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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Composing a Life with Becky J. Frederick

The following interview took place over several weeks last summer with Becky J. Frederick, President of Workplace Strategy. Becky had in the past attended a couple of my journal writing workshops with the particular focus on “composing” one’s life. She agreed to let me interview her about how what she learned in those workshops found their way into her work.

With many thanks to Becky for her patience in finally seeing our Q&A in print. 

1. How long have you kept a personal journal? And what are the different ways you’ve used it?

On and off, I have kept a journal for about 30 years. However, it has been spotty for most of that time. I find myself engaging for a while and then my interest or commitment wavers.

For a while, I kept a personal journal almost as a ledger or a record of my life – what was happening; what was going on; how I was feeling. Periodically, as I went through tough times, I would use it as a refuge – sometimes to vent, sometimes to express the things that scared me.  

As a rule, the only time I find myself totally engaged in journaling is when I travel. I pick or make dual journals for each trip. In one journal, I record my thoughts, observations, and feelings, and in another I keep a record of what I do each day, noting how much I spent and names of stores and restaurants.

Having said that, there have been several times in my life when I have used the journal in a more reflective way. For example, during your first Composing a Life workshop I attended at Women and Children Bookstore, I used it because I felt unsettled and wanted a place to examine my life and think about next steps. I believe that was in 2004. Not so coincidentally, I met my current husband about a year after that workshop.

Then in 2013, I took the workshop again with my friend, Joan. We were celebrating our 55th birthdays that year and talked about wanting to look ahead and think about the next five or 10 years of our lives. 

More recently, I have found I use it to help me with my business and I also suggest to clients journaling as a technique for reflection. 

In my strategic planning sessions, I use several journaling techniques as moments of individual reflection before participants engage in group discussion. In the past, I have used the “hot pen” exercise with large groups who are beginning a strategic thinking process or managing a major change initiative. It allows every person in the group to record and honor their feelings and fears before they begin their public discussions.    

When I work with senior executives or leadership teams, often I incorporate journaling as an opportunity for my clients to reflect personally and professionally on group dynamics, team goals, or aspirations for the coming year. I find that these techniques work for both introverts and extroverts, and they have a “take away” to use in their personal and work lives.   

2. In my workshops, I’ve described journal writing as a skill, one that people can learn in order to get the most of the practice.  Since you’ve been in some of my workshops, does that ring true for you?

I agree completely, and it is a skill I still want to refine. I welcome the opportunity to think about different ways to enhance this skill and feel that workshops have definitely helped me in the past.

3.  I suggest that people use their personal journals in three main ways: to recall the past; observe and record the present; and imagine the future. Do you do that in your own journal?

Interestingly, when I was younger I did a lot more of the “observe and record the present.” When I read those journals now, it can be almost painful…blah, blah, blah. As I get a bit older, I find myself using personal journals to recall the past and imagine the future ….and frankly, I find that much more interesting.

4. I also describe journal writing as a way to think-in-writing, to gain clarity or discover something significant about our lives. Has that happened to you? If so, can you describe a particular situation?

During the 2013 workshop, I found myself really imagining what my life might look like after I stop working full-time. I saw a number of different roles and opportunities that would allow for more balance between my personal and professional pursuits. In fact, I was able to imagine ways they could merge more fully when I’m not responsible for running a business.

I also started a list of things I want to do in my retirement: become a Master Gardener; volunteer at Fernwood Botanical Garden; start a book group in Michigan; and learn to knit.

5. Has journal writing ever helped you make an important decision? Manage stress? Again, can you describe how?

Absolutely. About four years after the 2004 workshop I mentioned above, I hit a real bump in my consulting business. Part of it was the economy, but part of it was due to a really unfocused approach to my business and my clients. So, I decided to use several techniques I learned in that workshop, including the monologue/unsent letter*.

First, I wrote a letter to myself describing my unique qualities as a strategist. Then, I wrote a letter to a current client telling her why my services were of value to her company. Finally, I started making a list of all the things I loved to do as a consultant – the activities and experiences that made me happy – and would be of value to potential clients.

I spent months looking at what I had written and adding to it and refining my thoughts, then used what I’d written as a framework for moving my business forward. Those journal entries really helped me see what decisions I needed to make for my business. Within a few months, I dropped two clients and added four new ones. I changed my fee schedule and became much clearer in my negotiations with clients. I developed proposal language that reflected my journal entries and described what I could bring to each engagement in terms of strategic, business, and relationship value. I still use these entries as screening criteria for new work and new clients.      

6. I like to use journal writing to help me create goals and especially manage transitions. Have you found it useful in those ways?

I particularly like the technique of lists; I often use them to remind me of priorities, goals, what to pay attention to.

Every year, usually in July, I go back and read my journals from 2004 to the present. I reflect on the prompts and tools as well as my responses. I circle things I find particularly interesting and enlightening. I try to note what feels the same and what feels different. It is a way I “take stock” of my life and allows me to think about the future.  

7. I particularly like the way you’ve incorporated journal writing into your professional work. From that vantage point, can you think of other professions that might benefit from its use?

I think that journal writing can be helpful in many professions, especially in industries and work environments that require a high level of trust and teamwork. From that perspective, I can see journal writing being particularly effective in human resources and healthcare.  

NOTE: *from The New Diary by Tristine Rainer

And to learn more about Becky and her work, including how to contact her, read on:

Becky J. Frederick

In her consulting practice, Becky works closely with clients to develop high-performance workplaces – and – employees who are actively engaged and goal-oriented. Her approach is strategic, values-based, and time-sensitive. Becky’s special expertise includes strategic planning; organizational assessment and development; leadership development; and meeting/project facilitation. 

Becky started her career as a labor and employment attorney practicing in both Illinois and Indiana. She served as an Assistant Corporation Counsel in the City of Chicago’s Law Department for two years before she accepted the role of General Counsel in the Departments of Streets and Sanitation. After a decade of practicing law, Becky moved into the HR arena where she served as a senior leader managing a complex HR function that included labor relations, employee relations, talent management, payroll, compensation, and benefits.

In 1996, she left the public sector to launch her strategy and management consulting business, Workplace Strategy.

As a seasoned manager, Becky has served in key association management roles including serving as Interim Executive Director of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA), a personal membership group of the American Hospital Association. Her role as Executive Director was an extension of her previous role as Project Manager for the ASHHRA HR Leadership Initiative. Her deliverables included the Healthcare HR Leadership Forum, HR Leader Guidebook, and the development of the ASHHRA HR Leader Model – a model identifying five key competencies for the HR Leader in today’s healthcare environment.

Becky’s current volunteer engagements include service as Vice-Chair for the Heartland Human Care Services Board of the Heartland Alliance as well as serving as co-chair of Heartland’s Board Relations Committee. She participated as a Steering Committee member for the Women’s Colloquium of Indiana University for over 15 years. Previously, she served on the board of Chicago Cares for almost 5 years. For over a decade, she volunteered for the Girl Scouts of Chicago as the Nominating Committee Chair, At-Large Board member, Chair of the Building Better Boards Task Force; Chair of the Human Resources Committee; and Secretary of the Board of Directors. 

For two years, Becky served as faculty at Harper College in the Non-Profit Certificate Program.

With a collaborator, Becky created Value Reflection Cards, a card deck with 88 values and meanings, which she frequently uses in her client engagements. The card deck can be used individually, for meaningful values exploration; with groups as an interactive experience for value sharing; or organizationally to show a clear relationship between values and business success.

Becky’s curiosity about patterns, people, and places has taken her to all seven continents. Using these diverse experiences – and her personal spirit of wonder and wander – she started a consulting business headquartered in Chicago.

These journeys have informed her career choices, volunteer experiences, and most significantly, the work she does with clients. Becky has a need to know and understand how things work and don’t work. She sees patterns amidst the diversity of ideas, actions, and relationships in the workplace. Her engagement with clients reflects her spirit of adventure; energy and insight; and ability to craft people solutions that work. 

A frequent speaker at national conferences and employer-sponsored events, Becky’s topics include strategic planning, personal branding, and managing conflict.    

Select clients include:
      Age Options
American Hospital Association (AHA)
American Medical Association (AMA)
American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA)
Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA)
Certification of Disability Management Specialists Commission (CDMSC)
Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC)
Edward-Elmhurst Health
Hanul Family Alliance
Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA)
Indiana University, College of Arts and Sciences
Lancaster General Health
Meals on Wheels Association of America 
Michigan Society of Hematology and Oncology (MSHO)
Navistar, Inc.
Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF)
PLOWS Council on Aging

For more information, please contact:

Becky J. Frederick
Workplace Strategy, Inc.
400 West Deming Place, Suite 1C
Chicago, Il 60614
(773) 935-0942 (phone)
(773) 289-0440 (fax)

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