I’m sitting on an airplane on my way back from Auckland after a great weekend at our biennial Connecting Young Leaders conference which brings together my student advisers from around the country for a couple days of networking, leadership training, and policy discussions. As the plane heads southward, I’m staring at a blank screen and pondering how best to mark an unrelated occasion of some note.
The occasion? While processing email and social media before packing this morning, I realized that I have published 299 articles here since launching this blog, which makes this my 300th post. That fact certainly surprised and slightly embarrassed me. Yes, embarrassed.
I grew up in an extended family with our butcher shop on the first floor, grandparents on the second, and my parents, brother, and me on the third floor. Everybody worked. My grandfather, a German immigrant who at first mined coal to support the family, had a distinct world view conveyed in pithy imperatives, one of the most forceful of which was, “Stop talking. Start doing.” A corollary which I didn’t fully understand until later was, “Any fool can have an opinion, and usually does.”
So, thinking about all the words I’ve written lately is slightly disconcerting. It generates a nagging concern that maybe I should have been doing more and talking less. It might also explain why I’ve gained 15 kilos since arriving in New Zealand. Perhaps I should cut back on my typing and get up and run around the block more. But here I am, 15 kilos heavier and writing my 300th blog post.
The experience has been extraordinarily rewarding, and I’m very grateful to all of my readers for tuning in. My work has been enriched and indeed greatly influenced by the dynamic conversation with you through comments, emails, tweets, and even in-person exchanges spurred by various blog posts. I’ve learned a great deal about the real (not the officially approved or ad agency generated) New Zealand from that blog-initiated dialogue. (By the way, for the record, the real version is far superior.)
And of course there have been funny moments. My favorite reader comments will likely always be the first two that I received. My slightly sardonic first post implied that perhaps narcissistic personality disorder had become one of the pillars of modern culture. We almost immediately received two comments, both from Kiwi media figures. The first cautioned that mental illness was not talked about in New Zealand and that people might thus misinterpret my blog post. The second expressed mild outrage that I appeared to be bashing narcissists. Wow, and wow.
The tool is inherently empowering and inclusive, inviting into the conversation large numbers of people who otherwise could not or would not see what an Ambassador does, let alone engage directly with someone in such a position. It also provides a platform for raising the visibility of good people doing the kind of great work that usually doesn’t get sufficiently acknowledged.
That latter point is particularly important to me. That’s why my favorite posts are the ones that talk about unsung heroes engaged in life-changing activities, including Women in Business Development Inc. (“WIBDI”), Special Olympics, Peace Corps, Samoa Victims Support Group, and mentor-intensive youth programs such as rippa rugby, Vex robotics, and Computer Clubhouse. If you haven’t seen those posts, I would urge you to run a search of the Archive and take a look.
Visibility sometimes generates much needed action. My favorite example concerns WIBDI, Adi Tafunai’s extraordinary organization about which I have written several times. Adi tells me that my posts in September 2010 came to the attention of a German philanthropist who contacted her to inquire what assistance she might need to advance her women-driven organic farming projects. The result was a large financial grant and gift of custom-built pressing equipment. That outcome alone makes the 15 kilos and 299 posts worthwhile in my book.
The posts that have been the most fun to write were the series about my two visits to Antarctica in November/December 2010 and February 2012. Both trips were mind-blowing, high-adrenaline adventures, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to share photos and impressions with my readers in real time. There is also a special place on my list for the cranky post that I wrote for my first World Oceans Day as Ambassador.
The most difficult pieces to write were the ones arising from the Christchurch earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011 (posted in March 2011). With so much destruction, tragedy, and intensive work, writing didn’t come easily. But there were important stories to be told, essential information to be conveyed, and heroes to be acknowledged, and I was glad that we had flexible, diversified communciation tools at our disposal.
So what’s next as the blog sprints past #300?
Well, I’m working on developing informational series to address particular interests raised by significant numbers of readers. I recently launched alternating biweekly series on travel (thus far featuring South Dakota, New Hampshire, Austin, Oregon, Maine, and Los Angeles ) and tertiary education (thus far highlighting Harvard, Iowa, Southern California, Washington, Swarthmore, and Hawai’i/Mānoa). Still in the development pipeline are series on regional policy issues, guest commentary, and current science topics.
I’m also spending a good bit of time converting part of the Embassy into a video/digital studio. Once up and running, we’ll use the facility to create more engaging posts and programming including frequent live streams, briefings by visiting officials, interactive Q & A’s, and even regular interviews, features, and commentaries by our various student groups. We’ll see.
If you have any ideas or suggestions about how to improve the blog, create a more useful conversation, or attract new audiences, please let me know. As I hope you’ve noticed by now, feedback is not only appreciated but processed and employed.
Finally, if you have a favorite among my first 300 posts, please let me know through the email or comment features. I’d enjoy hearing what you liked most. If I receive a sufficient number of responses, I’ll do a people’s choice top ten countdown next month.
And of course, stay tuned.