in her face those memories of the times we laughed so hard we cried, danced to Time Warp a zillion times, sang Emmy Lou Harris songs while drinking Rolling Rock from the can…you get the drift. I suppose I don’t see the 58 year old professional who singlehandedly defines the urban gentrification of downtown Cleveland. Nope, I see a young woman lying on a bunk bed outside of Stratford, Ontario, trying to convince herself to get up and on her bike after a very long night at the pub!

Shared experiences bring richness and a unique perspective to our vision. We peel away those things that are apparent at first glance, like laugh lines or a new hair colour, and see what the individual really represents to us. It can be a gift or a curse, depending on the nature of those experiences. I look into the faces of those I love or respect, and I see beauty, ability and potential. In others, I often see something very different, just what is on the surface.

Can you recognize and use this phenomenon in your working life? When I consider the change management activities that I help shape, I realize that sharing positive experiences between and among change agents, leaders and all impacted by the change makes a huge difference to success. When we are undergoing change, if we can “see” the people who help us with the change in a positive light (much like how I “see” Kathleen), perhaps we can create more successful outcomes during the actual change process.

There are about 23 gazillion change management continuums/processes/activities, give or take a few, that you can find online.

Just some of the "change" literature

Just some of the “change” literature.

But thinking about how I see Kathleen reminds me that those real life, positive experiences MUST be a central part of helping people through change. I must build in the opportunity for those actual experiences into my plans. Sure, I can create briefing notes, build slide decks, host senior management information meetings, town halls and deliver internal videos till the cows come home. But until all people affected by that change share experiences that allows them to really see the good side of the change…and of each other…the change will be in name only. It won’t be anchored in your organization. Or your heart.

Change impacts us all. And the spectre of change, the fear of change, can loam large. But managing change means figuring out how to navigate those fears, recognize the obstacles and move forward with a light heart. It means recognizing a multitude of positive shared experiences that includes everything from grabbing a cup of coffee to dancing to the Time Warp, again, that will allow you to see past the grey hair and the uncertainties, and find the stuff that really matters.

NOthing like a good distance shot so you can't see the grey in my hair1

Nothing like a good distance shot so you can’t see the grey in my hair! (photo by R. Rodden)

 

More than the obvious

I recently ran a Change Management Workshop. There were 15 participants, remarkably eager and interested in learning about how to help people adapt to a changing environment – in this case, a new information and records management software program. At the end of the workshop, one of the participants said: “Taking a change management workshop with Susan is like taking a ‘workation’… if every day was that enjoyable, I could do another 25 years in the public service!”

A biologist,  between two fisheries officers spells trouble!

A biologist, between two fisheries officers spells trouble!

What a wonderful compliment! But I’m a biologist, for heaven’s sakes, with a Master’s degree in educational policy analysis focusing on environmental science. What am I doing facilitating change management workshops? How did I ever get here?

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I have musical skills as well…though I don’t think anyone would pay me to use them!

Well, I finally realized that we are more than the sum of the letters behind our name, or more than our obvious work experience or expertise. Often people my generation believe we start out as a (fill in your own blank here) “biologist”, so we can only work and advance in the field of “biology”. But we limit ourselves when we only recognize our JOB and not our SKILLS. The job is the obvious. Our skills, and what make us good at our jobs, may be something more vital and unique. And may lead us to a future we hadn’t planned on.

My ah ha moment? My buddy Lorne asked me to help facilitate a workshop for the International Joint Commission (IJC) on environmental database integration. No biggie, because it was all related to environmental agencies, and I was confident that I was going to be working with the Canadian organizations.

I was wrong. The morning of the session, I discovered that I was not only going to be facilitating the American agencies’ discussions (and I was not remotely prepared to do that), but also that I would have half of the participants in the room with me, and the other half on the phone, calling in from all over the US. I was unfamiliar with their data, with their information, with their accents, with pretty much everything I needed to know! But I was very familiar with facilitation techniques, virtual meetings and working with disparate groups of people (translation: people who want to thump one another right there in the meeting room), and I knew I could get this group to come to a strategic consensus on next steps for database sharing.

My brain had had to work at warp speed to keep up with terminology of which I was not familiar; I had to keep the representatives from Michigan at arm’s length from the Ohioans; I had to try to remember to integrate the phone participants with those in the room; I had to juggle, dance, moderate, intercede, laugh and learn.

Gail and I facilitating with two of our favourite support staff!

Gail and I facilitating with two of our favourite support staff!

But you know what? I’m good at that. Really good. And I love doing it. Just love it.

I realized I have limited myself in thinking that, because I have a particular title or set of qualifications, I should be or do a particular thing. If I consider what my skills sets are, and what I really love doing, that opens up a whole new set of unexplored and previously unconsidered opportunities. Yes, my job is that of an environmental consultant. But my skill sets make me a proficient facilitator, and that allows me to pursue facilitation opportunities both in and outside the environmental field.

My message is one we’ve all heard before, but we can stand to be mindful of and listen to yet again: Don’t limit yourself. Don’t believe you are only a biologist/teacher/supervisor/whatever! Take some time and consider what you love about your work, what skill sets you love to use, and what you do really, really well. What is holding you back from finding opportunities where you can do what you really enjoy, do it really, really well, and continue to grow?

Stay tuned. Gesner & Associates Environmental Learning is taking a shift in perspective; I am listening to myself. With two associates, I’m going to explore what we love and do well, and find/create/take advantage of those opportunities. We are going to find more than the obvious about ourselves. Why don’t you do the same???

Change and Soccer: A retrospective

Change. It happens every day, all the time. We change our socks, change directions, change our plans. If we like change, we relish each new perspective. If we are anxious about change, we develop habits to maintain the status quo. But regardless, we live lives of change.

I’ve learned that there is more to change than meets the eye. In fact, I’ve found three key things that I bring to clients, friends and others when when they are experiencing change:

  • We can adapt!
  • Change is different for everyone.
  • The “behind the scenes” parts of change are often the greatest…and we don’t expect them.

My daughter was 5 years old when she announced she wanted to play soccer. Not only that, she wanted to be a great soccer player. Before I knew it, I was a coach for a bunch of little girls, all running in different directions, trying to chase a ball towards a net, with Jaime leading the charge. The “Red Team” was pretty good, and in time, we made the shift from House League to Rep.

The changes were all worth it...here's the Captain of the Blue Devils!

The changes were all worth it…here’s the Captain of the Blue Devils!

The changes were HUGE! More practices, more time traveling, more injuries; where do I stop? I almost run out of breath when I think of my life, let alone the girls’ lives, during those 5 years of Rep play and travel. It was a wild ride, with moments of great joy, of shock and disbelief, of exhaustion, stinky shin pads, and everything in between.

It was so very worth it.

I learned more than I bargained for being a soccer coach.

I learned that we can adapt. To anything. Shifting from House League to Rep meant meant onerous paperwork, more formality and accountability, and way more games. The change was hard, at first, but we adapted.

I learned that the change was different for everyone.

The girls had to adapt to the physical and emotional demands of playing at a higher level, 12 months year. They couldn’t stay out late, they had to get up early to do homework, they had to eat better to perform better.

Parents had to plan to travel to away games, pay for competitions in the US and England, and explain to their friends why they had no social life away from the soccer pitch.

I spent much of my waking hours designing practices, running games, traveling and trying to fit my day job around my every increasing soccer demands.

The “behind the scenes” parts of change were unexpected. Who knew that going from House league to Rep would impact my grocery bill so much? Or that my knowledge of cruciate knee injuries would become almost encyclopedic, and I would start to invite the local physiotherapist home for dinner?

Traveling with Jaime and Maddie (who is the physiotherapists daughter and now plays professionally!)

Traveling with Jaime and Maddie (who is the physiotherapist’s daughter and now plays professional soccer in England!)

Who anticipated that my entire family needed to have their passports up to date? Or the countless hours I spent reading weather forecasts? All this, just because my daughter wanted to be a great soccer player?

She became a great soccer player, by the way. Captain of her university team. The changes she made, I made, and everyone else made, were all worth it. Yup, they were hard at the time (the grocery bills were astronomical!). But we chose to accept the changes that were a result of a life of soccer.

I challenge you to stop and think about a change that you may soon be undertaking, and consider these things:

  • If you are moving, changing jobs, changing an activity at work, know that the obvious change is do-able and you can adapt. We all can.
  • Change will impact people in a different way. Your children may be affected by a move differently that you. Changing jobs will mean you will work with new people, who will be influenced by you.
  • There is residual change, or “behind the scenes” change, too. A move means getting to set your kitchen up just the way you always wanted. Learning a new software program means adding a new item to your resumé.

I believe the act of choosing to accept change makes all the difference in the world. If you accept the larger grocery bills and the long drives with exhausted (and stinky) teenagers, you will survive, and even thrive in a world of change.

One of the changes/gifts of being a coach? Gaining another daughter...the tall one!

One of the changes/gifts of being a coach? Gaining another daughter…the tall one!

Drop, clean and move on

Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward. Victor Kiam

I have a curious habit of sitting at my desk and dropping things on the floor. I don’t mean randomly dropping things. Rather, when I am done a project, I simply drop whatever paper or items were critical to that effort on to the floor. I have no idea why I acquired this habit, I just do it. You can imagine that at the end of whatever I’m working on, the floor near my desk is littered with paper and other items of dross, and my office tends to look rather, um, messy. (read: fire hazard).

As if the cleaning staff (if I had any) had taken the garbage can and turned it upside down as some form of protest. At least a day or two will go by before I clean up the mess, which then satisfies my urge for closure on the project.

Because of melting ice – I won’t get into the details, but suffice it to say that my love affair with this cottage is officially over – I had to move my office into the living room.

The new office corner, within warming distance of wood stove, and close to piano/fiddle/guitar.

The new office corner, within warming distance of wood stove, and close to piano/fiddle/guitar.

For the first time since the winter started, my feet are warm while I am working. I can look out the window and see Roxy barking at birds, and I can easily get up and get her when she wants to come in. And go out. And come in. And go out. Ad nauseum.

Looking out the door at Roxy's footprints. She's inside the house now, waiting to go back out!

Looking out the door at Roxy’s footprints. She’s inside the house now, waiting to go back out!

This morning, I decided to deal with the remains of a project proposal that I did not win. Papers, paper clips, reference articles, pages torn from the Globe and Mail, and a host of other bits and bobs went flying onto the floor. My other dog Lucy lay under the desk, watching things fly by with a knowing glance, anticipating, I’m sure, my eventual cleaning of the mess. In a few days.

But I then did something unusual. Having spent the last 10 months focusing on change management appears to have made an impact on my psyche. I realized a change in my behaviour was necessary. Don’t jump to conclusions and think I managed to restrain myself from throwing things on the floor. No, no, nothing that significant or monumental. What I did was congruent with my behaviour; I just sped up the process a bit.

Because I am now working in the living room, I didn’t like the idea of having such a mess in a room that I use for fun. My fiddle and guitars are perched near my desk, and the thought of having to traipse through the paper to get to my instruments wasn’t sitting well with me. What do I do? Um, clean up the mess sooner rather than later? So I did.

Why have I spent this entire blog writing about cleaning up under my desk? Because the very act of cleaning up work from a project I didn’t win has made a difference in my spirit that I didn’t even know I needed. When I found out I didn’t get the contract, I felt blue and sad for a while. The act of throwing pieces of that spent project on the floor was a process that made me stop and think about the efforts of my team, who worked with me to put the proposal together. It made me cherish them even more for their energy and commitment to my efforts. The act of cleaning up of the mess helped me to put that in perspective (even though I thought I already had). It allowed me to reflect, accept, and move on.

My strange exercise of “processing” works for me. Throwing things on the floor helps distill the things that are important, and be mindful of what something means to me. I learned that, perhaps, I spend a bit too much time thinking and re-thinking about what I mis-judged, or what might have gone wrong in my work. I learned that there are reasons to speed up the process now and then, even if it is simply to have a cleaner living space so I can get back to doing those things I love…like playing the fiddle, playing the guitar, or bidding on other, more wonderful projects. I may have fallen on my face, but I’m still moving forward…with a cleaner office and happier heart!

Monkeys and Motivation

I am still working for Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), helping introduce a new software system for managing, sharing, saving and storing information. I work with a team of Business Analysts, Information Management specialists and a host of others to help build the best information management solutions for each of NRCan’s business units. Our goal is to ensure effective uptake of the GCDOCS system.

(In other words, I’m working with a group of folks who’s job it is to get people motivated and interested in using this new system. It’s not easy, and motivation is a challenge.)

I’ve been doing a lot of research about change and motivation, and how to help people manoeuvre through the challenges that are thrown their way on the road to something new. Luckily, I found Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”, and I’ve been eating it up. Pink writes not about change, but about motivation, and what motivates us to do anything.

You have to read backwards, of course, but this is the book.

You have to read backwards, of course, but this is the book.

Harry Harlow was a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1940s, doing research in primate behaviour. Pink provides the reader with a detailed description of Harlow’s experiments on learning with rhesus monkeys. Harlow grounded his research in the fact that the monkeys had two main drivers that powered their behaviour: a biological drive – food, water and reproduction; and an external reward/punishment drive.

What happened in Harlow’s experiments was most interesting. The monkeys were given a puzzle that they had to learn, and they very quickly learned to do it. In fact, they completed the puzzle simply because they found it gratifying. There was no reward, no satisfaction with food; Harlow realized that the monkeys found it gratifying to solve puzzles. The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward.

How does this relate to GCDOCS and NRCan? The GCDOCS team is putting a huge amount of effort into motivating staff by focusing on the second driver – reward and punishment. Change management activities are based on the premise that the staff will not be inclined to use GCDOCS, and we need to first reward them when they do, and then perhaps threaten them with taking away their access to other shared drives in the future.

What if we looked at the third driver of behaviour? What if we focused our change management activities on this intrinsic motivation – that staff will be interested in GCDOCS and will be motivated by curiosity, interest and sheer gratification of using a new program? If we could recognize that there is joy in the activity, and that as humans, we have a desire to get better and better at something that matters, perhaps we could encourage staff to use GCDOCS because they want to, rather than because they have to.

Pink continues to explain that this kind of behaviour requires three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. If we can give the staff some autonomy for how they choose to use GCDOCS – using their rules rather than external rules set up by us – we may see more interest in using the program. If we can encourage and support mastery, without worrying about success or failure, we may see more expansive use of GCDOCS. Finally, if we can prove purpose that relates to each person, and really and truly reflects their own own human condition, staff may choose to use GCDOCS because it makes sense to them and their lives.

In reading this blog, I see that I can replace “GCDOCS” with anything. If I want to help foster a change; if I want to awaken the motivation of colleagues, friends, anyone, then I must recognize (and celebrate) that motivation is intrinsic and doesn’t have to be external. I must realize that autonomy, mastery and purpose may speak louder than more time off, an increase in pay, or any other external motivator.

I play the fiddle. I’m not particularly good at it. But I am motivated to play and get better, not by any money or fame I receive (which, of course, I don’t), but because I love it. Like Harlow’s monkeys, I am gratified by the task at hand, and perhaps more by fluke than by practice, I get better.

My motivation is the love of the instrument, and playing with my friends, like Eleanor!

My motivation is the love of the instrument, and playing with my friends, like Eleanor!

My advice to you, dear reader? Get Daniel Pink’s book. Think about what you do – in work, in sport, in pleasure –  why you do it, and how you are motivated. You may become happy with the inherent satisfaction of an activity rather than an external reward. And won’t that be fun???!!!