This Dot. That Dot. Connected.

I was reading something the other day, from a book whose title I am not going to reveal, for fear you might all find me to be somewhat of a nut (or more of one!). But no matter our individual bents or philosophies on life, perhaps this is something worth thinking about…

‘Thoughts are things…and may create crimes or miracles.’

‘There is no such thing as an idle thought, for so called idle thoughts are the building blocks of more complex patterns of thinking…thought patterns grow with feeding, and as thought patterns grow, they gather momentum…’

Whoa. I like this; thinking about thinking.

In reading this, I realized it not only resonated with me now but that it connects with something I heard while attending a national professional development conference a couple of years ago. It was a session I almost skipped, because something in the session write up – the one in the program book everyone carries around, their informational GPS device for the duration of the conference – seemed, well, a little touchy-feely to me. Which generally is fine in my book, make no mistake, but this was a conference with more than a thousand people in attendance and not a lot of hi-how-ya-doing interpersonal interaction.

At the start of the session, the presenter brought out a guitar and in what I can only describe as a very campfire song-like style, began singing – and  asking us to sing along. What? I silently cursed myself for not heeding my own internal first thoughts – as by now, you surely know that I am not that kind of angel. Singing and I unfortunately do not peacefully co-exist (in my dreams yes, in my car yes, in reality, no.).  But, I played along, well, to be honest, I lip-synced, so as to appear that I was playing along, and spare the other attendees sitting oh so near to me.

Within moments though, I realized I had made a good choice; it ended up being one of the best sessions I attended that week, with relevant, pertinent information I could bring home and actually use in my job. Life is funny this way, yes?

I scribbled notes on the hotel notepad I had grabbed from by the phone in my room, and apparently tucked away those two little pieces of paper in the time since, finding them again only recently (realizing I had failed to make note of the presenter’s name…).  When I pulled them out, at first all I saw were the words Stop, Keep, and Start, and I wasn’t sure why I had kept them. Then it slowly came back to me.

The presenter focused this portion of the session on how our brains think in patterns, seek out patterns really.  And that in the context of creating more good in our lives, cultivating more success, achieving our goals, and to help develop a more positive outlook, get us further down our own paths towards wholeness, growth,  understanding, mindfulness, peace, etc.; that we should perhaps consider these three questions:

 — What should I stop doing?  —

— What should I keep doing?  —

— What should I start doing?  —

I can think of a zillion scenarios in my own life in which I could, should, implement this: running more, eating less, eating better, communicating more clearly, improving my time management, becoming a better writer, trusting my own instincts, second guessing myself less, being  a better parent, being a better friend.

If I allowed myself, my list would be longer than Santa’s list of good boys and girls.

While reading my you-might-think-I’m-a-nut book, I connected one dot with another.  It made it more clear, for me, this connection that our brains do want to find patterns, and that we can actively feed our thoughts in ways that help them gather momentum; a momentum that hopefully causes  an avalanche of positive, innovative, constructive, affirming thoughts that move us closer to what we want, or want more of in our lives.

So, you know what I’m thinking? I wonder what you think about all this thinking.

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Half the fun is just getting there…

…but where is there?

Years ago, when Jackie O. died, I came across a poem that had been read at her funeral. I have never felt worthy of poetry, but that changed the day I read the poem that helped memorialize her stunning, heartbreaking and eloquent life.

In the years since, the poem has become iconic to me, one that I keep near and refer to often. This is true both when times are good, and when times are rough, or just damn confusing. It’s a constant source of reminding for me that it’s the getting there that is most important; more important really than the arrival. What we learn along the way is priceless; it’s what makes us who we are, what informs others of what we are made of, what they are getting when they get us.

As the saying goes, it’s not the mistakes we make, it’s how we handle them, what we do with them. When we stumble, because we do, how do we pick ourselves up; when we get lost, because we do, can we find our way back, or just find a way at all? When we lose, because we do, can we see that true winning can often come from the strangest places?  I am here, connected with you in fact, because of that very truth.

The poem is called Ithaka and is the most popular of a famous Greek poet, C.P. Cavafy. In the poem he likens our life journey to that of the Odyssey; a long round about path to figuring out our own capacity even if,  especially if, we find ourselves facing unexpected, difficult  hurdles.

I was lucky enough to have a boss once who said to me,

it’s ok if you fail, in fact, I expect you to‘.

Early on in my position there, he and I worked on a major year end report for a pilot program I had developed and implemented for our department. I was disappointed, and kinda freaking out – because the program didn’t go the way I had hoped, expected really.  The data showed it, numbers don’t lie. In my mind the program had failed, and so therefore I had failed. And that scared me. He insisted however, that instead, it was a success. Seeing the perplexed look on my face he gently ushered me towards seeing that we had learned so much about the program. It was about so much more than just getting it right. It was more important to show the true outcome and why, and then leverage that knowledge going forward. That any decisions from that point would be so much better, more informed. In that context, he showed me that the road was equally, if not more, important than the arrival.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them: 
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops, 
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when, 
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time:
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, 
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind. 
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, 
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

C.P. Cavafy

As a creative person, I know this in my bones; the process is often more satisfying, and more important, than the result.  And while reading this, it may seem easy to imagine Ithaka as a beautiful destination, the penultimate locale, the city upon the hill, somewhere that seems larger than life. For each of us, that means something different; the perfect job, the perfect partner, a partner, the wedding, a baby, another baby, a bigger house, a book, a certain income,winning a race, game or contract, being at the top in our profession. But in reality, Ithaka is a small insignificant island among many, reinforcing the idea of the road to her, rather than her.

I keep this poem near to me much like you would call a friend for help, or advice, when perspective is mandatory for well being. When I need to stop and let, and sometimes force, myself be in the mess of it all, just kind of hang out there in the unpleasant uncomfortable discomfort. Squirmy as I might get; as much as I might want to jump out of my own skin.

When a significant relationship crumbled, one that I thought – had been promised, vows had been exchanged would last a lifetime, I reached a point in my grief where I knew that the pain would have to become, if not my friend, at the very least my closest companion.  I knew enough that to avoid it would render me unrecognizable to myself, let alone anyone who would meet me – get me – from that point on. I became determined to work through it with the goal that the experience of hurt and betrayal would not define me, it would not be what others saw first when I entered their lives.

Now, years later, I often actually forget to remember that that time in my life happened.  I will never forget, for it is part of me, it informed me, it’s a layer in my cake;  but it does not define me. I look back, and though at the time, the road seemed long, it’s a road I am grateful to have traveled, for all that I gained along the way.   That’s something I don’t forget to remember.

We each have our own road to Ithaka; and I hope that along yours…

“…May there be many summer mornings when, 
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time…”

 

Print a copy of the poem, if you too would like to keep it near: Ithaka

What I learned while doing something I know how to do, really well.

I shouldn’t be here right now, but I really like this space, so I’m sneaking in a few minutes while away at a conference.  I should be sleeping { seriously! }, or  putting the finishing touches on my presentation for the conference, but it was just too tempting so here I am.  Hi!

Wednesday night was mega event at work. We spend all year planning, organizing, coordinating – for one night. It takes a team of us to manage everything from signs, to name tags, what to eat, colors of napkins, writing the script, invitations, photos, program, where everyone sits, preparing numerous slide presentation, and on and on and on. It’s all to recognize our outstanding students and their crazy amazing accomplishments. I usually leave this event feeling a little smaller than I do when I walk in. Last night was no exception; we honored students who overcame language and cultural obstacles to pursue an education; students who have 4.0 GPAs, young men and women who speak 6 languages; ones who are first in their family to graduate from college and amazing students who balance work, school, families and are actively engaged in their campus and community. Wow. I mean wow.

They say an old dog cannot learn new tricks, but in  my 11th year of co-chairing this event, I found myself making some observations during the set up and prep yesterday. I was reflecting on some things I know but they sort of crystallized while in the midst of it all. And I found it fun to learn something new while doing something I know how to do, really well.

Make it fun

During set up; we had several student volunteers on hand and while staying on track; I made sure to have some fun with them. Teasing, sarcasm, hiding behind curtains and using the microphones to ‘page them to the white courtesy phone” are just a few examples.  One of the catering staff and I realized we were wearing the same color scheme and we decided that we ‘had this thing going on; and the joke just played itself out throughout the evening.  While rushing  to put out one of the many mini fires that popped up, she and I approached each other, we  looked each other in the eye and as I passed her, I whispered, “you and me, we got this thing!” and we both just smiled.  That was fun.

Uh, oh, Houston, we have a problem.

Which leads me to my next observation. Problems are just gonna happen. They just are.  So.  Be. Ready. With a smile.  It’s a lot easier to solve a dilemma with a smile on your face; the competence it exudes eases a disgruntled guest, helps you maintain some sanity and it’s easier to move on and let the water roll off your back like a duck.

Go macro

Take care of the big stuff first!  Our event is large in scale, large in volume, large in space.  Without thinking about it; I found myself unloading our stockpile of event materials in categories, making things efficient and organized for other volunteers to be able to execute the smaller more time consuming details.  I have a mini obsession with efficiency [ok, maybe not so mini] so I realized this is second nature to me; to eliminate repetition as much as possible. Saves time; saves energy, and most importantly, leaves more time for fun, creativity and playing with the microphone.  🙂

Ask for Help and then make it worth their while

I mentioned that we had some great student volunteers. They were great; and a few of them were the ones being recognized that night;  it was their party.  When I decided to put out the call to my students to see who might be able to help for bit I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Several replied right away and sure enough they showed up and were ready to work!  They carried out the most mundane tasks with care and precision and the best of attitudes. I realized this was a good strategy and wondered why I hadn’t done this before. As they were leaving, when everything was ready to go, one student said, “thanks for letting me help set up today” and without thinking, I replied out of habit, “you are welcome”. That’s what you say when someone says thank you. Right? But wait, I was the one who needed to be saying thank you!  One of our staff who handled the decor on the awards table thanked me for giving her a job where she shines in her creativity.  I tell ya, people, ask for help. We all need to feel valued and needed.

Think on your feet and bring flip flops

With 500+ people in one room; things are bound to go a little haywire.  Thinking on your feet is a must; you just gotta be able to roll.  Some key people didn’t show up; I had to reassign duties; someone got seated at the wrong table; I had to reseat them; there were some typos in the slide presentation, and I just closed my eyes till the next slide.  An award presenter was ill and couldn’t be there;  I found a willing person to play the role.  I forgot to print instructions for some of the folks; they figured it out!  And no one was the wiser. As someone left for the evening, she said, ‘everything was so great; not a hitch or a glitch tonight.” I just smiled. If she only knew. Oh, the most important piece of advice? After thinking on your feet all night, make sure you have a pair of flip flops on hand! Your feet will say, thank  you.

Just be nice

The event manager on our campus is UH-MAZING.  When she walks in, my whole self just relaxes, it’s like mama just came in and said, ‘everything is gonna be alright”. She approaches each dilemma as if it were merely a misplaced strand of hair. Her competence and confidence, paired with her generous spirit and smile are the foundation of what makes her so successful in her profession.  I learn from her every time I do an event and I always tell her how GLAD I am when she walks in the room. And it’s not just because she makes sure to have the really good wine on hand for me! 🙂 She is nice, in the bestest truest way possible and I love that our success is her success.

Let Yourself Be Appreciated

At the end of it all, when the relief settles in make room for satisfaction in a job well done.  Gracefully accept the appreciation extended and share it generously with those most deserving.  The number of students  who expressed their gratitude for such a great event that celebrates their success makes all the hard work and extra grey hairs so worth it. And chocolate always helps too.

Bubble Gum Fresh

And this last is just a tiny bit of advice. When gathering your items to have on hand to get ready for the big event; these details are important too.  I was dashing to get my outfit, shoes, and make up ready to go; and grabbed a toothbrush and toothpaste to freshen up with. Without realizing it, I grabbed my kiddo’s toothpaste and not until I was scrub a dubbing my pearly whites did I realize I had bubble gum flavored toothpaste!  The upside of this was that that I was bubble gum fresh and the surprise helped ease some of my worry and I started the evening off with my own little grin.

{ from the friendly skies, wishing you a bubble gum fresh kind of day! }

Friday Foto Fun :: learning to play jacks, or, one thing at a time

This week I was teaching my son how to play jacks.  It was a bit of stretch to remember and I actually  had to look up the rules! It had a really long since the last time I played.  When is the last time you played jacks?

 As I showed him how to play, I found myself thinking it was so much harder than I remembered! When we were kids, didn’t it just seem that it was pretty easy to move up through the numbers?  I got through the ones easy enough, but after that my game crumbled. It was hard for my kiddo to master and he ended up moving on to a more modern day type of game.

It left me thinking though, as these things tend to do.

What I realized is that simple as the game is, it requires the all important, ever elusive F-O-C-U-S!  To time the ball bounce to give you enough time to reach down and capture the jacks and then catch the ball, means you have to pay attention to what you got goin’ on right in front of you. Not the laundry waiting {impatiently}, not the list of errands { ever expanding }, and not checking Facebook.  It seems that most of us are multi-tasking fiends these days. We check our email while doing three other things, check our tweets & texts while grocery shopping, check stats while trying to write. You know who you are!  But while multi-tasking is awesome and can give you that thrilling feeling of being invincible; leaving you to ponder what color your cape should be; it can also rob us of of focusing on one thing at a time.

Last summer I went to a conference and in one session; multi-tasking was the topic.  The faciliator had us do an exercise where we had to write out the numbers 1-26 and the letters A-Z. Sounds simple, right?  But we had to write them one number, then one letter, one number, one letter, and so on. On two separate lines.  And, he timed us.  Then we had to write out the number line and then the alphabet, in their sequential order. One at a time. He timed us.  Overwhelmingly, we all finished the second round in half the time as the first round.  We all laughed because we all got it; multi-tasking is not all it’s cracked up to be. Our time was quicker, our handwriting  was far more legible and our work was much better. But most significant was how we felt; it was chaotic the first go round; rushing and juggling between  numbers and letters; our brains constantly switching from one to the next.  When we focused on one thing at time; we were more relaxed, more in control, more calm. We were more successful.

In our crazy lives it’s a challenge to get ourselves to slow down and as counter productive as it may be, it’s hard to resist the 5 things at once approach. It’s really hard to slow down and do  –  { wait gotta check my email real quick }  – just one  {  oh, I got a text, wonder who that is?  } thing at { I better switch the laundry now }  a time.

I know it’s not Friday Video Fun, but I just love this video from the ‘Tales of Mere Existence‘ series.   Take a moment and do just one thing at a time watch this humorous take on another example of the ever elusive F-O-C-U-S.  But, I am sure you can’t relate.

{  enjoy your moments this weekend. play a game of jacks with someone you adore }

Unexpected Wisdom {or, what I learned from a cartoon}

On a recent weekend, it was just my 8 year old son and I home on a Saturday morning.  We both love lazy weekend mornings {not that everyone else doesn’t, but that husband of  mine, oh he can be such a ‘chore master’ 🙂 some weekends, and he was off  working that day!}.  While the cat’s away, these mice will lounge!

So, the kiddo plopped on the couch and I made my coffee and was just a half a room away working in the {PaperKeeper} studio {aka, my dining room!}.  Kiddo and I were chatting casually about what was on tv, some silly boy-humored cartoon.  After awhile the music and tone changed and I realized that the clock had struck and the next half hour’s show had commenced.  Secretly grateful to have some extended creative time, I allowed the tv viewing to continue, but still kept my ear tuned to the ‘tube’ or should I say, ‘panel’ now?

I didn’t know what show he was watching, so I had to ask when I heard a deep, mature resounding voice coming from the television.  “What are you watching, who is that talking?”  My son replies, with that sound of exasperation that I know will only intensify in the impending years to come, “Mom, it’s Ninjago” {tranlation, DUH, don’t you know!}

Oh, of course.

The show continues when I hear dialogue that sounds so serious.  I tune in and hear something about true potential, training, being ready… Still in the next room, I am a little more intrigued and ask kiddo to back it up and as I walk into the living room, I see …

… this Lego character, the Sensei, speaking with his students and this is the dialogue that follows:

Sensei: What is it that I can help you with?

Students: Sensei, what if we’ve done enough training, what if we have reached our true potential? What if we are, ready?

Sensei:You might have reached peak physical condition, but you’ve yet to reach your inner potential.  In each and every one of us there are obstacles that hold us back. Only when you conquer that fear will your heart be free. Only then will you reach your true potential. Only then will we have a fighting chance to stop the serpentine from releasing the great devour.

I was impressed that a cartoon could impart such a meaningful message to it’s young viewers, and apparently, its older listeners also. 🙂

It got me thinking; and I realized that it’s easy to become proficient at tasks, and routine actions, and to subsequently feel busy, productive, successful. Over time those small actions can accumulate and result in changes we didn’t necessarily set out to make. It’s not so scary to go about change, when the steps are incremental, safe, low risk.  But what about the things that hold us back?  I know for me, when it comes to  intentionally pushing beyond my comfort zone,  I am sometimes stoppped in my tracks.  I can second-guess with the best, downplay my talents and abilities and squirm away from the possibility.  What is it that stops me?  What is it that stops you?

While the answer for each of us may be different, it’s clear that yes, fear is often at the root of what holds us back. Fear of that which may may cause pain, or discomfort, or failure certainly makes a ton of sense. Who wants any of that nonsense?

But what about when the obstacle is the fear of something that is good?  That change is difficult is certainly not a new concept, but isn’t it amazing how we fear, and possibly even resist change that can or will bring about cool, groovy things that will turn into a smashing success! Don’t we all want to {fill in the blank} “stop the serpentine from releasing the great devour” ? How could ya not want to stop that serpentine!?

I came across this article and these comments made a ton of sense to me,

 It’s rare that a goal is all roses. Success requires change, and change has both positive and negative consequences….

Unlike fear of failure and fear of rejection, fear of success can be far more insidious because it’s almost always unconscious. But it’s not fear of success itself that is the problem but rather fear of the side effects of success…

Ok, feeling better, it’s just not so simple after all! We get comfortable in our current context and while change that comes about incrementally doesn’t feel like change; consciously moving towards something new that we cannot fully see, envision or understand can bring on a case of the jitters even when it’s good.  (Especially if you are a planner. Are you a list-making; planning fool like me? I kinda like and want to see how it’s all going to go, don’t you?)  Because THAT OVER THERE, even when it’s awesome, will be different from THIS RIGHT HERE.  For the most part, we’ve got it down how to manage the THIS RIGHT HERE, but it’s hard to predict how we are going to handle the THAT OVER THERE when we just can’t see it yet. For a trapeze artist, I think the most beautiful moment in their act is when they have let go of one bar before they grab the next. Only in letting go can they move to the next sequence and complete their act, their art.

This THIS and the THAT are different for each of us, but isn’t it great to know more and that we can share in how we move between the two?

Some people fear rejection and failure, some people fear success!  For grins and giggles, and some honest to goodness reflection, here is a short little quiz to see where you fall on the continuum.  But fear should be shakin’ in it’s boots, because now we are on to it!  Because when we stop, and look fear square between the eyes, it doesn’t stand a chance.  Why?

because fear has a tendency to shrink under direct examination, making it easier for you to take action!”

I didn’t watch a lot of cartoons when I was a kid; I had chores to do first and by the time I had slept in { I had my priorities in order! } and completed my work, the cartoons were mostly over.  I’m kinda rethinking that strategy today, wondering how many life lessons I may have missed by skipping out on the Saturday morning wisdom! I guess my kiddo and I just might have to spend a few more lazy Saturday mornings together. Are you thinking what I am thinking? Yes, the chores can wait!

{ go stop that serpentine! }