When are you going to do what you say you’re going to do?
October 23, 2013
Hey, you parents of high school seniors! Are you buckled up and ready for quite the ride? I wasn’t prepared for how much time it would take to be the supportive mom Katie needed as she applied to colleges and for financial aid.
Lucky for both of us, I’d heard this productivity tip somewhere along the way. If you’re serious about something, you have to not only commit to the “what” but the “when.” What are you going to do? And at least as importantly, when are you going to do it?
Katie and I settled on Sunday afternoons at two. We turned the phones off, played soft music in the background, and worked until we couldn’t go any further -- because, for example, we needed something to complete a form, and we didn’t have it.
The War of Art author Steven Pressfield has a great expression that goes something like, “Put your ass where your heart wants to be.” If you’re a painter, sit down in front of a canvas and paint. If you’re a writer, sit down in front of a keyboard and begin.
Katie and I had a standing date on Sunday afternoons, and we were manic about keeping it. We were a little twitchy if anything threatened to delay it by even a few minutes -- and I’m so proud of that.
Something that only hit me as I was writing this post is eerie. Our date was at the computer I’m working at now. The background on that computer is the same as it’s been for years. It’s my favorite photograph of the two of us, standing in the fountain at NYU.
We sat our asses down where her heart wanted to be. And look what happened!
Do you know how you want your life to look?
October 17, 2013
Has this ever happened to you? You’re walking down the street and you run right smack into the vision of a new life. It happened to me recently, on a beautiful summer Saturday when Darrell and I were out of town and walking along the street we used to work on. It’s as if that vision came racing toward us, coated in something I can only describe as possibility.
What I found most interesting was how quickly Darrell captured the fever. When we shared it with someone we hope will be part of that picture, that person told us about a vision of his own that would not only make ours possible but probable.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a glimpse of how much fun life can be and gone after it. I’m pretty sure my dreams landed on me for a reason. Why tickle my brain with something that belongs to someone else?
It doesn’t make sense.
Divine inspiration -- or God, or the Universe, or whatever you call what you can’t understand but in my case can’t rule out the possibility of -- isn’t random.
I don’t think so, anyway. And my friend Dick Bolles agrees: “There are too many coincidences for my taste.”
It might seem silly to pay attention to your dreams, your intuition, those gut feelings. Dick taught me to take my dreams seriously, and it was exhilarating.
It still is.
How credible are your critics?
October 15, 2013
Maybe you’ve experienced one or more of these feelings…
Crushed under the weight of someone’s disappointment. Filled with doubt when confronted with skepticism. Embarrassed when asked, “Who are you trying to kid?”
Here’s what helps me keep critics in perspective. I ask myself, “Do they seem happy? Is there a single thing about their lives I’m eager to emulate?”
If the answer is no, here’s what you do about the criticism.
Just move on.
Happy, successful people -- in my experience, anyway -- want other people to be that, too.
What could it hurt to ignore the naysayers?
Are you putting on a good show?
October 14, 2013
When I was a cocktail waitress, I was patient with people I worked with when they wondered if the restaurant would be busy that night. The first few hundred times it happened, anyway. I’d wonder right along with them, and toss off some remark about the weather or homecoming or whatever might have an impact on the evening’s business. After a while, though, I ran out of responses.
It took me a while to lose patience -- but I did, eventually. “This table didn’t tip me, I wonder if I’ll get cut, I thought it would be busier tonight.” Shut up already! One night a server stood at the bar, wondering if we needed “better table tents in here.” Like that would attract customers. I just looked at him, and then I walked away. Which the bartender thought was hilarious -- because he’d set that up, knowing how bored I was by the whole routine.
Darrell and I have lived together in the same small town for almost twenty years, and for most of that time we’ve gone running on weekdays. For twenty years I’ve fielded the same comment from people who are eager to tell me they’ve noticed. “I saw you out running!” they’ll say, every time we meet. I’ve always responded with something friendly enough to congratulate them on the attempt at small talk, not so friendly they feel obligated to come up with more of it.
Until the other day, that is. I was getting my hair trimmed when a neighbor sat down in the next chair for the same. I knew it was coming, and I dreaded it this time. This gentleman lets his dog run wild despite the leash laws -- and lets him, as The Onion once put it, find the absolutely perfect place to take a dump. But he doesn’t follow along with a plastic bag to clean up the evidence. So what used to be a sweet little street becomes more of an obstacle course unless that family’s on vacation.
As predicted, the man jumped in during a -- what? -- two-second pause in the conversation I was having with my stylist to say it: “I saw you out running!” I paused. And then I just did one of those, “Mmm…” -- like your dad used to when he was reading about his beloved football team in the newspaper and you wanted to use the garage door as a chalkboard.
I thought that would be a conversation stopper, but it wasn’t. My neighbor was ready: “Do you run every day?” I paused again, as if I had to think about it. I waited just long enough for my stylist to wonder if I’d even heard the guy. “No,” I finally said. Just, “No.”
I made the next move. I tossed another question at my stylist on the subject we’d been talking about before we were so eagerly interrupted. And I kept firing questions at her with so much gusto she looked a little exhausted by the time she brushed me off and took my check.
I have nothing against this man. Well except for the whole dogs terrorizing runners thing. But he’s a nice guy, and…whatever. It just strikes me it took twenty years to realize how bored I am with being told someone saw us running.
Isn’t that awful to admit?
And yet, and yet… If I wasn’t so easily bored my talk show would put you to sleep. I select guests based on their ability to keep me interested for an hour. If they can, chances are you’ll also be interested -- and we’ll both learn something.
The other day, as Darrell and I dug into lunch at our favorite little table next to the produce section in a favorite grocery store, he asked what my little cube of orange sandpaper was.
“That’s a nail file,” I told him.
“That’s a nail file?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I hate the boring ones.”
“Nail files can be boring?” he asked.
I looked at him.
“You really don’t know me very well, do you?”
Days later I’m still wondering what was going through the mind of the woman at the table next to us. I’d like to think something good.
There are a lot of ways to make the world a better place.
Keeping your mouth shut unless you have something interesting to say is one of them.
Have you heard the one about Pixar?
October 13, 2013
Did you go to any movies this summer? See any good ones? How about the one about Steve Jobs? Did you see that?
We did. As a family. I mean, what else was there to do in Valparaiso? That’s where we settled in when our car broke down on the way to New York City late this summer, after our (former) mechanic gave it a clean bill of health.
We have a slightly different version of health than our mechanic did. We told him we were worried about the clutch. He said it was showing “a little wear” and we should baby it.
It completely gave out just past a busy bridge.
Good thing. Because the other problem we were worried about -- the suspension system, which our mechanic dismissed as “also showing a little wear” -- was about to get worse. The sweetheart of a mechanic we met in Valparaiso told us in fifty years of being in business the guys at that shop had never seen ball joints so ready to pop loose. Had we hit one pothole before the clutch gave out, he told us, we would’ve lost control of the car. Bad things would’ve happened, he guessed. Bad, bad things.
Which was good to hear, if only because it took our minds off the big goodbye to Katie and helped us focus on something that still bothers me. How you can know someone for fifteen years and trust him with your life -- as it turns out -- only to be left wondering if it’s irresponsible not to warn people away from him?
But this isn’t a post about mechanics. It’s a post about Pixar, which is -- of course -- a different story. We needed to do something but ponder the oh-so-slim and getting slimmer by the minute chance we’d make it to Greenwich Village in time to meet that oh-so-narrow window for moving Katie into her dorm room at NYU.
So we went to Jobs. While the movie distracted us for a couple of hours, Darrell thought it raised more questions than it answered. What about Pixar? “Was nothing about that chapter worth mentioning in a movie?” he wondered.
Well, honey, what the filmmakers taketh away your blogging bride giveth back. Here’s a great story about Pixar, as told by one of our favorite guests on the talk show.
What companies are worthy of your admiration?
Do you know why you’re tired?
October 10, 2013
Eight years ago this summer I had a vision of how cute this little disaster of a house could be. There was plenty of time, I decided, to finish renovating it before Katie started high school. I wanted her to remember growing up in a place that was cozy and cute, emphasis on cute.
The house, truth be told, had other plans.
Remember Mike McCurry, White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton? I’m about as far from a political junkie as it’s possible to be, but I’d spend hours in front of the television watching him “tell the truth slowly.” That’s how he described his job! Isn’t that funny?
It’s funny until it was our house telling the truth -- about the roof, for example. It gave one story to the first person who replaced it, another story to the guy who thought he had the answer to the water that remained on our ceilings, still another to the guy who replaced the roof again.
Until we stripped every room of everything -- including light switches -- before the drywallers moved in, I didn’t realize it was possible to suffer from decision overload. When it was time to put everything back -- before the roof put everything on hold again -- I couldn’t believe how many decisions we had to make. Now! Not just about paint colors and textures, light switch colors and styles -- but about cabinets and countertops and faucets and door handles and oh would you please just stop already before I go with my original plan, to snag one of those condos near downtown Minneapolis overlooking Lake Calhoun?
That’s how I’ve felt lately. Depressed, granted -- because after more than a month of far fewer mom duties I have exactly zero to show for that. But also exhausted. Why?
The web site.
So many decisions. So, so many. It might look much the same to you as our old site (here’s hoping) (that’s by…design), but it’s the product of more decisions than I would’ve believed possible on a project that didn’t seem that ambitious to begin with.
Are you evolving, so to speak?
October 8, 2013
When I started writing for the Huffington Post, I had to adjust my grammatical style to allow for extra spaces around dashes. I’m so on board with those I’ve migrated that part of their stylebook to this blog -- still another way of celebrating our transition to Doing What Works.
Do I know how to party, or what?
Apparently not. Because now I want to go back and change thousands and thousands of pages in other files. It’s not so difficult from a technical standpoint. You just hit “find,” enter a few characters, and hit “replace.”
But the devil is in the details, and this kind of thing gets out of hand quickly.
“Why bother?” I suddenly wonder. Am I going to go back and replace “axcident” -- Katie’s kidspeak for “accident” -- in the notes I took when she was little? Of course not. I wouldn’t be true to her voice, then … and as able to look back and smile at the difference, now.
Maybe I should be at least as kind, or as true, to myself.
What business are you in?
October 7, 2013
One thing I hope rings true above almost anything else in this blog is that it’s written by a person who doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.
I don’t pretend to have any of the answers.
But questions? I have questions! I’d like to think of myself as a question factory.
I’ve often aspired to be an inspiration factory -- which people tease me strips the fun from the word “inspiration” and coats it in drudgery. Or sludge. Sludge-coated drudgery, maybe. Sludgery?
But have you ever been in a Procter & Gamble toothpaste plant? I worked in one in Iowa City as an intern when I was in college -- and that factory floor was one of the brightest, happiest spaces I’ve ever had the pleasure of ambling through.
Factories can be fun. Toothpaste factories, chocolate factories…
Factor that in the next time you think of what you produce. What do you make in the course of a day? No matter what your job is, I hope you can make a little mischief!