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Michelle LaBrosse

Health Care

What’s in Your Backpack?

It's the intangible tools that lead to success.

Published: Friday, October 23, 2009 - 17:38

A couple of years ago, I was featured on CNN pouring out the contents of my backpack. The story was about how I ran my business, virtually, from wherever I was with the trusty items carried on my back.

As you might imagine, there were all the usual suspects: my laptop, iPhone, digital camera, and chargers. And, then, there were also some creature comforts: my MP3 player, a book, a sweater, healthy snacks, water, and noise canceling headphones.

After the story aired on CNN, I received a lot of e-mails from people telling me their own road-warrior tales and what they couldn’t live without when they traveled. And it got me to thinking about what was in my backpack that was intangible. What were all the things that really helped me build my business that could not be physically seen?

So, here’s my list of what’s in my backpack that matters most, but isn’t necessarily detected by the TSA at a security check.

Passion. Yes, it’s true I’m a project management junkie. I’m passionate about the power of project management, and I get excited every time I use my project management skills to solve a problem or bring a project to completion. It doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about, but what does matter is that you carry the magic of your own passion with you wherever you go. Bring it on!

• Think like an engineer. You may have heard about the lazy engineer? In engineering, we don’t look at the word “lazy” like every one else. To us, it means finding a smarter and faster way to do something that may not take as much energy or resources. In this context, lazy is a good thing. Think of the person in your office who spends all of his or her time looking very busy but accomplishing little. When you think like an engineer, you are always looking for better and more efficient ways to do things.

Mastery. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success (Little Brown and Co., 2008), he proposes that it takes 10,000 hours to truly master anything. Wow. When I read that, it really resonated with me because I’ve spent my entire career focusing on the mastery of project management. I realized that a huge part of my success has been the 10,000 or more hours of experience I carry with me in my backpack. I also think that number is inspiring because it says that if you invest the time and passion in anything, you can become a master at it. Don’t let anything hold you back from attaining a higher level of mastery in project management. Whether it is your project management program or ongoing development of your project management skills, make sure you use your talent to the fullest.

Focus. With all the information coming at us from all directions, the idea of focus is simple but not always easy to do. Whenever you are feeling overwhelmed by a project or a goal, make sure you take the time to break it down and focus on what you have to do to get the job done. This is where project plans are invaluable. I’ve always seen them as calm within the chaos. If a project feels like it’s getting out of control, the project plan is the perfect way to get every one and every thing centered and back on track.

• Persistence. There are millions of ideas buzzing around, but how many of them ever see the light of day? The ones that do evolve from idea to reality are driven by people who follow through with persistence and aren’t happy until they see the successful completion of a goal. I had a vision for my company and I’ve hit many obstacles along the way, but it has always been my persistence that has kept me going.

• Humble humor. Humility and humor are both powerful friends to have along with you on any journey, and when you put them together, they can’t be beat. I’m very good at laughing at myself and knowing when I’ve made a mistake. It’s very powerful for your team to see the boss make a mistake, admit it, laugh about it, and move on. The air is thinner at the top of the mountain, that’s why we all need to tumble down now and again to gain some perspective.

• Service. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” Service to others has been a cornerstone of my own personal and professional success. When you serve others, you learn so much about yourself. You receive more than you give. Where else does that kind of math work? Another bonus: service and passion go nicely together. Tie your passion into a way to serve others, and you have a home run.


Okay, are you thinking, “Nice backpack—you got there, but where do I begin?” Start here. Think about the successes you’ve had so far in your life (small and large). What do you attribute them to? Now, ask yourself how you can build on them. What can you do to take yourself to the next level? How can you move your project management skills to a level of mastery?

At Cheetah Learning, we’re rooting for you. Nothing makes us happier than hearing success stories about how project management impacts people’s lives in a positive way. If you’re carrying a project management story or two in your backpack, let us know. We’d love to hear about it at marketing@cheetahlearning.com.


About The Author

Michelle LaBrosse’s picture

Michelle LaBrosse

Michelle LaBrosse is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun, and fast. She is the founder of Cheetah Learning and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring project management to the masses. She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program and holds engineering degrees from Syracuse University and the University of Dayton. Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. More than 50,000 people have used Cheetah Learning’s project management and accelerated learning techniques.