The Blog

100704Fireworks. A concert. Your newborn. Why not just enjoy them instead of getting so many photographs? Why do you insist on inserting a little screen in between you and everything else?

I’ve caught myself asking that question enough times to realize I’m no better. I’m one step worse, in fact -- because instead of gazing at the fireworks or the concert or the newborn I’m distracted by the people who are distracted by their screens.

If you saw how many notes I’ve taken over the years you might wonder the same thing about me. Am I so consumed with saving my life I forget to live it?

Sometimes…

But then I remember.

I remember while it’s lovely to have a stash of souvenirs -- photographs, anecdotes, rose petals from the bouquet Darrell brought me when Katie was born -- there’s so much more to life than curating a museum.

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

I used to worry I’d run out of things to blog about.

After more than four years of four posts a week, I’d put that at the bottom -- the very bottom -- of any list of concerns.

When Dilbert creator Scott Adams is asked about it he says, “The simple answer is that I’m wired that way. It happens somewhat automatically. I couldn’t shut it off if I tried.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Someone we know is new to Twitter and isn’t being as careful on the medium as we would be if we worked for someone else.

Now what? Do we warn @ShallRemainNameless that people have gotten fired for what they post?

Apparently not. Because we’d barely been debating the issue for a minute when I bit my tongue -- hard.

You don’t have to believe in the unseen to find that eerie!

Once upon a time, shortly after Darrell and I moved in together as newlyweds, we had some people over. The woman brought us a wreath she’d made, presumably as a housewarming present.

I hated it, but so what? I thanked her for it.

At which point she ran her hand over the wall in our dining room, found a hook, and hung the wreath on it. That surprised me. Why would she presume we liked it enough to give it such a place of honor? I was stunned by her confidence. I couldn’t relate to it, but I was fascinated.

I waited until the conversation picked up steam on a different topic and took a step or two toward the wall. I gently lifted the wreath off the hook and laid it on the table. If we were in the process of getting to know each other, I was eager to play along.

At which point the woman put the wreath back on the wall!

I gave up, temporarily. I waited until our guests left to suggest Darrell do whatever he wanted with the wreath, as long as I didn’t have to look at it.

The woman hadn’t given us a present, I decided. She’d given us an order.

Everything you need to know about either one of us was in that exchange, but it took me a long time to believe it.

Eventually we stopped pretending to be friends, and now when I remember the wreath I smile. There’s so much wisdom in every encounter, if we would but trust our lives.

Someone who’s following me on Twitter says #TheKaOfKatie is making him look at his fourteen-month-old in a new light.

And I thought, “That’s it! That’s why I do this work.”

Why do you do what you do?

Many years ago I read some advice to newlyweds that went something like, “The person who’s arguing the loudest is probably wrong.”

Have you noticed how often that plays out? The television evangelist who rails against infidelity, only to confess to it years later as his kingdom crumbles. The office gossip who spends so much time complaining she gives everyone else something to complain about. The parent who insists his kid take the big risks even as he clings to a life that’s boring him to death.

What’s the opposite of people like that? What would you call them?

I’d call them irresistible. They’re too busy making things happen to pay attention to whether you or I approve. Whether confronted with a naysayer or a cheerleader, they smile politely and say “thanks for the suggestion” and keep working.

Are the naysayers jealous or mean? Are the cheerleaders sincere? It doesn’t matter to these people. They don't feel a need to explain themselves.

I aspire to be like that, but it’s a process. It still registers when someone disapproves of my plans, and I’m often still tempted to defend myself.

I ran across a little gem I plan to keep handy, though: “I’m doing this because it is important to me. I’m willing to give up other things to make it work.”

Simple and true. Cool, huh?

Thanks, Chris!

“Constant chatter is an attempt at control.”

That’s still something else I learned at a What Color Is Your Parachute? workshop given by the author of that book, Dick Bolles.

Now when I find myself holding forth a little bit I ask myself what I’m trying to control. Then I try to wind down quickly.

I got my first performance review when I was an intern at the Procter & Gamble toothpaste plant in Iowa City. The person I reported to -- Frank -- watched as his boss told me what I was doing right, and what I could improve. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but apparently I wasn’t shy about sharing a few observations of my own. Nothing disrespectful, not at all. But when you’re being told how you can improve, saying anything sounds defensive.

That’s what Frank told me later. When someone gives you -- in corporatespeak -- feedback, tell him thanks. Then shut up.

Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith says feedback is a gift. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to agree with it. But it’s a gift. What do you do when someone hands you a gift? You say, “Thanks!” If you love the present, go ahead and elaborate. If you hate it or you disagree with it, stick it in the proverbial closet and dispose of it when the person who bestowed it isn’t looking.

What if you’re sure the advice doesn’t apply to you? What if you’re sure it’s misguided or mean-spirited?

It doesn’t matter. Anything, and I mean anything, beyond “thanks” is going to sound defensive.

Don’t be in a hurry to write off what you hear, by the way. I think some pretty cool gifts are wrapped in pain, but that’s difficult to see until the pain subsides.

Have you read the latest novel by Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed?

Here’s what it left me with. Sometimes you won’t know what your life means until it’s winding down, and that purpose might surprise you.

If you make time for reflection, which I highly recommend, you’ll notice patterns. What are people forever thanking you for? What are they getting from you they can’t seem to get anywhere else? The answers to those questions -- especially if they make you smile -- will tell you almost everything you need to know about your calling.

I heard from my former college roommate over the holidays the way I always do. She told me about something difficult she was going through, adding she learned a lot about how to cope from me.

It wasn’t the first time she’d told me something like that, and I don’t hold back when I tell her how much it means.

That’s my kind of gift exchange!