In Lieu Of Flowers

– by Albert Berkshire

In December of 1997, Hilary Montbourquette taught me two of the most valuable lessons I would ever learn in business.

1) Never be the drunkest employee at the company Christmas party when you know there will be cameras present; and

2) Always make your Thank-You’s personal.

As I opened his card in my office, a few days before Christmas, he exposed a rather disturbing grin as he walked away from my desk, and on to see the next person, who, I was about to discover, would likely experience the same fate as would I.

Inside the Christmas card, was some cash, a personal note thanking me for being a loyal and hard-working guy who was always ready to step up when needed (I was) … and a photo of me … well, I was indeed the drunkest person at the party, and there was evidence…and possibly a wig. I still have it in a box labeled “Shit Albert, For Some Reason, Can’t Throw Out”.

Sidebar: Also in that box are three Toronto newspapers from January 1, 2000, a number of photos I shot and particularly liked from my days in Journalism School, a video tape of the artist L. Hope Young smoking a cigarette to the music of Sinead O’Connor, a few important-to-my-security photos of some people I know, a couple of photos from Nassau in 1995 documenting my friend Jen consuming a lot of beef noodle soup, and me with the Stanley Cup (also very drunk and again in front of a camera, despite having learned the photo lesson from Hilary two years prior). The Stanley Cup story, by the by, is particularly odd and wholly deserving of its own story…and thank you card. Oddly, I drink very little these days. There’s just no time. There’s writing to be done.

The photo from Hilary was amusing, and I wasn’t the only person to receive one, thusly, we all had some good laughs recalling the 1996 Q93 Christmas Party. (Sometimes holding onto a photo for an entire year is worth the self-imposed suspense. I’ve done it myself.) And while I may to this day question his motives in presenting me with what was certainly a ‘copy’ of the photo, I do know that even if it was a reminder to me that he had the upper hand, it was also very personal.

I don’t know of many instances when I have received a photo of me from someone else. I’m sure the guys have shared some pictures, and a few colleagues have done the same, but those are more common since the explosion of the digital age, where it is quick and easy to email or post a photo and tag a friend in the process.

Instant. Cold. Impersonal. Yes decidedly convenient. Meh.

The fact that Hillary took the time to write a personal note, in a card, and include a copy of the photo (actually on Kodak paper), meant more to me than the $50 or $100 bucks in the card – despite my paltry salary. I am, perhaps, more touched by the recollection of the sentiment, than I was back that December day. Still, 15 years later, it remains fresh in my mind.

The personal thank you card; one you actually write in, sign, and post, is the quintessential form of communication. And I will defend it beyond the day Canada Post, USPS, or even the Royal Mail cease to exist.

Digital junkies, hold-over yuppies, corporate multi-multi-multi-taskers will argue it takes too long and they can send emails with their signature already formatted at the bottom of the page to fifty clients in the time it takes to send one, personal card.  But to what end? Anyone can type (or copy and paste) a thank-you email, complete with the luxury of digital editing, spelling and grammar check – although it seems to be less important to an alarming number of “corporate” types. On the flip side (a place you know I like to spend my time…debating…everything), there is something profoundly special about a) receiving something in the mail; b) the unedited, personal note in the sender’s handwriting – however unpracticed it may be since we all spend far too much time typing and very little, if any, time writing with a pen or pencil; and c) having something to display on your desk, night table, studio speaker, cork board, refrigerator, or the like.

It is real. It is tactile (humans being a tactile species – we like to touch). It is far better, more important, better received, and more fondly remembered for years and years and years than any email you could ever write. I’m a writer. I know this fact because I carefully craft every email I send. (Yes, you may have received a few quick replies form me, but I am very anal-retentive about my grammar and spelling. Typos are free game from time to time – everyone has to have a signature quirk.) Plus – you can’t delete a real thank you card.

And if that doesn’t convince you; it is something in the mail that isn’t a bill or a flyer.

I have received a lot of thank you cards from people over the years. I love every single one of them. I keep them all. From family, friends old and new, employers, past lovers, business colleagues, clients, and my spouse. Some come in the mail, some are hand delivered. One client likes to courier them to me. (seriously)

The thing is, if you really want to be remembered – a month from now, or 15 years later – be the person who took the time to send a personal note, penned in your hand, with something personal that you know will matter to the recipient. Even if you print a couple of photos on standard printer paper. Because short of sending a person flowers (Oh, the cliche) with a little card on a pitchfork wedged into an oddly textured green sponge-like substance, nothing says I appreciate you more than the Thank You card.

I smile every time I read, and re-read them. And I fondly remember the sender.

It matters that much.

What you write, in your own hand, means far more than you could ever imagine.


Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He writes for a living, and refuses to allow the digital world to erase the purity and significance of the hand-written word. Currently, he lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. Pouring his heart onto a page, and relentlessly appreciating the emotion found in the written word, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. To read about his professional side, visit And for a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire. 

Live…From The Intersection Of Determination And Despair…

– by Albert Berkshire

I could write an article for just about every conversation I have each day. I could. Not everything would be relevant – to you or me – but I could. And since I have a lot of, sadly, irrelevant conversations in the course of my business day, I like to stick to writing about the conversations that inspire, or on the other end of the pendulum’s swing – infuriate.

Today, my morning being relatively devoid of colloquial spam, I’m happy to write about business, and the ideas spawned from a conversation this morning.

Damn. This already smells of self-help for the budding CEO. It is what it is. Oh wait, I hate the grossly redundant expression. Mostly because I have something valuable to add (I suppose, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this article, blog, post, update, material, or whatever you prefer to call this electronic invasion into your psyche), and that expression is akin to throwing in the conversational towel and calling it a grade-eight day. I feel like I should, instead, for ratings, hits, or notoriety, talk about Katie and Tom. Scratch that. I’m better educated and far more interesting, and just a little more confident – in case you didn’t notice that personality trait.

Back on the dusty, exhaust-riddled, cobblestone corner of Determination and Despair, an intersection, which I am inclined to think is visited by many of us in the course of life and career, I find myself watching from a nearby coffee shop. A euphemism, if you will, for my voyeur state of professional and career mind. I see from my outlook point, seated on a wrought iron chair that is destined to leave a grid-like pattern on the back of my legs, the faces of people who are overcome with the world. Most of us, at some or several points in our collective careers (we will all have many in our lifetime), come up against challenges that we feel are insurmountable.

Roadblocks, if you will.

Without getting into any heavy research here, which means you’re about to be subjected to my opinion and insight – a wildly fun and exhilarating, career-baggage-riddled roller coaster ride in itself – and not withstanding the matter that I don’t want to ever solicit valuable research data from that Neurophychologist I dated briefly back in 1998, I’m going to offer some conjecture regarding why we do the silly career things we do.

Or maybe you. I’m perfect.

Okay, maybe not perfect. But for the next few hundred words, let’s pretend that I have a handle on the topic. It remains necessary that you humour me because I could never survive a research conversation with the obsessive compulsive brian-poker from my past life.

Byegones. (I prefer this to “it is what it is”, as you may have guessed. It’s a Fishism. If you get that, you get me. Mentally, not physically. My character is already spoken-for.)

We are pros. What we do for a living is what we do almost every day. And thanks to email, zee interwebs, and your fikkin‘ Blackberry-like device, (while I use an iPhone, I do prefer a real keyboard. I like how it clicks. It had substance. I’m a tactile kind of guy.), we do what we do far earlier in the day until far later in the day. It’s the way of the world. It is what…nawww, that’s too easy. So I often question what we we, or maybe you, question those things in which we (you?) are most confident. What makes us go from presenting an idea, a plan, a pitch with confidence to constantly rehashing the presentation, conversation, adulation (hey, it rhymes like an REM song) in an almost obsessive manner? Do I hear ‘ledge walking’ coming from your brain? Do we replay our ideas in an effort to convince ourself that we said the right things, made the right moves, presented the right material – used right instead of correct, correctly – so that we eventually give ourself a ‘job well done‘ pat on the back?

Or are we, as a species, a sucker for self-inflicted punishment and denial.

Oh my GHAD. Are we all Catholic?

<Albert, now in third person, returns after a short interlude. He had to get a drink after that moment.>

We are successful. Unless you run your business out of the local library (if you do, and I’m not one to judge – we all need inspiration – thank you for paying your dues and supporting one of the last government run agencies supporting and promoting literacy in the Western World), you have a computer, possibly a phone and internet connection and that, for the purpose of today’s demonstration, will serve a representation of some modicum of success. Thusly, your past experiences have brought you to this point in time when you are actually researching career ideas, insight, and opinion. So why are we worrying about what is to come? Are you financially overextended? I think there’s a special Chapter for that matter, and if it has come to that, you should be working on documents and an exit strategy, and not reading the foolishness I write, and if it hasn’t come to that, then you are still in business. Okay, it’s not all foolishness that I write. So stop worrying about things you can’t change. Focus on the goals you have set and be the successful professional you really know your clients, employers, and colleagues  know you to be.

My retired housing industry consultant friend, Bryan, always talks about perceived image. How it looks matters in business. (reread that if you must. It took a few passes for it to make sense to me) If you look busy, act busy, and perform like you are busy (but never too busy for those who matter – like paying customers or your employer) you’ll be busy and successful. It’s why my clients hire my company (plug) to update their blogs – they’re too busy being busy. So I do it. And because I write for a living, so I have a small handle on things in that literary category. Anyway, I do it because that’s what the consultant told me works. And when the consultant speaks, or writes, or pontificates, it is always worth hearing. Even if his mouth was full of pancakes. (He’s retired. He likes IHOP.)

And like the advice of countless others, I’ll offer you my little titbit (yes, it is a “titbit”, not a “tid-bit”. There’s no such thing as a tid, or any bit of it):

When you find yourself standing at the intersection of Determination and Despair, look over to your left and I’ll be sitting at the corner cafe (well, I may not be, but someone will) sipping on a coffee, a book on the table (hopefully one of mine) and I’ll (or that someone) be giving you a knowing nod. And then you’ll wonder what in life could be worse than taking advice from that guy?

And then you’ll know that like any intersection in your travels, commute, or life, you eventually pick a direction and move on.

Moving on, I like to think, is a great thing to do when you are focused on the negative things in life.

Around some corner from Determination and Despair, is Success and Achievement.

Yup. This smells like self-help.

Hope it helps. Or in the very least, amuses.

Like the lead character in his forthcoming freshman novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, Albert, too, likes a comfortable seat with a view at a coffee shop.


Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He writes for a living, and sometimes, to get the cobwebs out of his creative head. Currently, he lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. Giving clients and friends advice, or something to consider, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. To read about his professional side, visit And for a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.