Where do you put extra words?
December 4, 2015
“Great picture of someone I do not know!”
That was a friend’s reaction to a photo I sent him of Katie on her first day of the big internship in Manhattan this summer. Darrell and I both laughed out loud -- hard -- when we saw it. Because he nailed it.
In eight words.
The last photographic update we’d sent was in February. It was of our globe-trotting college sophomore, sporting a flower crown and about to devour (if you can believe it) a scorpion on a stick. She might as well have been wearing a sign that said “studying abroad and loving it.” She looked about as far (so to speak) from a Manhattan businesswoman as it’s possible to be.
Now here she was, shoulder-length hair ironed straight. Understated makeup. Sleek black dress under a classy white jacket. And a tote bag that looks like a briefcase! You couldn’t have paid all the professionals in the big city to have pulled off a more stunning transformation.
Which is why our friend’s word economy had such an effect.
Compare that with what Katie once told Dad: “Again with the extra words! Put those away!”
We’ve laughed about it many times since, but all three of us keep each other in check. If Darrell hears one more word about my fascination with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign from the perspective of Scott Adams, he might not be as kind as Katie.
The other day as we headed out for a run a couple of gals driving by wanted directions to a restaurant not far from where we live. I backed off while Darrell happily obliged. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. What could’ve been taking so long? A few blocks behind them, they could see nothing but lake out the driver’s side window. The restaurant’s on the lake, too. You have to go ever-so-slightly out of the way to get around the park that juts out a block or so, but the lake isn’t going to suddenly pick up and move somewhere else. Why didn’t Darrell just tell them to follow the lake?
I waited until he finished. I smiled. Then I leaned in and said, “Or you could just hug the lake for another mile or so. You’ll run right into the restaurant.” They laughed. I made the touchdown gesture. Darrell forgave me.
It’s like I tease him when we’re in New York. I love how much he loves maps. It gives him something to look at while I feel our way to the destination!
Do you travel light?
December 3, 2015
If you look at life as a mountain to climb, you’ll shed provisions as you ascend. It’s an energy and oxygen conservation thing.
Productivity expert Barbara Hemphill says eighty percent of what we keep we never use. Eighty percent! Can you imagine the drag on your spirit? Not to mention the dusting.
Barbara says it’s simple: less clutter, more life.
She amused me when she said the average inbox has three thousand messages in it. Darrell heard that and checked his tally: 2769. Mine had one. From Barbara.
I’m easily distracted, so I keep distractions at bay. It helps me notice what works, like writing in the morning before the day descends on me -- or how much better things look in general when I’ve had enough sleep.
There’s magic in lightening up, metaphorically speaking. You’ll miss fewer signs -- and scenery!
What are you doing here?
December 2, 2015
I was probably in elementary school when I started asking myself what I had to show for myself. Casting director Jane Brody, who graced us on the show recently, makes me think: “Good move.” She says a lot of people drift through life as if their stories don’t matter.
I don’t get it.
What could possibly matter more?
How do you want the world to be different for your having been here? Ask yourself that question more often, and don’t be surprised if eighty percent of what you’re consumed by starts to feel silly.
Which is great. You can fix that!
Want to play word substitution?
December 1, 2015
“If I’m stumped by something I see, I substitute ‘because’ for ‘despite,’ and see if a proposition makes sense.”
That suggestion by Gretchen Rubin might tickle your imagination as much as it has mine.
I used to tell myself, “Despite indulging in junk food only one day of the week, I continue to be hooked on it.” Then I realized, “Because I indulge in junk food one day of the week, I continue to be hooked on it.” Junk food kept calling because I kept answering. One day a week was enough to cement its hold on me. When I decided “no junk food on any days of the week,” I licked it!
Let’s try something more current. Let’s compare my routine to Katie’s.
Katie’s taking a full load of characteristically brutal classes, working not one but three jobs for a total of approximately thirty-five hours a week, hanging out with friends -- going to concerts and Broadway shows and the cute little dessert place everyone’s raving about -- and auditioning for roles way beyond the classroom and the office.
Versus me. My life isn’t as exciting at the moment. I’m doing the usual. Some housework, lots of work -- writing and radio and speaking -- and the regularly-scheduled workouts. Manageable, as opposed to (Katie’s) crazy.
“Despite having a more manageable schedule,” I could say, “I don’t have as much to show for myself as Kate.”
What if I put it this way? “Because I have a more manageable workload, I don’t have as much to show for myself.”
Eureka! I accidentally proved this adage: “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” And Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
The other day instead of paring down my to-do list I added to it, and pretended there was a real penalty for not getting through it. Besides, you know, wasting my life. And guess what? I hit the pillow feeling great about what I’d accomplished.
Are you poised?
November 30, 2015
Interns get jobs.
Get a good internship, do a great job, and you’ll probably be first in line for the job.
Katie snared a heck of an internship this summer, and I was impressed by how she handled it. So, apparently, were the people in charge -- because she’s still working for them. And she’s barely halfway through her undergraduate work at NYU. Can you imagine the possibilities?
One thing about how Katie operated stood out above everything else. As she worked on a project that involved people across the organization she made sure not to wrap her requests in apologies. None of this “I’m sorry to bother you, but” kind of lead-in I probably attached to every request of every person I worked with until only a few years ago.
Asking for help is part of the job. Katie’s polite and cheerful, a joy to have around. But when she needs something she doesn’t apologize for needing it. She’s a pro. Already.
I wince when I think of my younger self. I wonder how much further I could’ve gotten, faster, with a fraction of Kate’s poise. But had I come into my own as quickly as she seems to be, I doubt if my travels would’ve taken me anywhere near northwestern Minnesota. I wouldn’t have met Darrell. For starters.
No, what I wanted most was a good story. Katie was a plot twist I couldn’t have seen coming -- and nothing in the way of an accelerated career path can compare with having a front-row seat to her story.
How quickly can you get to the point?
November 29, 2015
You have twenty seconds of undivided attention when you get someone on the phone.
The Phone Lady, Mary Jane Copps, isn’t kidding. Do you really want to spend those twenty seconds fumbling around? Of course not. So prepare something. It doesn’t have to be much, obviously. But scribble it out and say it out loud to yourself until it sounds natural.
Say what you want, and say it straight out. Don’t apologize for it, and don’t wrap it in disclaimers. You don’t have time.
Mary Jane thinks of a woman who got back to her. “I have five minutes to return fifty calls,” she said. “Talk fast.” Mary Jane got right to the point, which was how she could help the gal. Isn’t that what we all want? Someone who cares what we want?
You’ll find more tips like this in The Phone Book. I’ve read it. It’s short, so there’s that. But it’s also helpful.
Mary Jane is singlehandedly rekindling the art of conversation. It’s a calling!
How quickly do you interrupt?
November 22, 2015
As a young woman I actually believed I was helping people when I finished their sentences. Can you imagine?
The Phone Lady, Mary Jane Copps, was happy to field that question on the show recently. “I think I thought the same thing,” she said. That’s one reason I love Mary Jane. She’s relatable -- and soothing. She’s quick with reassurance you’re not so weird after all, in a voice so smooth I wonder if I’ve ever heard a better one for radio or the telephone.
Mary Jane left me speechless when she suggested we give people on the other end of the line at least twelve seconds to respond. Twelve seconds! That wouldn’t fly on the air. It’s called dead air. In the first few seconds of it your audience is asking themselves, “What the…?” Then they find another station.
But if your telephone conversation’s just between you and someone else, not for broadcast, then you need to give that person time to compose a response. “People are used to texting,” Mary Jane says. “They’re used to being able to back up and erase a phrase or two. The stakes feel higher without that edit feature.”
Still. Twelve seconds?
What do you do in that amount of time?
Check your posture, feel great you asked a question that requires a bit of thought to answer, go to a happy place. Just don’t interrupt. Nothing spells “you matter” more than “I have time for you.”
Do you collect trivia?
November 21, 2015
One of the most amusing and pragmatic justifications I’ve heard for eschewing an extramarital affair went something like, “Who has time to keep track of all those lies?”
Have you ever realized you know a little too much about some celebrity for your own good? When I find myself spouting trivia about someone in the news -- not someone making news, someone in the news (and yes, there’s a difference) -- I do a quick scan of my project list to see if I’ve made measurable progress.
There’s usually a correlation between knowing useless things -- the kind of thing you find on Facebook if Facebook is your thing -- and not having much else to show for myself.
A few months ago I mentioned the joy of missing out to someone who makes a living helping people make better use of their time. He’d never heard of it. Which should’ve told me perhaps I’d spent a little too much time online, that I’d know about it when he didn’t.
But this is what struck me. Call it the joy of missing out, call it the more traditional fear of missing out. Either way, you’re going to miss out. That’s life.
How you look at it is up to you.
The better question is whether you’re going to stay so current on other people’s lives you don’t have anything to show for your own.