Not Without Hope – Greg Ferguson

October 21, 2009

I met Greg through my involvement with Toast Masters, an organization committed to helping people build their confidence in giving presentations and public speaking. Greg has been engaged in public speaking for over twenty years and has recently published a book sharing his knowledge gained on the subject.

Greg always has a positive, focused approach to everything he does. So, as the economy slowed, he turned his attention to reaching another one of his personal goals so that time and energy wouldn’t be lost or misguided. As I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve been encouraged by the manner in which he uses his abilities to help others in the community serving as an advisor in the civic and business arenas.

I trust you’ll be encouraged by his story as well.

Charles Gupton

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Greg Ferguson leading a ToastMasters meeting.

Greg Ferguson leading a ToastMasters meeting.

Every adversity carries with it the seeds of an equal or greater opportunity.

I am in the residential development business, and as I write this, our local construction output has dropped 75% from its peak before the national economic meltdown.  As a result, our projects have generally been on hold for the last six months.

During this time, it has been nearly impossible to do business the way I have done it for the past twelve years.  There are few buyers and there is virtually no money available through the traditional channels.  We have had to resort to coming up with different assumptions and different actions to be able to move forward.  This takes time and it takes skill in convincing others that there will be a fundamental change in the way we do business in the future.

This downtime in activity has allowed me to re-examine my personal goals and to get focused on them again.  My “chief aim” in life, as Napoleon Hill calls it, is to help others help themselves.  One of my goals has been to write books to help others.  I am glad to report that my reduced business activity for the last six months has given me the time to write my first book on public speaking.  It’s called “How to Give Your Best Speech or Presentation Ever.”

My second book has just gone into the proofing stage and should be available shortly, and I’ve already begun the research for my third book.  Once I broke through all the reasons for not beginning to write sooner, it has become easier and easier to keep my momentum going.  Writing is much like public speaking—the more you do it, the easier it gets.

I expect that real estate development will pick up again in the foreseeable future.  This slowdown has been painful, frustrating, and downright scary.  But in the long run, I believe I will look back on this gap in activity (and income) as a blessing that allowed me to fulfill one of my long time personal goals.

If you are finding your circumstances different than they were a year ago, I encourage you to examine your purpose in life. Recognize this time of challenge as a blessing, and recognize that it carries with it the seeds of opportunity. ~ Greg Ferguson


Are You a Crazymaker?

October 12, 2009

Every family has them. So it also seems with every office, church, PTA, community group or anywhere there are a handful of people gathered in real or virtual proximity.

They are crazymakers.

I got the term from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and they’re people who seem to have too much time on their hands to mind their own affairs, so they focus their attention on minding other people’s business to the point that it seems they stir up trouble for trouble’s sake. In Cameron’s words, they are “charismatic but out of control, long on problems but short on solutions…the kind of people who can take over your whole life. Crazymakers like drama…everyone around them functions as supporting cast.”

I hate to admit it, but when I first read the term I thought, “Ouch, I resemble that.”  Creative people, I believe, are especially prone to become crazymakers when they become focused on something besides the work they need to be creating.

A number of years ago, I was cranking out a lot of very profitable but less than inspiring images in my work. Even though I was shooting a good number of photographs, very few of them inspired or even involved my heart. That seemed to leave me plenty of time and energy to “make crazy” in the relationships around me. Few people were safe.

Fortunately, I saw the problem in time enough not to dismantle all my relationships. What that period did do for me was cause me to see that: 1) my creative energy and direction was more important than merely focusing on the financial goals and 2) even more importantly, to recognize other crazymakers for what they are so that I can avoid being drawn down into their pit of uncreative despair.

This doesn’t mean that crazymakers aren’t creative – it’s just that most of their creativity goes into their drama rather than productive work.

All of this came up because a couple of crazymakers in different compartments of my life recently raised their heads and tried to make crazy. In the past, I would have reacted and been drawn into their game. But, being a recovering crazymaker myself, I called their bluff and turned back to the work before me.

So I ask, are you doing the work you need to do to keep you from making crazy in the lives around you? Or, are there crazymakers around you whose emotional baggage you need to jettison to make the way easier to be more productive in your work?


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Will Falling in Love Make You Creative?

October 7, 2009

In the past week I’ve had the opportunity to attend two ASMP sponsored presentations by photographers Paula Lerner and Gail Mooney. Although I saw them on different nights, in different cities, I was not surprised to learn that they occasionally do presentations together. Both of them come out of a still photography background and have moved in the direction of coupling their knowledge of stills with video and audio skills to create incredibly moving multimedia pieces.

What continued to move me after both nights was more than the beauty of the work they’ve created. What added inspiration to my heart was their continuous passion to pursue their individual vision. Each of them showed personal projects that were obvious labors of love. But just as exciting were the commercial projects that revealed their love of communicating a story. The key in both

Visit Gail Mooney's Blog

Visit Gail Mooney's Blog

instances was not just their technical skills but their passion as storytellers. The love they have for their work is palpable.

Their photographs were still playing in my mind this morning as I was reading a story at about one’s creativity being enhanced by falling in love. As I scrolled down the page, my perspective on the creative process got dialed in a little tighter. In essence, the research the article is based on looks at the global processing that our minds do when we engage in thinking about love from a long-term perspective. This is in contrast to the local processing that we do when our minds focus on short-term sexual desire. The hypothesis is that a long-term passion/perspective produces a more sustained, creative outlook, whereas a short-term, more “casual-sex” perspective produces a more analytical, less creative approach.

A couple of paragraphs into the article, I pictured an analogy to different perspectives towards business that I often witness. One is the short-term focus on getting the next project/client that (hopefully) will pay the over-due bills sitting on the desk.  It is analogous to the “one-night stand” approach to relationships that may bring an immediate relief to the need to pay one’s bills but seldom leads to long-term satisfaction with the body of work that’s being created.

The other perspective, of course, is a longer-term relationship with one’s creative vision motivated by a passion to see that vision realized. That work is hard, but we make it even more difficult when we attempt to go it alone. I’ve come to believe that building a relationship, even with our own vision, requires a commitment to building relationships with other people. Finding other creative collaborators to work with allows one to focus on the big-picture, long-term view of a project without getting bogged down in the details that can rob one’s vital, creative energy. Plus it allows for other perspectives and objectivity in the work we’re doing.

Visit Paula Lerner's Multimedia Site

Visit Paula Lerner's Multimedia Site

Paula made a comment during her talk indicating that her business model had transformed from one of shooting many assignments for myriad clients to a model of fewer clients wanting a deeper, more intimate body of work to use to tell their story. That change is allowing for a richer, more rewarding relationship with her clients and her vision.

As I meet with business people in dozens of different fields, it’s readily apparent to me whether they are taking a long-term approach to their business and relationships or a short-term, “I need this deal now!” view. As desperate as these economic times seem to be, I believe it’s the global, big-picture view that will produce a greater contentment and a better body of work to offer our clients.

What’s your take on this?


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Hustle Doesn’t Require Talent

October 6, 2009
Lady Vikings Tennis Team

Lady Vikings Tennis Team

For the past several weeks, I’ve been driving up a couple of days a week to work out with the girls’ tennis team at Northern Vance High School. My buddy Jeff Arthurs invited me to help out with some of the drills and offer general encouragement. What’s been amazing to me is how much I enjoy the time hitting with these ladies as well as how emotionally involved I get when I watch them play.

One of the most gratifying feelings a teacher or coach must experience is when students “get it” and begin to apply their newfound knowledge.  I come home from each practice just totally rocked because one or two of the girls has made progress on her ground strokes or volleys. Although I want to see each of them “kick butt” in their matches, what I really want to see long-term is for them to develop into well-rounded, well-grounded, confident women. I believe that when one’s confidence grows in one area of life, it builds a foundation for confidence in other areas as well.

One of the aspects of tennis, and athletics in general, that I appreciate is how much of competition is psychological. It’s a head game as much as it is a physical one. As I watched matches at Wimbledon and the US Open this year, I saw the pros affected by their mental lapses just as much as these high school players are. And I’ve seen how much of an emotional/mental bounce comes from a well-hit winner.

Other life lessons I’m reminded of each time I go out to the courts are the importance of persistence and conditioning. In sports, it’s usually called hustle.

I’ve found that it’s difficult to consistently hustle on the court without conditioning – both mental and physical. Too often we mistakenly believe that more talent or knowledge is all we need to succeed in our endeavors, but as I recently read on a t-shirt, “Hustle doesn’t require any talent.”

That’s not to say that talent isn’t important, it’s just that persistence and conditioning can prepare the way for talent to show itself as it develops. My high school coach made us chase down every ball that came over the net and hit it back with the reasoning that even if we didn’t get to it on the first bounce that time, by developing a “get to it” mindset, we eventually would.

I still remind myself that I can’t hit a winner if I don’t get to the ball.

Joining these ladies on the court has been a blast for me. Don’t know how much I’m helping them but they allow me a great opportunity to learn from their growth.

More to come…


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Supporting Local Farms – Edible Earthscapes

October 2, 2009

Edible Earthscapes farm is the second in a series of local farms I’m profiling for a project I’m working on to promote support of local farms. The project involves photographing, producing video and recording interviews with several farms about why they farm, who their customer base is and, most importantly, how they stay sustainable. I want to encourage folks to buy locally but also to know and have a relationship with farms in one’s area.

Jason and Haruka Otis are also featured in the October issue of Our State magazine in a story titled “Autumn Harvest: Breaking New Ground on North Carolina Farms”. You can connect with Edible Earthscapes at their site:

Edible Earthscapes Farm

Edible Earthscapes Farm

More to come…


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Image Awareness

September 29, 2009

This particular post by Seth Godin struck a chord with me this morning because several times in the past few weeks, people have asked my thoughts or advice either about their portraits on their business cards and/or web sites or they want to know how they can improve the pictures on their web site.

Since we all know folks who ask counsel from everyone they encounter until they get the advice they want to hear, the first issue I must resolve is whether someone really wants an objective response or just wants an “expert” to say what they’re doing is great. My return question is usually along the lines of, “Are you pleased with the images and the results you’re getting from them?” If they are, my job may well be done. I’ve generally found that if someone is satisfied with where they are, they’re just not that interested in moving to new ground.

In other words, if someone’s spouse/child/friend shot their web portrait with a Blackberry and touched it up in Photoshop Elements – at no charge – they don’t want to hear about the poor lighting that makes their face look red or that their web images are simply outdated. Very few people want to hear they lack sophistication. However, in Godin’s words, “We place a high value on sophistication, because we’ve been trained to seek it out as a cue for what lies ahead. We figure that if someone is too clueless to understand our norms, they probably don’t understand how to make us a product or service that we’ll like.”

Let me ask you a question. Say you meet someone at an event who could potentially serve a need you have, for instance, a realtor or a CPA. You’re having an encouraging conversation with strong possibilities of working together when you ask for a card. As you’re talking, you glance down and immediately notice the flimsy card stock, cluttered design and a photo of your companion with his/her company sign in the background and an expression that looks as if it was caught in mid-enema. (The added bonus comes when you flip over to the back to read, “Business Cards are FREE at!” Classy!)

Is this really the “professional” you want overseeing the details of your business or personal affairs?

In another post by Godin earlier this year, he detailed some of the things you may want to consider when you’re having a business portrait done. It’s a great starting point. One thought I’d add is to have the person shooting your portrait engage you so that you’re relaxed and reveal your true personality.

Admittedly, my interests are served when business people hire me to create their portraits. But this question is raised a lot and I’m more concerned with folks making a decision to do what’s in their best interest.

I believe it’s always best to present one’s image on the same level of business that one wants to be working on, not a level below. Every marketing/branding book and blog I read says that we are in the age of “Brand You”. When the economy and job market are at it’s tightest is the time you need to be most concerned with your image and your “brand”.

What does your portrait say about your market sophistication?


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What Gender is Your Computer?

September 25, 2009

The following is a joke told by Mike Jones at my Toast Masters meeting yesterday. By the amount of laughter alone it was voted our best joke of the year, so far. Hope you enjoy the weekend with laughter.

A  SPANISH Teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish,  unlike English,  nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine. ‘House’ for  instance, is feminine: ‘la Casa.’ ‘Pencil,’ however, is masculine: ‘el  lapiz.’

A student asked, ‘What gender is ‘computer’?’

Instead of  giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female,  and asked them to decide for themselves whether computer’ should be a masculine  or a feminine noun.. Each group was asked to give four reasons for its  recommendation.

The men’s group decided that ‘computer’ should definitely  be of the feminine gender (‘la  computadora’), because:

1. No one but their creator  understands their internal logic.

2.  The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else.

3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval and

4. As soon  as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck  on accessories for   it.

The women’s group, however, concluded that computers should be Masculine (‘el computador’), because:

1. In order to  do anything with them, you have to turn them on.

2. They have a lot of  data but still can’t think for themselves.

3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem and

4. As  soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer,  you could have gotten a better model.

The women won.


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