The Blog

I started a couple of new projects recently. Both are mission critical, one from a professional standpoint and the other personal. But this time, after years of watching myself work, I approached them from the standpoint of Reasonable Me versus Wildly Optimistic to the Point of Delusion Me.

Instead of biting off anything too ambitious, I decided on a pace that -- since I can stick to it -- will mean steady progress toward those meaningful goals. Not only that, but I’m allowing for days that go completely to hell (you have those, right?) and have built in margins for makeup.

That was a really, really good move. There’s something so satisfying about hitting the pillow having met the minimum requirement for a successful day. But I’m not hitting that pillow so exhausted I wonder how I’ll be able to pull it off again the next day, or the day after that.

Never would’ve guessed you could get further by going easier on yourself.

I love surprises!

2014 04 24 phone thumbBefore a little voice in your phone gave you directions to wherever it is you wanted to go, people just asked each other for help. I guess they still do sometimes. Even in New York! In fact Katie’s friend grew some facial hair so he “wouldn’t look as nice” so people would stop asking him for directions.

But in general? No problem.

It isn’t even a problem if you need directions to more than just the airport. Let’s say you’d like some help with your career from someone who’s way ahead of you. Look at it from that person’s perspective. What’s more fun than being told you’re an expert on something and being asked to please -- oh, please -- share how you became such a success?

Not only that, but the object of your admiration might have someone at home who’s had just about enough of those stories, and would welcome the break. Being a good audience is hard work, after all. Letting you fill in for a change? Everybody wins.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop just off a fancy grocery store in downtown Minneapolis with a good friend I haven’t seen in years. I can’t remember what we talked about at first, but I told her that based on what she’d just said the conversation could’ve gone in five completely different directions.

She was so struck by that. Which struck me right back. She notices me noticing things. Then we talk about why those things and not other things. There’s nothing too insignificant to dissect, to chew over endlessly, to file away in the “to be continued” folder.

The two of us could go twenty years without so much as an exchange of texts, then reunite and talk for ten hours straight. I’m not sure what it is. We just click. It’s intense. And it never, ever gets old.

If you find someone like that, a “forever friend” as she calls it, I hope you remember to tell her once in a while how much she means to you. Which I plan on doing as soon as this post is up!

gift book sentiment for the blogI tried my hand at a gift book recently. It’s a simple little book of suggestions for, well, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the suggestions are as whimsical as they are sound. No sense coming off as preachy.

But how?

gift book photo for the blogBy taking so much care with the wording, by talking Katie into illustrating them, and by choosing the right font. I went through every single font on my computer and settled on the one you see above, Gabriola. It looks soft and sweet, doesn’t it? Not harsh. For sure not bossy.

Maybe visuals are to the written word what body language is to the spoken word. Pretty much everything!

It never fails. If I’m sure that what I’m about to share is useful, it falls flat. If I’m sure it’s lame? The opposite. The lamer it feels, the more likely it is to strike a chord.

Which makes me wonder if people hunger so much for inspiration as reassurance they’re not alone in needing it.

Every time I sit down to write I think, “Well, here goes nothing.”

I’m not alone. Dave Barry used to periodically announce he can’t write anymore because he sucks at it. Dave Barry! But maybe Dave had people like I hope you do, who keep saying, “No. This is good. Keep going.”

Steven Pressfield puts it this way: “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

Fear can be a lovely companion if you remember it’s a sign you care.

The AndersonsWhen I was newly married I was struck by the willingness of some of my friends to complain to me about their husbands. Darrell and I were friends with the husbands, after all. It struck me as bad form.

Darrell was amused by that, and dared me to try an experiment. “Vent a little,” he suggested. “Tell them how not fun I am to live with sometimes.”

“I can’t return the favor,” I told him. He laughed. “I know,” he said. “It’s no problem.”

So I tried it. I was with a few friends the very next day, and when the conversation turned to family I admitted I was married to someone who “knew” he could always do things better and faster than me. It was unnerving. But I took so much care with the wording one woman thought I’d given Darrell a compliment.

The next day I woke up with a throbbing headache and an extremely sore throat.

We put the experiment in the win column. I like to keep it classy, and my body made that clear!

Have you ever had people pop out of the bushes, metaphorically speaking, to offer some unsolicited advice on how you might run your business? It happened to Darrell a while back. When I heard him click-click-clicking away on his keyboard I guessed he was going to tell them, so deftly they wouldn’t know what hit them, what they could do with the suggestion.

I was right.

Darrell composed a lengthy response, which laid out with much tact just how silly the suggestion was. He didn’t use the word “silly,” of course. He was nice, he was professional, and he did a superb job of proving -- not suggesting, proving -- the suggestion didn’t make sense.

He asked me to look over his reply, as is our routine. I couldn’t say enough about his logic, the writing, all of it. “That is an excellent letter,” I told him. “Great job.”

We didn’t send it, though. What would’ve been the point? No one likes to be wrong. Some people hate it so much they make a point of retaliating. Forget that.

You’ll spend much less time cleaning up messes if you don’t make them to begin with.

Darrell’s time wasn’t wasted, though. I keep hearing that’s the point of writing -- not necessarily to share, but to clear that mental clutter.

It worked!

A friend of mine once met John Denver. She was at a party, if memory serves, and there he was. She composed herself, walked up to him, and told him how much his music meant to her. He looked her in the eyes and told her how glad he was to hear it. “As if,” she reported, “he was almost surprised. As if he couldn’t quite believe it.”

That’s why, when I’m tempted to think I shouldn’t “bother” someone with more thanks for, say, being on the talk show, I do it anyway.

When I interviewed Excellent Sheep author Bill Deresiewicz about the way to a meaningful life, we included a clip from the poet Taylor Mali about pursuing your interests in college and worrying about money a bit later.

When we ran an encore of that program I thanked Taylor again -- this time, on Twitter -- for the great opening. This was Taylor’s reaction: “I thought to myself, ‘I said that?! Way to go, me! I still believe it but couldn’t say it that well anymore!’ In a few years, I’ll spend my days listening to my old poems thinking, ‘This guy’s good!’”

We make a point to send thank-you notes to Grandma, to tip the housekeeping staff, to bring cookies to our children’s teachers to share with their families over Christmas. But there’s nothing wrong with thanking the celebrities we cross paths with, as well. They’re people, too!