The Blog

What’s your sign?
August 24, 2016

sign for Detroit LakeWhen Katie was little we took her to the Inn of the Seventh Mountain in Bend, Oregon. We spent a glorious few days horseback riding and whitewater rafting and inhaling the scenery. I’d stayed at the Inn many years earlier, attending a What Color Is Your Parachute? workshop and dreaming up the life we have now.

It was only after visiting Bend with my sweethearts that I saw it. The big green highway sign you see in this photo.

Detroit Lake is across the street from where I’m typing! It’s not the one in the sign, obviously. But you knew that.

Still, eerie. Makes you wonder if some things were predestined.

When Katie decided to go to UC Berkeley we were upgrading the web site in anticipation of changing the talk show from The Career Clinic to Doing What Works. I knew I wanted to include a photo on the home page of “my favorite place in the world, Manhattan.”

Manhattan

“Is that still true?” I wondered. “Will New York City still be my favorite place when Katie moves to Berkeley?”

I decided it would be.

Which is another reason -- one of so many -- nobody was surprised when Kate moved to New York after all. It had, as the saying goes, an air of inevitability to it.

I’ve always been fascinated by how many things I love about my life that first came to me in a dream. I’ve also been determined to honor life’s mysteries by paying attention to daydreams, too -- or signs of any kind. So what if your jaded friends think it’s silly? I bet deep down, in the less-jaded recesses (so to speak) of their minds, they’re glad you occasionally tickle their imaginations with whimsy.

-

photo of Manhattan courtesy of Danielle LaPorte

One reason Gretchen Rubin knew it was time to switch careers -- from law to writing -- was that she hated talking shop when she was a lawyer. Now? She loves talking shop.

If you love what you do, you’ll probably find it difficult to stop talking about it. But that’s okay. What’s more fun to listen to than someone bursting with enthusiasm?

The intellectual property attorney who gave us the all clear on a few projects we’re about to launch knew one of them was “it” the minute I started talking about it. She interrupted me in the middle of a sentence to play the “I want to describe you in one word” game. My word was “sparkle.” I would’ve felt pretty good about that, had my word for her not been “distracted.” She’d admitted as much, because we hadn’t answered a few questions on her form for new clients. We hadn’t given her an emergency contact, for example -- but she still wanted one. Given how few intellectual property emergencies I’d heard of (read: zero) I was annoyed. And distracted!

But I digress.

for the blog 160808When Katie set off for NYU I thought the odds of her pursuing the career path that got her there was zero. I thought the specific job she’d set her sights on would use approximately one percent of her gifts. “It’s your life,” I told her. I meant it. I had my doubts, and she knew it. We don’t fake things with each other. But I was one-hundred percent behind whatever she decided to do.

You can guess where this is going. As a sophomore she started getting invitations to meetings of the professional society of said career and she couldn’t bring herself to attend a single one. They sounded boring. Even the subject lines of those messages were boring! I was amused. Because I’d told her how boring someone I knew had told me I’d find that career -- yep, I considered that very job for a few minutes in high school -- and given how boring I found the career path he’d chosen, I took him seriously.

Mostly I kept it zipped. I said just enough to remind Katie once a year or so there’s a great big world out there, and she’s allowed to change her mind.

Which she has. When she speaks of other paths she’s entertaining -- an interesting choice of words, isn’t it? -- her eyes light up and she sometimes tears up.

Now we’re getting somewhere. She is, that is!

-

photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

I love talking with people about how they got the lives they have. The people who join me on the show, whose lives look pretty sweet from the outside -- and fun but challenging on the inside -- are quick to admit they didn’t know how to do what they set out to do, but they figured it out.

The people whose lives suck? I don’t have them on the show, but I’ve found myself in conversation with them sometimes. The reasons for not getting what they want usually boil down to some variation of, “I didn’t know how.” What they don’t say: “And I didn’t bother to find out.”

Find out, figure it out, sleep on it, phone a friend. But don’t leave it at not knowing! Not if you care about yourself at all.

Most problems aren’t that difficult. Most mountains can be scaled. If a single person in the whole world has pulled off what you contemplate, the “it’s impossible” excuse does not apply.

When your time is waning, when your friends and family have gathered around to say goodbye, do you really want to admit you didn’t go after your dreams because -- cue the angels scratching their heads -- you didn’t bother to Google them?

Time is relentless. When it’s over, that’s it.

So what if you’re scared? That just means you’re alive. You aren’t boring yourself…to death!

A better future starts with imagining it. You don’t have to take my word for it. You don’t have to take anyone’s word for it -- but if you’re looking for an authority on the subject, may I submit Brian David Johnson? He’s a futurist -- yep, that’s a job title -- and says his job isn’t to predict the future. It’s to imagine it.

For better or worse, we’re all living into our visions of what life can be. If we can’t imagine something better, we don’t go for it -- and when we don’t go for it, we guarantee we won’t get it.

That’s why it’s important to stop hanging out with crabby people! They’re spirit killers.

Everything I love about my life started with believing I could have it. Polishing a book manuscript while my husband and baby were asleep. Pulling up to the microphone to host another installment of my nationally-syndicated radio talk show. Even having more reasons to be in New York! I used to take regular breaks on the couch to gaze out the window at the trees and pretend they were in Central Park.

Darrell thought it was cute, my vision of what marriage could be. Cute, and impossible. No one gets along as well as I knew we could. But you know what? I was right. He was wrong. He usually hates being wrong. Not this time!

I often attribute my spunk to plenty of sleep, great food, and consistent workouts. In this case I need to salute the author of The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks, who inspired me to stop thinking there’s an upper limit to happiness. There isn’t. Or more accurately, there doesn’t have to be.

Things can get better and they can keep getting better. If you believe it!

“What did I ever do to them?” I’ve asked Darrell that question a lot over the years. To his credit, he never seems annoyed. Even though his answer’s always the same: “Nothing.”

It turns out you can spoil a party just by showing up.

And by “party” I mean, for example, the café where we have lunch. There’s an older gal who has lunch there, too. Our visits almost always overlap, to her apparent dismay. Instead of making eye contact with anyone at her table she spends the entire time glaring at us. I find that unnerving, so I make sure I sit with my back to her.

And, sure. I once ran through a checklist with Darrell to make sure the wrath was unearned. We pay for our lunch. We eat it quietly. I mean, we’re talking -- but you’d have to be at our table to understand what we’re saying.

We do seem happy to be alive and happy to be with each other, granted. “That’s it!” Darrell says. “That’s what we’re doing wrong!” Pause. “Nothing annoys an unhappy person more than the proof the opposite is possible.”

I’m not sure what Ms. I Hate the World and Especially You has come to teach. Maybe nothing. Is it a personality flaw that I notice her? Maybe. I aspire to be the person who blows her a few air kisses as we pack up and leave the café. Not there yet. But I’m proud my daydreams have taken such a playful turn!

on the road in SwitzerlandPicture this. You set out on a road trip, and your route’s peppered with lots of busy highways. You think everyone’s going to behave like you do at the wheel. Attentive and considerate.

Sound reasonable? Of course not.

Better, I think, to plan for lots of misbehavior. You don’t have to like it, but it’ll make you a better driver -- and it’ll keep your blood pressure in check.

I’m as intent on believing the best about people as the next guy. I think! But I also think there are times it’s better to brace yourself for the worst.

If you plan for a certain amount of sniping at Thanksgiving dinner, for example, it won’t necessarily be more pleasant -- but you’ll be more prepared, so you can be more pleasant. Walk through the scenarios in advance. “If she says this, I’ll say this.” Or whatever.

The more “worst case” I am before an engagement, the more likely the “best case” scenario happens. Is that because I’m more confident? Not an easy target? Disengaged?

Doesn’t matter. But it helps!

“Economy of words. Sparing.”

Those two sentences -- sentence fragments, if you’re a purist -- are the last things I look at before showtime. I’m forever updating my template -- the notes that remind me when to take a commercial break or how often to plug someone’s book or whether to promote one of my own.

I’m not really in it to be noticed. Doing What Works isn’t a talk show, as I told you recently. It’s a listening show. My part of it, anyway.

Which means I keep striving for less. Simpler questions. Elegance. “What happened?” is good. “Why?” is better.

The more I stay in the background, the more likely I am to love the result.

Works on the talk show, works in life.

If so few people are wealthy, why are so many of them quick to offer advice? Liberty Tax founder John Hewitt says it’s because most people aren’t pulling for you: “They don’t really want you to succeed.”

Interesting.

I used to think there was an undercurrent of suspicion when it came to the big dreams because people want to spare you the pain of the inevitable disappointments. Maybe they’ve forgotten how much they learned from their own disappointments.

What if they didn’t learn anything? What if they just gave up? If you keep going -- and especially if you succeed -- where’s their excuse?

Not your problem!