Anticipation, Motivation, Procrastination

I have been so busy lately in every aspect of my life and in some ways that is a life saver and in others it’s terribly disconcerting and leaves me longing for time to focus. Being overly busy is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse. Have you been there?

This time of year has been a low point in many years…one in which I have decided to take on some huge challenge because nothing much is going on. I guess I am used to that dynamic and tend to take on big challenges this time of year. In recent years, however, this time of year is full of work obligations and my routine of taking on something new and big is at odds with my new reality.

So, I go through my weeks so very busy. I look forward to the weekends as a time to finally get something done for myself, and yet my weekends are bespoke. My younger daughter’s basketball schedule dominates my evenings and weekends…and as I anticipate this last week of basketball, I find that the success of her team means at least one more week with a championship dominating the following weekend. I love this stuff! Don’t get me wrong…I just struggle to find time for, well, me!

I am a great procrastinator. Sometimes, because I am procrastinating, I turn to something unrelated and go full throttle to accomplish something other than what I think I “should” be doing. Ha! At least I get something knocked-off of my to-do list. Not bad. When there is so much on my to-do list, this seems to be the best way to go. Is it?

Lately, I’ve put all my excess energy (provided I have any) towards losing weight and getting physically fit. Turns out, there are a lot more pulls on my time. Turns out that despite my efforts at physical fitness, I’ve not lost a pound since the beginning of the year. Turns out, that although I’ve not lost a pound since the beginning of the year, I’ve lost an inch  and a half each off of my waist, hips, and thighs.

So, this morning, I was trolling through my closet looking for that next size down. I started out as a size 14…not that I would admit it, so I pretended I was a 12. (Keep in mind that I’m at max, 5 foot 4 inches and with bird-bones). So, after losing 18 pounds, I dropped a dress size to a 10…in reality, I dropped two dress sizes, from 14 to 10. But now, I’ve lost only an additional 8 pounds without an additional drop in size…or have I? I’m wearing these overly-loose 10’s and wondering when/if I’ll fit into an 8. Gauging solely by my weight, I’m 20+ pounds from being an 8…

Never-the-less, I started trolling through my closet. I found nary an 8. What is going on? I have no clue. I found many size 6 pants, all obviously too small. Then I found a sole pair of pants that looked like they might fit…a “big” size 6. I pulled them on, past my thighs…past my hips…past my waist, zipped and buttoned. Wow! They actually almost fit. Maybe in 5-10 pounds they will be a good fit.

I recalled that I put some too-small clothes in boxes and stored them in the attic. I ventured up to the attic and found the boxes of old clothes. Sure enough, I found some of my own clothes among the out-grown children’s clothes. Most were maternity clothes and some were clothes two or more sizes too small. I did find one box of sweaters which might have a few items which would fit. Inside, and on top, was a lovely, zip-up, black cardigan…a prize, no matter what else I might find.

I am still puzzling about what I wore underneath this cardigan and even more so, what pants I wore with it…I dream of some grey, wool, trousers…but they are nowhere to be found. Now I anticipate the fun I will have in cleaning out my closet…except that I don’t have time to do it in the near future.

I find myself motivated to clean-out my closet…I anticipate the joy I will feel from getting rid of clothes that are too big or too out of date. I am feeling my way past procrastination, and yet, there are still the limitations on my time beyond my personal limits.

Find the Joy in the Journey…sometimes anticipation is a virtue worth the wait!

Being Busy and Getting Things Done are Not the Same Thing

I was off of work for the last two weeks. Leading into those weeks, I had lots of great ideas about projects to do and places to go. I did none of them. Why is that? There is that old saying that if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person. I’m a pretty busy person, yet, I didn’t get much done over the holidays. Why is that?

Leading up to my vacation, I was a whirlwind of activity at work. I closed deals and finished off tasks at a rapid pace…then I stuffed a bunch of papers in a cabinet before locking up and leaving.  (I still need to work on my paper-clutter at work as well as home, apparently!) Then I got home and lost my momentum. Now, if I’d had relaxing days spent with friends and family and went to half of the events I’d thought about, I would call that a great vacation. But that’s now how it happened.

That first weekend, I did all the normal weekend stuff…I caught up on laundry, paid bills, wrote my blog, and I even wrote my Christmas letter although I never sent it out. When Monday came, my younger daughter was in a basketball tournament and I had signed up for 4 hours of volunteering. After the volunteering it was almost time for her game.

By then, time was running tight for Christmas shopping, baking cookies, and putting up the tree. Meanwhile, my husband had a last-minute trip by car a few hours away. He came down with the flu and couldn’t get back for three days. I was worried about him and that sapped some of my ability to get things done. One thing I did do, though, was meet up with some girlfriends for dinner.

Once Christmas day came, I was happy and relaxed. With my family around me, the tree up, and evidence that Santa had enjoyed my cookies. Ahh…I thought, now I will accomplish some of my tasks!  This was not to be. I did get to see my daughter’s remaining games and cheer as her team won the championship. I also did quite a lot of thinking about my goals for 2012. But as I started back to work after two weeks, I had a mental list of all the things I hadn’t accomplished on my break, even though I hadn’t been busy.

One thing I kept thinking that first week, was that because I’d saved that time for vacation I let myself put off Christmas-related tasks until then. I decided that I would plan out Christmas 2012 far in advance and get things done over time so that when those few days before the holiday arrive, I can enjoy them more.

The second thing I’ve realized is that the only things I got done when they really needed to be done were things that I had on my calendar. I made every one of my daughter’s basketball games because I’d committed to it and put it down in my calendar. I did my volunteer time because I’d committed to it and written it down in my calendar. I had my dinner with friends because I’d committed to it and written it down in my calendar.  I never got to see the lights at the light festival, nor did I see the amazing exhibit at the museum. Why not? Because I didn’t put them on my calendar…I didn’t buy tickets in advance.

So, as I go forward in 2012, I am going to start getting things scheduled. For example, I have an objective to go out to lunch with a girlfriend at least once a month. I will start making those plans and getting them on my calendar each month. I have an objective to go on a vacation with my husband, so I will sit down with him and pick the dates and then get those dates on both of our calendars. As for my fitness and writing objectives, I’ll fit them into my calendar too.

I have come to the conclusion that it is not that busy people get things done, it’s that people who get things done schedule them instead of adding them to a list. They don’t say to a friend, “let’s get together soon”, they say, “Can you meet for lunch on Monday? Or does Tuesday work better for you?”

Find the Joy in the Journey…and if you’d like to meet me for lunch let me know what day works for you!

A Look Forward to 2012

Most years, I write down a list of resolutions that look something like this:

  • Lose weight
  • Pay off debt
  • Learn French
  • Write a book

You may recognize most of these as part of my 50 by 50. Despite the number of years I’ve had these “resolutions”, I have not succeeded in any of them! I’ve had better success with lists like:

  • Have at least one lunch a month with a girlfriend
  • Read the latest book by so-and-so
  • Chair monthly meetings of the finance committee

It’s no surprise that the second list gets done and the first one doesn’t. If I wrote objectives at work that looked like the first list, I’d get sent back to the drawing board. At work, my goals are SMART goals…they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. They work. The acronym was coined by George T. Doran in a November 1981 article in Management Review and they’ve been used by many people and organizations since, even being the basis of a book by Paul J. Meyer called Attitude is Everything.

Another aspect of my work objectives is that I only have about five. Does this mean I only have five things to do all year? No, but it means that whatever I’m doing, I can ask myself if and how it relates to my five goals and if it doesn’t, I question seriously whether I should be doing it. So, this year I am setting my personal objectives around six key ideas, in no particular order:

  1. Relationships
  2. Health
  3. Wealth
  4. Charity
  5. Career
  6. Writing

Now, each of these key ideas contains a wealth of thoughts about what I should be doing this year and the lists under each idea could be endless. Instead, I’m creating my SMART objectives for each and they look like this:

Relationships

  • Make time each day for uninterrupted attention to each of my daughters
  • Make time each day for meaningful discussion with my husband
  • Make time regularly to touch base with my son who’s off at college
  • Meet a girlfriend for lunch at least twice a month
  • Attend my girls’ sporting events and cheer them on
  • Help my older daughter through the college application and selection process
  • Help my younger daughter through the transition from her 4th-5th-6th grade classroom to the 7th and 8th grade middle-school class.
  • Meet with each member of my extended (and far flung) family at least once this year.

Health

  • Walk, run, or get other exercise for 30 minutes at least three times a week
  • Track food eaten and exercise minutes on a daily basis
  • Get regular physicals and age and health appropriate tests
  • Maintain a spiritual practice by regularly attending church services and leaving time for quiet reflection at least once a week
  • Read at least one book per month
  • Listen to music while doing housework

Wealth

  • Track spending and look for opportunities to save, such as being more careful with utility use and buying groceries more selectively so that food doesn’t get wasted
  • Maintain our home to prevent expensive repairs
  • Continue the priority to put money in savings and pay for tuition from savings or current income

Charity

  • Create a budget for charitable contributions based on family and personal values
  • Run monthly finance committee meetings for local non-profit, attend bi-monthly board of directors meetings, and participate in fundraisers throughout the year
  • Use both corporate-sponsored volunteer days at work, choosing and planning one for my work group this year

Career

  • Put together SMART objectives in the first weeks of the year and cascade to my direct reports
  • Nail those objectives!

Writing

  • Continue to publish Laura’s 50 by 50 every other day
  • Create a writing and publication plan for blog
  • Write one chapter of novel each month
  • Offer to write copy for non-profit’s website
  • Write one grant

So, there you go…my SMART objectives for 2012!

Find the Joy in the Journey and good luck with whatever you hope to accomplish in 2012!

Related Posts:

A Look Back at 2011

Time to Get Stretchy!

Fear and Motivation–Part III: The Spiders and The Barracuda

In Part I, I wrote about how bad bosses may try to motivate their employees through fear and intimidation and how that’s a very poor and unsuccessful method. Pity the poor employees who can’t escape, however. In Part II, I wrote about how I didn’t let fear stop me from trying new things like public speaking and skiing. It was exhilarating to overcome those fears, but I also always knew I could quit. I could say “no” to the speech, I could say “no” to skiing and instead hang in the lounge all day or go shopping instead! But there’s a third kind of fear I’ve experienced, one where I had no option to quit…I was reduced to the primal “fight or flight” responses.

Now, I know that spiders shouldn’t have put me in fight or flight mode, but as an arachnophobic teen alone in the house with two large specimens…I think I have a case for it. I don’t know where my younger sister was that night, maybe with my parents who were taking my older sister back to college. It was a 10 hour round-trip drive and I didn’t expect them home until late. Those sorts of details are hazy, but what’s still clear in my mind are the spiders!

I was sitting on the carpeted basement floor watching TV when a large black spider ran toward me! I jumped up and jumped onto the couch, my heart in my throat. Now, I knew there were spiders in the “other half” of the basement, the unfinished part, but I’d never actually seen one in the TV room, nor had I ever seen one that large. You know the type, the “basement” spider, big, black, and hairy! This one was enormous. It ran under the piano and I ran for the stairs. Now, I didn’t want to leave it alive, so I got a can of bug poison, probably ant spray, and cautiously made my way back down to the basement. I sprayed and sprayed and sprayed underneath the piano, then headed upstairs since the poison makes me sick. I got to the hallway when I saw the cat playing with something…another basement spider!

I scooped the cat up and sprayed the spider. This one was smaller, about ½ an inch across. It was unphased by the spray, so I kept spraying it directly with the poison until it was in a puddle of poison and it finally died. At that point, I was overwhelmed thinking of the larger spider that might still be alive in the basement. With the poison in one hand and the cat in the other, I gave up on “fight” and fled to my bedroom on the second floor.

My mother recently sent me a large envelope full of old news clippings, report cards, samples of my writing, and this note that I left them that night:

Years later, my husband and I were on a ten-year anniversary trip to the Virgin Islands. We went on a day trip on a boat and at one point stopped in an area where there were supposed to be a lot of sea turtles. My husband stayed on the boat, and the other passengers all took off in one direction, so I decided to swim off by myself in the other direction. I figured the large group of them would scare off the turtles and maybe I’d get a better view. I never did see a single turtle and as I turned to swim back to the boat, I found myself a foot away from an enormous jaw of incredibly sharp teeth!

Now, I have no idea how dangerous barracudas are, but I knew that I didn’t want to find out. That jaw looked like it could take my head off or a good chunk of an arm or leg. It was in between me and the boat, so at first I swam wide around it. It was still following me, but slowly. I swam as fast as I could to the boat and climbed out. Looking back, I couldn’t see it. I later learned that they can swim as fast as 27 miles per hour! I also learned that although they could tear a big chunk of flesh off of a person, they are more likely looking at you as a larger predator. They are hoping you’ll catch something and they can rip a piece of it off for themselves. All I know is that my heart didn’t stop pounding for a while.

Find the Joy in the Journey, and if you are faced with danger all you can do is fight or flee…hopefully you’ll pick well!

Related Posts:

Fear and Motivation—Part I: It’s a Bad Boss Who Tries to Motivate with Fear

Fear and Motivation—Part II: Overcoming Personal Fears

Fear and Motivation–Part II: Overcoming Personal Fears

I am firmly in the camp that fear is a poor motivator, but overcoming a personal fear is a huge motivator for me.  In my thirties I conquered my fear of public speaking and my fear of skiing…I’d have to re-conquer them if it came right down to it, but now I know I could.

Fear of public speaking is fairly common; according to the website, Glossophobia (yes, there’s an official term for fear of speaking!), as many as 75% of people suffer from glossophobia. I had a job for a few years where I was teaching lean manufacturing techniques. I had to regularly get up in front of groups of strangers and keep their interest as I taught them the basics to get them started on a project. At first, I couldn’t sleep well the night before, knowing I had to be knowledgeable and entertaining about something that was new to me. As I got more and more practiced at it though, it got easier. The more workshops I conducted, the more of my own stories I had to share to illustrate my training.

I worked through my fear and came out knowing that I could speak in front of strangers. Then I was asked by my company to give a presentation about my work and I had to speak in front of not a dozen people, but hundreds of people…and these were people that potentially held my career in their hands! I walked out on stage and walked through my lean manufacturing example. I took questions from the audience, and I survived! The biggest thing I learned is that the more knowledgeable I was about a subject, the more quickly I could relax on stage and get into the flow of my presentation.

I don’t know of a specific term related to the fear of skiing, but fear of dying is really the bottom line! I didn’t start out with a fear of skiing, but my first time down the slopes in Colorado was terrifying. I’d skied a little in my middle school ski club, but only in the Midwest where the hills were small and the top layer of snow was icy, crunchy bits that flew out of a snow-making machine. It was always cold at ski club, in the early darkness after school, and I gave it up after the first year because I just didn’t enjoy it. Years later, my sister invited us to Colorado to go skiing and I was excited about the idea of taking lessons and giving it a try.

I worked on the training hill with my instructor and learned all the basics. By afternoon, I was up on the mountain. It was so beautiful and so scary! I started down the trail and soon picked up a lot of speed and was heading for what looked like a cliff. I veered at the last minute and was able to slow down a bit. Within minutes I had the same problem, only I was going faster still. I rolled back and executed a planned fall…not too gracefully. I wasn’t too graceful getting back up again either! I still had a long way to go and started down the mountain again. A third time I found myself flying toward the edge of the trail and fell to keep from going over the edge. By that time, I was ready to give up and hike down the mountain. Then, I remembered my instructor saying, “The most important thing to remember is to stay in control…it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you ski, just that you are always in control”. This time, I got up and started across the slope, making my way down in big, loopy curves. I even did some nice parallel turns and I got all the way down, always in control.

In both these cases, I was afraid of something but I chose to push through my fear and conquer it. It was exhilarating and powerful. Now I am trying to do the same thing by challenging myself to conquer other fears. I can’t say that facing a fear motivates me, but conquering one does wonders! So, onward on my November challenges to get my novel out of my head and onto “paper” and to complete a 5k.

Find the Joy in the Journey…even when you have to face your fears to do it!

Related Posts:

Fear and Motivation-Part I: It’s a Bad Boss Who Tries to Motivate with Fear

Fear and Motivation–Part III: The Spiders and the Barracuda

Fear and Motivation—Part I: It’s a Bad Boss Who Tries to Motivate with Fear

Many books and articles have been written about the different kinds of “bad boss” and how to deal with them. But what if the boss is ALL the bad types of boss? I found this article, “5 Types of Bad Boss and How to Handle Them” by Suzanne Kennedy on the BiteSizeBio website. The five bad types mentioned are passive-aggressive, manipulative, unfocused, micro-manager and put-down bosses. What if you have a boss that is all five of those types? Sounds impossible, but as Mark Twain once said, “truth is stranger than fiction”.

In the years when I worked in lean manufacturing I saw a very stark example of leading by fear. I was working with a small equipment manufacturer and the first day started off very quietly. No one was talking. In the room, were not only the plant workers and industrial engineers, but also the head of human resources and the plant manager, which was very unusual for the type of working-level workshop that we were conducting. This company couldn’t deliver their machines when promised and really needed help.

The second day, we had a segment on a fear-free workplace. It was a piece we always did, not one done for this particular company. Everyone refused to participate! This company had been a small, tight-knit, family-run company but it had recently been purchased by a big company from overseas. The new plant manager was a petite woman with blonde hair, blue eyes, flowery dresses, and an iron fist. She smashed anyone who didn’t do things “her” way, regardless of the fact that she was clearly giving bad advice. She had recently fired a long-time employee as an example to the rest of the workers. She was your worst nightmare of a boss in the guise of a young Shirley Temple.

The metric that she had for delivery was “on time” or “not on time”, so she’d have workers cannibalize machines that were late for delivery (already counted against her metric) and use parts to finish off orders due in the next 24 hours so she’d get credit for an “on time”. Clearly an example of a poorly designed metric, taken to extremes and causing behavior destructive to the company! Not only that, but the parts in question were often the electrical controllers and they were inadvertently damaging the electronics in the process and then claiming that they had received bad parts from their new parent company.

On the third day, we came in only to find that the plant manager had held a meeting before our session started and told her employees not to cooperate with us! Needless to say, we didn’t accomplish more than surface improvements at that plant…and good riddance. I felt anguished that the only woman plant manager I’d run into was so gosh darned awful at her job and that she used her sweet southern drawl and overtly girlish dresses and hairstyle to send decidedly mixed messages to her employees.

The environment of fear in that plant was palpable. No one was willing to take the slightest risk to make their job more pleasant or more efficient, even when they had invited their biggest customer into their plant to help them make sorely needed improvements. It wasn’t a lesson I needed to learn, but it was the most unbelievable example I had seen or have seen since. It certainly reinforced the point to me that ruling by fear might get people to do your bidding, but only as long as it takes them to find another job. I saw such a waste of talent and opportunity in that company as the workers were too afraid to offer suggestions or make improvements.

I never went back to that plant, nor heard how things turned out…but I suspect that the plant manager didn’t last too long…she should have been more open to learning about the business and less about being in charge.

Being feared does not make one a good motivator…but does fear motivate us in other contexts?

Find the Joy in the Journey…and stay away from bullies!

Related posts:

Fear and Motivation—Part II: Overcoming Personal Fears

Fear and Motivation–Part III: The Spiders and the Barracuda

Is An Unproductive Day A Bad Day?

Today, I did so much less than I originally planned. I don’t feel rested or that I’ve deserved a day off. I feel like I was lazy. Why is that? Maybe it just means that I really need a vacation. A long one.

I had plans today, starting with a workout, then  a haircut, lots of laundry, shopping for sundries and Halloween candy, then waiting for the chimney/gutter guy to come, then taking my younger daughter to a Halloween party, meeting friends for dinner, than back home again after picking our daughter up. My day did not go that way, although I did get some laundry done. I never left my house.

I slept in, fitfully, trying to catch up on my normal wake-in-the-middle-of-the-night-sleep-robber. I made it to 7:30 before I gave up. Then, instead of working out, or even eating my normal, healthy breakfast, I ate a chocolate chip muffin fresh from the oven thanks to my earlier-waking spouse. Next, I sat in my jammies in front of the TV and watched the pilot to an old tweener TV series with my daughters.

After the show, I dragged my sorry self upstairs to take a shower. I thought of working out, but that plus a shower would mean I couldn’t get to the store before I needed to be home for the chimney/gutter guy. So, I just took a shower. Even so, I was out of time and gave up on the store…then I looked at my calendar and realized I’d missed a haircut appointment. Doh! My hair grows faster than I can make hair appointments…

Meanwhile, my younger daughter had woken up with a sore throat and had taken some acetaminophen to no avail. By the time I was out of the shower, she’d taken her temperature and it was over 101 degrees. I told her, no party! She called me “mean”. She fought back hard, even after telling me that now her ear hurt too. When I did call the family throwing the party, she protested loudly in the background, but once the call was over, she gave in to the sickness and fell into a fitful sleep. I canceled my dinner plans, not wanting to leave her alone.

The chimney/gutter guy came. I had some coupons and a resolution to pay for work that neither my husband nor I ought to be doing ourselves. Thank goodness. The gutters were a total mess, never having been cleaned since they were put in 6 years ago. Old leaves had turned into dirt, clogging the gutters and downspouts and fostering the growth of numerous maple seedlings.  Bless the man who walked around our steep, Victorian roof, 30 feet above the ground in the rain.

The chimney was another matter. At 119 years old, and not used in our 19 years here, it was completely unsafe. He gave it a D- grade (wonder how much worse it would have needed to be to rate an “F”?). There was no damper, although there was one before our renovation. The new chimney top had a broken washer collar, and the chimney sweeper declared that since work had been done on the chimney recently, the contractor broke code by not insisting on making the entire chimney safe. He gave me an estimate in four figures…ouch. I’m guessing the chimney had never been cleaned in its life. 119 years ago, there was no such thing as chimney liners (the current code violation), but this chimney also has no damper, no flue liners, no squirrel cages, a cracked firebox, and an unstable floor. My contractor had made sure the part jutting out of the roof wouldn’t fall down, but he’d ignored the safety issues that meant I should never use the fireplace at all.

The mantelpiece of our fireplace is gorgeous. When we first moved in it was not much to look at. My husband stripped about 10 layers of paint off of it, then went to work on it with a dental pick. After getting it completely free of paint, beautiful, carved designs appeared which he sanded with a careful hand. He stained and finished it. It is a masterpiece! The fireplace surround, however, is a mess and needs re-tiling as does the hearth. I can picture how amazing it will look if we do that tile-work. But, that on top of the cost to make the fireplace usable, adds up to a small fortune. Here’s a photo of it so that you can see for yourself the beautiful restoration work my husband did as well as the task remaining.

So, here I sit at the end of my unproductive day. I’m not feeling guilty, exactly. I know I made good decisions today, like canceling out on the party and, unfortunately, my night out with friends, but I feel a certain dissatisfaction with myself nonetheless. Meanwhile, there are things to make me laugh so that this is not a bad day, just different. My older daughter wants to be a Ghost Buster at school on Monday so she’s wearing an enormous (for her) jumpsuit of her dad’s and the two of them are giggling over how it looks while taking the hose from the dry-vac and trying to combine it with her backpack to come up with a ghost-busting machine. Then, I just got this hilarious blog-post by Hyperbole and A Half entitled, The Party, from a friend to make me feel better about being a “mean” mom.

Yes, life is good, even on lazy, unproductive days. I just hope this tickle in my throat is not a harbinger of worse days ahead…

Find the Joy in the Journey and try better to take the lazy days with a relaxed attitude.

A Good Parent-Teacher Conference Is Like A Hot Shower On A Cold Day

As I drove my younger daughter home from school, she filled me in, as usual, on every detail of her day and all the things we needed to do to prepare for her upcoming activities. When I could get a word in edgewise, I lamented that although I wanted to go to my older daughter’s parent-teacher conferences, I was really tired, I didn’t want to make the long drive, I didn’t want to stand in the long lines, and I didn’t want to drive home in the dark. My younger daughter remarked that she felt the same way about showers.

She went on for about ten minutes about showers and being driven home by her brother and how he would blast the heat for two seconds, and then turn it off again. It always drove her crazy. She went on describing her whole thought process about knowing she should take a shower, but not wanting to. She explained how her brother’s odd HVAC activities in the car left her cold and wanting a hot shower, but that when she’d walk into the warmth of the house she’d no longer want a shower.

Somehow, she tied that all together and it made sense to me. Going to parent-teacher conferences for a tired mom at the end of a long day is just like taking a shower is to an eleven year old. It is a universal stage of being a pre-teen, from the stage of refusing to bathe at all without dire threats, to starting to know you need to bathe but still not wanting to, to that awesome moment when a daily shower becomes the norm. It’s unfortunately a long and smelly process and I’m glad I’m on the positive side of my last child’s shower aversion.

My daughter’s flawless, if convoluted, analogy gave me the kick in the pants I needed and after a quick standing dinner, I took off. Traffic was light and the drive took only a half hour. The lines were long. I stood in seven of them. Some were more worthwhile than others. As I stood in my first line, I opened my Kindle (I’ve learned to bring something to read) and perused my list of books…half I’d already read and half were free downloads of Dickens, Austen, Dumas, Balzac, etc. I really wasn’t in the mood for the classics, so decided to download something; even so, my mind wandered to the whole nature of these conferences and their helpfulness or lack-there-of.

Parent-teacher conferences are a kind of convoluted performance review in my business-skewed mind. Some teachers are really good at it, and some are awful. I don’t believe they get trained in how to conduct a good conference, but they should be. For example, if my child is getting a B or better, most teachers shoo me away in about 2 minutes. They are not interested in providing any insight into my child’s behavior, nor offering any suggestions on how he or she can improve. I find that incredibly frustrating! At work, we always want to praise good work and point the way to improvement. At work, I always tell my employee what else they can do if they want to go for the top rating. In the same vein, a teacher should provide feedback on how to raise even a good grade, or at least maintain it. A good student, like a good employee, values the insight and guidance which good coaching can provide.

I experienced both types of teachers. I got shooed away by most, but one really gave me some insight into how my daughter interacts in the classroom and where she was strong and where she could do better. I was so very appreciative and impressed with him. This information allows me to help my daughter, not only in this specific class, but going forward into college as well.

At the other end of the spectrum, are the conferences with teachers where my daughter is struggling. Again, there are two types of teachers, the ones who offer insight into my child’s behavior and describe the help available to her…and the ones who look to me to explain why she’s struggling in their class without having an opinion of their own. I can connect with the first type and work collaboratively to help my child. The second type makes me wish that schools gave specific training to teachers on how to provide meaningful feedback to parents.

Oh, this is a stressful year for my daughter as a high school junior. She has her sights set very high and is diligently working to deserve entry into her first choice school. She is a passionate art student and is fortunate that her school has an amazing art program. But the schools she is interested in require top scores and top grades before they’ll even look at her portfolio. It’s my job to manage her expectations, and I need the full support of her teachers in the form of honest, thoughtful evaluations.

Find the Joy in the Journey, and demand honest feedback from those who know you best…even if it’s your eleven year old child!

Ten Things I Know To Be True

I was recently inspired by a TED talk by Sarah Kay, If I Should Have A Daughter and her Ten Things. She is a famous performance poet and this TedTalk doesn’t disappoint in showcasing her talent. She started as a performance poet at 14 years of age and learned three steps:  “I can” then “I will” and ultimately, “Infusing the work you are doing with the specific things that make you you even while those things are always changing”. It is sad if a child never knows “I can” much less achieves the second and third steps. Ms. Kay uses the Ten Things I Know to be True exercise when she teaches children. It opens them up to telling their own stories through performance poetry. She says that when you do this in group you will find that someone has the same or a similar item on their list, someone will have the opposite, someone will have something you never heard of, and someone will have something you thought you already knew everything about.

My ten things may not be true for you, but here goes, in no particular order.

  1. No one looks at a situation the same way as anyone else. Everyone has their own point of view and remembers things their own way. It’s no use getting frustrated by this or arguing about it. You just have to open your mind and try to see why they see things differently than you do.
  2. Regrets will poison your soul. Look forward to the future and be thankful for what you have.
  3. Don’t play the blame game. When I graduated as a chemical engineer right when OPEC fell apart, my job prospects dropped to zero…so I went to graduate school to get a masters in business…and was in the first class to graduate after Black Friday when the financial industry fell apart. It took me 11 months to find a job after that. But not once did I blame anyone else, even fate.
  4. Aside from genetic illnesses and accidents, we have control over our health. We can choose to smoke, drink, drive like a maniac, watch too much TV, eat too much, and generally treat our bodies and lives like they are infinitely at our disposal, or we can take care.
  5. Statistics don’t lie, but most people don’t understand statistics.  Some people who do understand statistics, use them to tell lies because they know that most people don’t understand statistics.
  6. Love your friends for who they are and accept what they can give. Don’t try to measure what you give versus what you get in the relationship, just revel in what you get and give all you can. Be blessed in all your friendships.
  7. You can’t and shouldn’t live your life through anyone else, especially your children. Instead, live your life as a testament for your children.
  8. Reading is fundamental. It is the bedrock of education. It is the bedrock of employability. It is a window into the world and into the imagination. It is my dearest cause.
  9. In the United States we value giftedness in all areas except the intellect. We value athletes the most, and secondly gifted performers. We scorn children with intellectual gifts. We applaud the school quarterback and make fun of the intellectual “odd balls” that have the potential to make a difference in the world. Edison was considered “addled” by his school teacher and his mom pulled him out of school and homeschooled him. Things haven’t really gotten any better since then and today, funding for gifted education, especially in poorer school districts, is almost non-existent. This is my second dearest cause.
  10. Shared history creates incredible bonds…even across generations and even without sharing experiences with one another. It is good to feel pride in this, but dangerous to be arrogant about it.

Find the Joy in the Journey and share ten things you know for sure…start a conversation!

Decision Fatigue

Last week I read this article in the New York Times Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue” by John Tierney.  So much of it rang true in my own life, and it really got me thinking about how I can improve my own willpower in very concrete ways.

It turns out that the more decisions you make during the day, the poorer the choices you make. This explains why when I get up in the morning and the first question I ask myself is, do I get on the treadmill or sleep for another half hour? The answer is almost always, get on the treadmill. Such willpower! It also explains how at the end of the day when I get home from work I start making poor diet decisions. According to Tierney,

“The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. “

So, in the morning, I make good choices about exercising. In the late afternoon and evening, I make reckless choices about my diet. Now, it turns out that you can recharge your willpower by increasing your glucose intake…but that’s a bit of a catch-22 for dieters! There is a way around it, however, if I plan a healthy snack for the afternoon, I should be able to make good dinner choices.

By the time I get to work, I’ve made many decisions. They are not earth-shattering, but that’s not what’s important…I’m making decisions and developing decision fatigue. So, I realize that all those women’s magazines I’ve read throughout my life that extol the virtues of planning ahead, laying out your clothes the night before, planning your weekly menus, etc. had more going for them than the obvious. Now, I realize that if I shift those decisions to the weekend, I can avoid them during the week!

This is important for two reasons, one, it may help me in my quest to live a healthier lifestyle and two, it could free up my “good” decisions during the week to make better decisions at work…and after all, I get paid to make good decisions!

The article further takes us to the Rubicon…what is more difficult? Is it sitting on the pre-decision side of the river in Gaul?  Is it the act of crossing the river, the Rubicon itself? Or is it dealing with the action that must take place on the other side of the river, fighting the Romans, which is the hardest? It turns out that it is in crossing the Rubicon…in reaching the point of no return, that we use up the most decision energy.

I think I’m still on the Gaul side…I’ve made the decision to cross the Rubicon, but I haven’t actually made my move. Or have I? Did I cross the Rubicon when I pushed the “publish” button on my first blog post? Maybe so…maybe I am crossing the Rubicon right now…or maybe I’m on the other side, battling for success. Yes, I do think that I am. And yes, making the decision was incredibly difficult…but now that I am in the battle against Rome, I do find it difficult and lonely. Where’s my army? Without the army, crossing the Rubicon wasn’t even a crime…

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have many Rubicons to cross…I’ve made it to the other side with my blogging and with my exercising, but I haven’t done it with dieting. And I do have an army, a small one to be sure, but I do have supporters in my efforts.

So, what lessons have I learned? Well, when it comes to having the will power to deal with that which I haven’t fully dealt with yet, the more I can reduce my decision making or shift it to the weekends, the better. I can do it. I realize that there are many things I do as a matter of course, without decision making. For example, I don’t ask myself every morning and evening if I should brush my teeth…I just do. I need to get to that level when it comes to exercising.

I also think that if I take all those women’s magazine’s articles to heart…I can plan out healthy meals, plan out what to wear for the week, and decide the conflicts in my schedule on the weekend, I can balance-out the weekly decisions in the most efficient way and reserve my decisions for the really important things!

Find the Joy in the Journey and don’t waste energy on the irrelevant!