Every Day is Saturday

The joy and heartache of working for myself from home

Peaks and Valleys

from the blog www.stuckincustoms.com

Lately I’ve become distressed about the impact that relatively minor physical discomfort and mood swings seem to have on my ability to get shit done. I’ve been telling myself that when I used to get up and go to work in an office every day I didn’t have to fight through periods of extreme apathy like I sometimes now experience, and a headache would rarely cause me to miss a day of work. Of course, I’m older now, and I believe I’m in the beginning stages of what is delicately referred to as “the change”, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. However, I’m worried that I am in danger of giving in to my lazier nature, which I absolutely cannot afford to do. What happened to that girl I think I remember, the one who would drag herself out of bed no matter what?

Yes, I did push through headaches and shoulder stiffness and sinus congestion and all that other stuff. I did force myself to get dressed and drive to the office and sit at my desk when I would have rather been pretty much anywhere else. Yes, I did that – we all do that because we have to. When I compare my recollection of what it was like to have to go into an office each day whether I felt in top form or not to how I react now when I’m not feeling my best, it seems like I’m ever so quick to take an aspirin and go back to bed, just because I can. Is that a bad thing? Shouldn’t I just make myself get up and go downstairs and fire up the laptop and get on with it?

Or am I remembering it all wrong?

One interesting facet of working from home is that you have an opportunity to really get to know your body’s rhythms. There are days I wake up and I feel ready to leap tall buildings. I approach my tasks with relish and I seem to get everything on my list done, and more. Then there are days when I can’t focus for five minutes on anything; my thoughts rush from one thing to another, and I start tasks only to quit and pick up something else that I also don’t finish. Then there are days when I just don’t feel well in my body. I’m tired, and things are sort of achy. I hate those days. I try to push through them, but I find that the quality of my work is lessened, and I make mistakes that I would never make on a good day. I’ve learned not to push too hard, and that looking like an idiot in front of a client isn’t worth losing an hour or so of my day to a nap.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m pretty sure I had these same sorts of days when I went into an office. I definitely remember days where I felt as busy as a bee but I didn’t seem to get anything accomplished; I just buzzed from one thing to another in rapid succession. I remember days of my brain being so foggy that I would look for things to do that didn’t require much thought, thereby minimizing the the chances of making an embarrassing mistake. I remember days of feeling ill, but since having a nap wasn’t an option, I’d just suffer through and be totally unproductive all day. At least now I can go lay down for an hour; often I come back feeling refreshed and am able to attack my to-do list with new energy.

So, maybe it’s not that I used to have some superpower that allowed me to push through the down days, maybe I’m just better at acknowledging them and reacting appropriately. Sure, there are lots of times when I have conference calls or deadlines that force me to keep engaged when I’d much rather watch TV or take a nap. But I’ve come to accept that my work day doesn’t just happen between 8 and 5; I can, and do, work very odd hours. In addition, when I’m done with my work for the day I’m done; I don’t have a boss who wanders around trying to catch me goofing off. I still sometimes have that mindset, that I’m required to sit at my desk for a certain number of hours, being available in an instant in the event somebody wants something from me. The wonderful truth is that I don’t have to do that. If my head hurts, I can take a pill and go lay down until it passes. If I can’t focus on a particular task, I can put it to the side and do something my reduced attention span will allow. If I’m on fire, I can work ten hours straight without a break. It’s up to me to choose how to respond to the context of each day as it happens – to go with the flow of the highs and the lows.

What a gift.
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photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

 

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Life, the Universe, and Everything

don't panic

Every year since I was fairly young, 10 or 11, my father has asked me the same question on my birthday:

“What have you learned this year?”

I look forward to this annual ritual, and I usually start thinking about it some days ahead of time. Well, today is my birthday, and my Dad reads my blog, so I’m going to go ahead and answer the question now (Dad, I look forward to discussing it with you later!).

This year I’ve learned some harsh truths:

  • Hard work isn’t always rewarded in the way you hope it will be;
  • Adults in professional situations will smile in your face and lie about you behind your back (yeah yeah I know, but it still surprises me);
  • I am vulnerable to feelings of powerlessness.

I’ve also learned some wonderful truths:

  • I’ve learned not to panic when things go wrong – the situation is rarely as bad as it seems at first;
  • I’ve learned how to embrace my disappointment and move on;
  • I’ve learned that gratitude is the best defense against despair;
  • I’ve learned that what I think is a mistake may actually be just a guidepost on the way to a better destination;
  • I’ve learned that I’d rather be happy than right;
  • I’ve learned that a simple act of kindness, shown to a complete stranger, is the greatest power in the universe.

I don’t have the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, but I do know this: if you are lucky enough to have people in your life who you love and who love you, the best use of your time on this planet is to protect and nurture that love. By all means do your work, engage in thoughtful debate, support the arts, give to the needy, explore the sacred divine, take care of your body, but – even as you pursue these good things – never forget to love the people in your life.

And never underestimate the impact you have on other people whether you know them or not. It’s a responsibility we all have, to lead with compassion, to listen in order to understand, and not to add to the conflict and turmoil in the world. This is what I’ve learned. My hope is that I am able to live it every day.

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photo credit: Old Ben Kenobi via photopin cc
 

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The Courage to Change the Things I Can

degree

I’m looking at my master’s degree certificate. It hangs on the wall above my desk. Right after I graduated I spent a lot of money to have it matted and framed, and it has traveled with me everywhere I’ve worked in the 10 years and six months since it was presented to me. It is a source of pride for me, a physical reminder of something I’ve accomplished in my life. I see it every day, but it’s been a while since I really looked at it and thought about those three years.

Some of you know that I was working full time when I went to grad school. I had a very responsible job at a real estate investment company, but I had hit a wall in my career path. I decided to get my master’s so that I would have better opportunities to grow and make more money.

It was a tough three years, as you can imagine (and as I’m sure some of you have experienced). After I graduated people would ask me how I did it. My answer always was that after I started I never thought for a moment that I wouldn’t finish. It was just what I was doing, and I was going to do it until it was done, and that was that. And that, indeed, was that. It was that straightforward.

To be fair I had a lot of help – my husband was a total rock star, picking up several household duties I abandoned and constantly supporting me – but in the end it was up to me to decide if I was going to go to class or do the assignment or study for the test. I didn’t think about how hard it was or how tired I was or how much I was looking forward to not having to go to class anymore – I just did it.

It’s easier to achieve those clear-cut goals. There’s nothing ambiguous about getting a degree – you either do it or you don’t. I think what does require courage is when you’re pursuing a goal that isn’t as clear cut. The Serenity Prayer says that we need “courage to change the things we can.” People going through alcohol and drug addiction recovery use this prayer as a means to recognize those parts of their lives that are out of their control, but more importantly, those parts that are within their control. We drive ourselves crazy obsessing about things that are out of our control, and we often ignore those things that we can, in fact, change. I’m not sure how much wisdom is needed to determine the difference between them – it seems pretty clear to me. Just ask yourself “Can I actually do anything to change this whatever-it-is that I want to change? How would I do that?” If you can clearly see how to make the change happen then go for it. If not, let it go. It will eat you alive if you don’t.

Sometimes we need more wisdom to see those things that we can change rather than those we can’t. It’s easy to decide that what we want to change about our lives is out of our control and nothing we do will make a difference. Of course that is true sometimes, but there are also times when I may think something is impossible that might actually be achievable given enough determination and commitment. Some people think working full time and going to school is impossible; I’m living proof that that’s not the case. This is when you need courage, to attempt what in your mind you think is impossible, whatever it may be.

I’m struggling now with wanting to make some long-term changes in my lifestyle and feeling like it’s impossible. However, I’m starting to see what my lack of physical activity could mean for me in later years, and I do not want to end up not being able to get around when I’m older. I want to be able to travel freely for as long as I have breath in my body. So that means that some things have to change. I know it is within my control, and I know what I need to do. Now I just have to do it.

I don’t know why making these changes is so hard. I conquered graduate school, I quit smoking – surely I can do this, too. The thing is, I’ve tried – and failed – many times. I know have to keep trying until it sticks, until I stop thinking about how hard it is or how tired I am or how glad I’ll be when I’m done, because I’ll never be done. I won’t get a certificate to frame on my wall to commemorate my accomplishment. Knowing that there is no end in sight intimidates (and irritates) me. And scares me, for some reason I don’t understand. So I’m looking for the courage to change what I know I can change, the patience to enjoy the journey, and the wisdom to let go of the need for a clear ending. Wish me luck.

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Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014

 

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Lessons I’ve Learned from Jack Bauer

24

I’m not ashamed to admit it – I love the TV show “24“. I’ve watched every season since the beginning in 2001, gleefully following the adventures of the main character, Jack Bauer (played by the ever-hunky Kiefer Sutherland), as he has saved a U.S. President from assassination, stopped an imminent nuclear bomb attack on Los Angeles, and generally thwarted terrorist plots against the United States and its interests. Jack is a hero, and therefore totally misunderstood, which led to his rise to the top of the fictional “CTU” (Counter-Terrorism Unit) and, ultimately, his spectacular downfall.

I was so happy when “24″ was brought back for a new (albeit shorter) season this year. As I have watched this new story unfold it has reminded me of the lessons I’ve learned from Jack; important lessons about life, survival, and self sacrifice. I wanted to share those lessons with you.

Lesson #1:  If you’re still breathing, there’s hope. If you watch the show you know how many times Jack has been tortured by the bad guys; it seems like every season he gets the ever-lovin’ crap beat out of him at least once (sometimes twice), but somehow, even after being stabbed and whipped and hooked up to a car battery, as soon as he gets free he just pops up, kills all the bad guys in sight, and gets back to the business of stopping that season’s catastrophe. He’s totally focused and completely unstoppable. I think this is a great life lesson – no matter how bad things have been, no matter how badly you’ve been hurt, or delayed, or thrown off course by things outside of your control, you can still bounce back and keep moving ahead. As long as you’re breathing, you have a chance to do what you set out to do.

Lesson #2: Whispering can be better than yelling. Keifer Sutherland gets a lot a flack about the fact that he whispers most of his lines. It’s not just a Jack Bauer character choice – if you’ve seen him in anything in the past 10 years or so, you know that it’s just how he speaks his lines. Yes, it’s annoying, but let’s look at it from a different perspective. The lesson I’ve learned here is that keeping your voice level and at a low volume can not only defuses a tense situation, it can also make people listen to what you have to say more closely than if you’re yelling at them. I’ve seen Jack about to explode with justified anger, but instead of screaming at whoever it was that screwed up, or lied, or whatever, Jack pulls it back, brings it down, and deals with it calmly. Sure, he loses it every now and then, and when he does, it’s really scary! So, save your outbursts for when it really matters – it will have a much bigger impact than running around yelling at everyone all the time.

Lesson #3: The big picture is what’s important, not your place in it. Over and over we’ve seen Jack sacrifice himself – his body, his reputation, his connection to his family – in service to a cause greater than himself. The lengths he has gone to to protect the people and situations in his charge have been extreme. At the end of the last season he found himself in a situation where he had to make a terrible choice:  he could choose to take actions that would keep the world from possibly descending into war, but if he did, he would be branded a terrorist and never be able to return to the U.S. or see his family again. Being Jack, he make the tough choice. I’m sure I will never find myself in that kind of a situation, but it’s good to have an example (even a fictional one) of a person who is willing to give up everything in service to a higher good. We should all strive to be more like that.

Lesson #4: Know when to respect the chain of command and when not to. Jack is constantly coming up against government bureaucracies that get in the way of him getting things done, and he has perfected the art of cutting through the red tape – usually with sudden violence. But at the same time, he tries really hard not to kill anyone on his “side” if he can at all help it. Why shoot the security guard who is just trying to do his job when you can knock him unconscious? Jack knows what needs to happen and how it needs to happen, and he doesn’t have any patience (less so as the years have gone on) with people who try to slow him down. However, he has a deep and abiding respect for the authority of the President, and for the democratic principles he fights so hard to protect. It’s a fine line we all must tread, the one between recognizing our personal liberty and respecting the government of the country we are blessed to inhabit.

Lesson #5: Time is on your side. This seems like a crazy lesson to have learned from this show where everything happens at breakneck speed, where there is no time to eat or to sleep or to even stop to take a breath (I don’t think Jack Bauer has had a bathroom break for 13 years). Somehow, Jack always finds a way to use the time he has to achieve his goal. He squeezes as much as he can out of every moment possible. He also understands the long game – he knows how our reactions to situations can have extremely long-term consequences, and he makes his choices accordingly. Jack has taught me that what we do every moment of our lives matters – not just now, but possibly for years to come. He has also taught me that time is a great healer of wounds, and a great counselor. What hurts us or what we don’t understand now will ultimately be healed and revealed. It is this knowledge that gives Jack the strength to do what needs to be done, the hope of future understanding and reconciliation. Sometimes, in difficult situations, making the right choice isn’t going to be accepted by everyone at the time, but if you understand that eventually it will all work out for the best, it can give you the peace you need to make those difficult decisions. That’s the wisdom of Jack Bauer.

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The Good, the Annoying, and the Bad

Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood, Oregon

Last week I flew to Portland, Oregon, for a conference. It was great to get back on the road; my work trips have been few and far between, and, let’s face it, Greensboro, North Carolina isn’t the most exciting place to visit (although they have some great barbecue).

The whole trip was a mixture of different experiences that I’ll call the Good, the Annoying, and the Bad. The Good things that happened are pretty self-explanatory – they were those little unexpected gifts you get. The Annoying are those things that happen that don’t result in any harm, they just take some of the shine off an otherwise good situation. The Bad things are those that have a lingering negative consequence. Here’s how it shook out:

The Good

  • On my way out of Atlanta I was selected for the TSA’s new “PreCheck” program, which meant that I got to go in the security line where you don’t have to take out your laptop or your 1 quart bag of liquids or take off your shoes.
  • I got to go on a sightseeing tour of the city the morning after I arrived, which was a wonderful opportunity to see much more of Portland than I otherwise would have done.
  • I got to spend time with someone I knew from college. She and I weren’t close back then, but through the magic of Facebook I’ve come to like and admire her greatly. We talked and laughed and told stories for hours, and I’m so glad we were able to meet.

The Annoying

  • I broke my sunglasses as soon as I got on the airplane.
  • On my first night, as I was getting ready for bed, I realized I left one of my small toiletries bags at home – the one with my contact case, my toothbrush, and my deodorant. I had to get dressed again and go downstairs to the 24-hour shop in the hotel lobby and buy an $8 travel-sized bottle of contact solution (which I did have) just to get the case that came with it. I begged a toothbrush from the front desk, but the next morning I had to walk three blocks to the nearest drug store for my brand of deodorant.
  • I didn’t leave the hotel in time to catch the early train to the airport on my way out, and by the time I got there the security line was way backed up. I got to the gate just after boarding had started, which didn’t leave me time for breakfast as I had hoped.

The Bad

  • On my way back from meeting my friend the first time we saw each other, I had an encounter on the light rail train. The car I was riding in was mostly empty, and at one of the stops a man got on and sat down a few seats away from me. He looked to be in his 50′s, he had long black hair, and he was wearing a hat (it looked Native American to me, which turned out to be accurate – he told me he was Navajo). The seat I was in faced into the train car so unless I turned my face completely away I couldn’t help but see him. Not long after he sat down, he gave me a little finger wave. Now, here’s the conundrum I (and all women) face in a situation like that. The guy is probably harmless, so do you do the polite thing and give him a brief (read: unencouraging) nod of the head without making eye contact, do you pretend to not see him and silently pray he gets off at the next stop, or do you get up and walk away? I chose the polite response, which was the brief head nod. Apparently it wasn’t discouraging enough because he immediately began talking to me. He started out by telling me what a beautiful smile I had. I said “thank you”, again, not meeting his eyes and hoping that was the end of it. He then starts to wax eloquent about how beautiful I am in general – so beautiful, words begin to fail him. I’m now pretty sure he’s not 100% compos mentis, and I know I’m in for it. Sure enough, he moves over to a seat next to me and starts asking questions. “Are you married?” Yes. “Do you have children?” No. “Why?” And on it goes. He finally gets around to asking me for money, which I give him. He then lifts his shirt to show me what looks like a distended belly button, which totally freaked me out. He got off at the next stop, thankfully. The two guys that got on then also felt compelled to chat me up, but at least they didn’t flirt with me. In case you’re wondering, this happens almost every single time I travel alone, as I’m sure it does to most women.
  • Two days later I was late going to the convention center, so there weren’t many people at the light rail stop near my hotel. Except this one guy, who had a conference badge like mine. So, seeing as how we were going to the same place, we exchanged greetings. I can’t remember why it came up, but I told him I had connected with an old friend from college the night before. Upon hearing this, he said “Oh you connected, huh?”, giving me a little leer. I couldn’t believe it. In an instant my whole demeanor changed, and I said to him in a flat voice “Not like that” and turned my back on him. At least he got the message – he didn’t try to talk to me again, and when the train arrived I walked through the first compartment and into the second before I sat down.

I’ve told a number of people now about my trip, but pretty much all I’ve told them is the Good. Depending on who it is, I might throw in some of the Annoying. I haven’t told anyone about the Bad; I never do. I never talk about the unwanted flirting, the inappropriate remarks, the uninvited touching that happens to me frequently. I know that these things happen to most women, and, like most women, I chalk it up to “how it is” and get on with my life. But this is the lingering, negative consequence – every time it happens, my shell gets a little harder. I get less patient. I get less willing to “be polite”. I start to get angry. Since the #yesallwomen campaign started I’ve been more aware of these little incidents, and much less apt to just let it go. I don’t owe you a smile, or conversation. What is it about me, or any woman, that makes a man think it’s OK to use sexual innuendo at the slightest provocation? Who taught you that? And who taught us that it’s not OK to call them out on it? But this is what we’ve learned, and this is how we live. I’m tired of it. So I’m going to stop being so accommodating.  You’ve been warned. I might actually get up and walk away next time.

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Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014

 

 

 

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Onward and Upward!

Hot Air Balloon

I had lunch yesterday with someone I’ve known for many years. We used to be co-workers at a company where he was much farther up the food chain than I was, but things change and people move on, and in the time since we’ve both left that company we’ve become friends. In the past few years my friend has had his share of struggles, both personally and professionally, but now, after hanging in there and trying new things and generally toughing it out, his patience and perseverance have been rewarded. He has landed a fantastic job with a great company, right here at home. I am so thrilled for him – it’s wonderful when you see a friend who has been going through so much in life finally, finally catch a break. And what a break! It’s an awesome opportunity, and he will be amazing, I just know it.

Listening to my friend tell me about his new job and in turn telling him about all the great things that are happening in my professional life made me realize how far we’ve both come. Also this week, at the request of a couple of friends, I posted a short description of my journey, since apparently I haven’t been very forthcoming about what’s going on with me professionally. I summed it up like this:

After I was laid off (almost 4 years ago now! Amazing!) I looked for another job in my field to no avail. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I really didn’t want to go to work for someone else again anyway, so I’ve been pursuing self-employment ever since. In that first year I established ATB Meeting Design, promoting myself as someone who is a value-add to any company’s existing meeting planning team as I specialize in content development and general session production. I have had a few clients for ATB, but I realized that it’s very difficult to be on my own doing what I’m doing. In addition to ATB, in 2012 I formed How We Work with a partner; it was a project born out of our mutual interest in the “workplace” conversation. We made a valiant attempt to get it off the ground, but I think we aimed too high at first, and were ultimately unsuccessful. It’s still around, dormant at the moment – but who knows?

About the time that HWW was winding down, a new project came up with one of my nearest and dearest friends from my former job. She and I and three other former colleagues put together the new company, Moventus (www.moventusgroup.com), which is a full service, globally-based event planning company. We are focused geographically on opportunities in the Middle East and Asia (my friend is in Dubai, and we have two other colleagues in Hong Kong). We officially launched last September, and we already have several clients, one of which is the Industrial Asset Management Council. We are supporting the IAMC’s international events; since the first of the year we’ve planned events in Singapore, Munich and Birmingham, U.K. We are actively pursuing other clients and continue to reach out to our network.

I’m happy to report that after a long struggle and a couple of unsuccessful attempts, I am working with a group of people I love doing work I enjoy. It’s paying the bills, too, and I have every expectation that Moventus will continue to grow.

These two events – lunch and the writing of this post – were incredibly uplifting. I feel so happy to be where I am now, moving confidently into the future with the support of great friends and family around me.

I also want to tell you about this other thing that’s happening. Those of you who read my blog might remember the post called “The Disappointment Trap” from a few weeks ago. In it, I talk about how I stopped wanting things, and how I think that’s ultimately been bad for me. The “thing” I mostly stopped wanting for fear of being disappointed is to travel. I love traveling, and it was the aspect of my former job I missed the most. Well, I started actively wanting to travel again, and since I made that decision, the most incredible things have been happening:

  • I’m flying to Portland, OR today, all expenses paid, to attend a meetings industry trade show as a “hosted buyer”;
  • I am putting together a one-day symposium for a dear friend on Long Island, New York, and I’ll be headed up there to run it next month;
  • I got a call from the executive director of a real estate association inviting me to moderate a panel at their upcoming conference in Boca Raton – again, all expenses paid; and
  • I will be going to Dubai in September or October for a week of strategy sessions with my partner and possibly a gig (we just got a request for a proposal for an event there in October that, if we get it, I would help manage).

The last few weeks have been absolutely incredible. It’s like the floodgates have opened! I can’t tell you for sure that just wanting to travel has brought all of this about, but I do believe that if you put good thoughts and feelings out there that those are returned to you. You have to be open for new things to enter your life.

I also want to point out that this week is the one-year anniversary of this blog. Which is amazing to me. I never thought I would still be doing this a year later, but here we are!

So, Thank You to everyone who reads my little missives each week and to those of you who have reached out to me with your love and encouragement. It means more to me than I can possibly say. Here’s to Onward and Upward!

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photo credit: messycupcakes via photopin cc

 

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What Really Matters

 

 

2010_0522CatsandCanada20100035

This past weekend my friends at the dance academy needed help with their spring musical, so I found myself (once again) in charge of the body mics. I did the same thing for them a year ago; at the end of every year the children’s musical theatre class puts on an hour-long production. It wasn’t Phantom of the Opera, but the kids had fun and I enjoyed keeping my hand in the game, so to speak.

While we were setting up, my friend the director and I were talking about the show and all the things that needed to happen to make sure it ran smoothly. At one point during a discussion about the best distribution method for the prop doughnuts my friend looked at me and said “It’s not a big deal, but it’s important.” I replied “If we didn’t think it was important we wouldn’t do this.” That exchange made me think about what’s really important, and I’ve decided that what I think matters probably isn’t what a lot of people think.

I’ve decided that what’s important, what really matters in life, isn’t necessarily the big things. I’m not saying that making a big impact on the world in a positive way is not a completely worthwhile goal to have – it is. If you get a chance to change the world for the better, take it! It’s just that most of us don’t get the opportunity to do really big things very often. Most of us have ordinary lives, where the impact we can make on the world around us is limited to the people directly in our sphere of contact – our family, our friends, our neighbors. So if that’s the case, the little things become much more important.

What are the little things? To me, it’s how I always try to smile and be pleasant to everyone with whom I come into contact – the cashier at the grocery store, the waiter at the restaurant, the lady at the dry cleaners, they guy behind the deli counter. I know it sounds Pollyanna of me, but I can’t help but think that these folks deal with the public all day, and probably get the brunt of our collective bad mood, so if I can make their day a little more pleasant by being nice, which costs me nothing, then I will. That’s a very little thing, but I like to think it helps someone every now and then.

Another “little thing” is the quality of the focus that I give to my work. All of my work, no matter what it is. It is as important to make sure that the child actor’s microphone is on and at the proper level when they sing as it is to draft an email communication for a client as it is to take my time over these blog posts. Everything I do deserves my full commitment and attention, even if it’s just balancing the checkbook or mopping the kitchen floor. The love you give away to these activities imbues them with positive energy, ensuring that they come back to you kindly.

Life mostly happens in the trenches, where the rubber meets the road, down in the nitty-gritty – or any other cliché you can think of that means where the little things are. It’s in those small, every day opportunities we get to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the world we can see right in front of us. What I’ve found, though, is that if you get into the habit of paying attention to the little stuff, when the bigger stuff comes along you’re already used to being kind and focused and thoughtful. Some people call it “mindfulness” and I think that’s a great word. It’s a habit of seeing everything as important and acknowledging that on some level, it all really does matter.

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Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014

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A Week of Friendship

Friendship

This is one of those times when I’m struggling to find something to write about. As I’ve turned this past week over in my mind it’s tempting to say that nothing important happened; I can’t think of a single insight, or deep thought, or new idea I’ve had since my last post, and no major life-changing events have occurred to give me fodder for my weekly post. But that doesn’t mean that the events of this past week are any less important than when I have big news to share, or some emotional breakthrough to tell you about.

This week was all about enduring friendships.

On Wednesday afternoon I joined over 100 alumni from my high school chorus to sing at the funeral of our school’s founder. This man was one of the most genuinely humble people I have ever known. The school he started and nurtured since the 1960′s is his legacy, and it is an impressive one. To be able to show my gratitude to him for the incredible gift those years at that school have been to me was truly an honor. It was also an opportunity to share, once again, the pride and joy I feel as a part of the great choral tradition at that school. I was a member of the A Capella Chorus my Junior and Senior years of high school, and the bond of shared experience between all of us who moved in and out of that group over the years is indescribable. I wish I had the words to explain what it’s like to stand there, looking at our 82-year-old director (whose passion and commitment to us and the music is undiminished), seeing the love and pride on his face as our voices rose and blended, but there are no words for it. It is pure emotion, and it was all I could do to keep the tears at bay. I am so grateful to have this in my life, past and present, and I embrace every opportunity I get to sing with this group, because I am so aware that each time may be the last. And I know that everyone who stood up there with me felt exactly the same way, so as we sang the final few measures of the Hallelujah Chorus we weren’t just singing to honor the dead, we sang to celebrate each other and to acknowledge what a privilege it is to know the power of that bond we feel.

After the service was over I went to meet a group of former work colleagues. These friends are the core of the team that I worked with at my last job, and I have incredible memories of the struggle we went through, the hard work we did, and the fun we had. It was wonderful to be together again, and to talk about old times. For me, it’s always good to be reminded that even though my time there came to an abrupt and unpleasant ending, these colleagues became my friends and I cherish them to this day. That is a great gift, and the joy of it obscures all of the negative feelings I once had about that period of my life. I’m so far removed from it now that I mostly just remember the good things, and being with that group made me grateful again for those years.

On Memorial Day yesterday my husband and I got together with a group of friends that haven’t all been in one place in a very long time. We’re connected to each other in different ways, and many years ago we would gather for game nights and other random reasons. Then children came to some of us which put an end to the adults-only evenings, and it’s been years since everyone has been together. Yesterday it finally happened, and it was fun to see the next generation playing and enjoying each other’s company as much as their parents do.

So, yes, nothing “important” happened this week. I just spent a lot of time with people I love, being grateful all over again for the abundance of friendship I have in my life.  It’s overwhelming and humbling. It may not seem all that important, but for me, there is nothing I value more than the love I get from, and give to, my friends and family. Thank you all.

photo credit: godutchbaby via photopin cc

 

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The Disappointment Trap

Disappointment

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned too well over the last few years it’s how to avoid disappointment.

The journey of self-employment is a near constant cycle of hope and rejection. I can’t tell you how many times over these past four years I’ve been encouraged about something that has happened – an exciting conversation with a potential client, positive feedback from mentors about the direction and scope of what I was trying to achieve, actual interviews that I walked out of totally convinced I was going to get the gig – only to be disappointed when it didn’t come through. I learned, like so many people learn, to stop wanting whatever it is that I’m pursing so that if it doesn’t happen I won’t feel so devastated.

This seems like good advice, and you hear it a lot. I’ve reduced or eliminated a lot of pain over the years by teaching myself to not want things. That piece of business? Yes, it would be great, but you know, it’s probably not going to work out, so I’m not going to think about it. That trip? Yes, I’d love to go to that place on business, but I’m not holding my breath. These are the kinds of things I’ve said to myself to spare my feelings, and they work. I’ve gotten really good at not getting my hopes up.

There’s something else here to think about.  The advice about not getting your hopes up is usually accompanied by the assurance that if you don’t, when something good does come through, it’ll be a wonderful surprise. That has certainly happened – some things I wrote off did actually come together. You think I’d be more excited about it when it happens, but it’s anti-climactic: “Oh, wow, ok. I got it. Great! Now, what’s wrong with it?” I have so trained myself to be disappointed that when something good does happen I can’t allow myself to enjoy it.

I’ve decided that this is a big problem and I don’t want to live this way anymore.

This decision is, of course, loaded with emotional risk. If I start wanting things again I’m sure to be hurt and disappointed. It’s inevitable. But I think I know now the price I’ve paid for emotionally detaching myself from the pursuit of what I want – I’ve lost  a lot of my former passion. I’m having to work hard to muster the enthusiasm required to build a business, which is a recipe for disaster.

Now, understand, I’m not totally disengaged – anyone who knows me knows that. I’m just not inhabiting my life as fully as I am capable of doing, and by holding back I’m cheating myself and everyone around me. So I’ve decided to risk my heart again, to want things, knowing I will be hurt. Instead of trying to avoid disappointment, I’ve decided I’m going to go all in, all the time, and if I get disappointed I”ll just get better at accepting it and moving on.

Living is risk. Loving is risk. But if you don’t take the risk you most definitely won’t reap the reward. And the reward isn’t necessarily achieving the thing you want – it’s the joy that comes from knowing you’ve given everything you have pursing your desires. You leave it all on the field, on the stage, in the meeting, on the canvas, on the page. That’s what’s real. That’s where the love is. That’s where you’ll find me.

photo credit: Scott Ableman via photopin cc
 

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Give it a Rest

Joey Sleeping

When I worked as a stage manager one of the things I did was to help actors memorize their lines. Mostly I threatened them with bodily harm if they weren’t off book by tech week, and that usually did the trick (I’m only half kidding). But through working with actors I learned a lot about how people learn, and absorb information, and make connections with words and ideas. I discovered that there was one surefire way to help someone struggling to come up with the right words at the right time: put down the script and walk away. Go to a movie. Read a book. Go to dinner with your best friend. Sleep on it. Do anything to take your mind completely off of the words you’re desperately trying to memorize. Give your brain a rest. If you do that, it’s amazing what happens – in a few hours and with no strain the lines will appear in your mind (well, usually anyway).

This working from home thing is a constant struggle for me in some ways. Mostly I get paralyzed when I don’t have a grip on what needs to be done in what order, because working for myself gives me more choices about what I do and when than I’ve ever had before. This is a good thing when I need to go to the grocery store, or do some laundry, or help my husband with his computer in the middle of the day. It’s bad when I’m trying to do things that aren’t necessarily connected to a deadline; I tend to put things off if I don’t feel that they are pressing. So those things start to pile up, and I begin the downward spiral of inactivity breeding guilt, which results in more procrastination, until all forward motion comes to a screeching halt.

That’s when I need to get the hell out of Dodge.

I know that walking away from my laptop is sometimes the most effective thing I can do to get me going again. Sometimes I get to actually go out of town. Sometimes I can find other ways to distract myself, but it’s hard to do when I know the thing is just sitting here, making me feel guilty for not checking my email every five minutes. It’s a vicious cycle.

But I did get a break this weekend (my sister and I went to visit my mother for Mother’s Day), and I’ve come back re-focused and ready to go. I’ve gotten more done in the last two days than I managed to accomplish all of last week (at least that’s what it feels like). And the marketing initiative for the event planning business that I’ve been toying with finally became clear, and I’ve actually written some things down.

Other stuff happened, too. I got a message last week from a long-lost connection, a friend really, looking to touch base. We had an amazing conversation, and when I got off the phone I felt like I could leap tall buildings again. When I get un-stuck it seems as if the energy I lost all comes back to me bearing gifts.

Y’all don’t know this, but this is my 50th blog post. I am very proud to have hit this milestone; when I started the blog I thought it would be a miracle if I managed to post anything at all after the first few. But here we are. I might post 50 more. I just need to make sure I walk away every now and then.

 

 

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