be more creative

How to be more creative (even if it’s not your thing.)

They say that everyone has the ability to create, that we are all creative beings. 

I didn’t always believe this to be true because I always thought of creatitiy as being artisitc , emphasis on “art.” Definitely not my thing.

In fact, I’m one of the few people I know who stresses out at Painting With a Twist. And crafting projects, those “easy” ones designed to re-purpose every day household items into some beautiful, functional object, tend to put me in a bad mood. 

When it comes to being innovative and creative, I always thought:

  • It’s not my thing. 
  • I don’t know what I’m doing. 
  • It’s never going to look right. 

Words have power.

I didn’t think about how that negative mindset further inhibited my already tentative creativity. 

My creativity was listening to that negative self-talk!

To get past the negative self-talk enough to be able to own my creative capabilites, I had to let go of 2 things:

Expectations, for the outcome, the experience, and the response to it

Self-judgement, which doesn’t allow for compassion, understanding, and kindness

Letting go of expectations and self-judgement have allowed me to explore my creativity and stop comparing myself an my abilities to others.

It was hard at first.

When I started to crochet, my practice swatches never looked like the swatches the YouTube crocheters made. But I kept at it.

Now, after a year of lots of trial and error, I’ve learned that I can start with the intention of making one thing and end up making something totally different, like when I started making a vest and it turned into a bag.

Crocheted bag that started off as a vest.
A bag I crocheted that started off as a top. When that plan didn’t work out I made it a bag.

I’m not sure if we’re born with different levels of creativity or if we all have enormous potential for it, but I now believe creativity and the ability to create has less to do with talent and more to do with mindset.

Here are some things to think about to help you get past the self judgement and start flexing your creative muscles. 

It’s for you. 

Creativity is as individual as you are. What would you want to create? Do you feel drawn toward writing, painting, woodworking, interior design, gardening, photography, paper making, pottery, soap making, cooking, music…? Dabble in it. Try it out.

If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do and think, I could never do that, then ask yourself, Why not? What you create is for you and doesn’t need to be shared with anyone unless you decide to share it.

Do it for the sake of the experience. 

Failure is part of the process. 

Your first attempt may not come out as you expected or as you envisioned. That’s okay! Don’t let that stop you from continuing if you enjoy doing it. You’ll get better if you stick with it. 

For more on this idea, read Embrace the Beginner’s Mindset

Start small. 

Especially if you’re dabbling into something you think you might like but don’t know for sure, start small. It can be very discouraging to pour money and effort into a project you’re not ready for. 

Baby steps. Start with the basics and then build on those to the next level. 

Do it your way.

There are helpful kits, patterns, and about a gazillion instructional videos about “How To” do almost anything. Use them to help you get started. Or you can hire a coach, take a class, read a book, phone a friend. Whichever way helps you get started and/or to the next level. 

We are all creative beings, even if we don’t really think creativity is our thing.

Letting go of expectations and self-judgement allows each of us to engage in the creative process more fully. Being more creative could mean taking an innovative approach to a problem or actually creating something.

Sometimes the first step is letting go of the limiting beliefs that tell us we are not the creative type.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject! What helps you get past expectations and be more creative?

Leadership

Coronavirus, leadership, and The Stockdale Paradox

On March 12,2020 my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with breakfast at a local pancake house and a matinee showing of the movie, Birds of Prey, complete with buttered popcorn and Icee.

We knew about Coronavirus, of course, but the virus was still mostly somewhere else, not here. After all, there were only a few cases in San Antonio.

But we wondered if that would change.

It did.

Schools were on Spring Break that week and we soon learned the break would be extended another week. We wondered if the situation could get as bad for us as it was in Italy at the time. (For more on this, read How COVID-19 went from global to personal.)

I never imagined it could be as bad here as it was there, where the enitre country was shut down in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus and the death rates climbed every day.

Of course, it did spread here.

San Antonio shut down and only essential businesses were open. People stayed home. Schools closed and switched to online learning.

Everything stopped. For me, that meant no hugging the family, not even kids and grandkids, no more group workouts, going out to dinner, bunco, book club. Nothing in person, only virtual.

Still, I was sure it would all be over by June.

Okay! Let’s open back up!

I felt relieved when the orders were lifted and businesses opened back up at 25% capacity several weeks later in Mid-May.

Perfect! Right in time for Memorial Day, Graduations, Summer, Father’s Day, and Independence Day. 

Of course, the virus was still around, but I was like most people who just wanted to get back to normal.

A headline summed up the general feeling pretty well, “Coronavirus is not over, but people are over Coronavirus.” 

As a result of that “being over it” attitude, case numbers spiked sharply. Now, COVID cases are filling hospitals.

It makes me wonder: When will things get back to normal?

June came and went and things only got worse. Now, we’re in July and things aren’t looking so good.  

August? Probably not. September maybe?

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nierenberg said the other day, The virus is not going away. The best we can do is learn how to live with it. Wear a mask, keep your social distance, wash your hands. If you’re sick, stay home. (I’ve paraphrased his message from my memory.)

Okay, fine. If that’s what I have to do, I’ll do it.

I guess.

This is what I don’t understand.

If staying at least 6-feet away from people, staying home, wearing a mask when I go out, and washing my hands constantly can help my family and me stay safe, why don’t I want to do it? I mean, I do it, but I hate every minute of it.

I realized I need a mindset shift to help me better cope with this whole quarantine-COVID situation. Even though I accept the reality of it all, I can’t quite accept that this is our “new normal.” I’m resisting accepting that possibility because I want it all to go away in the worst way.

A few days ago, I told my husband about my internal struggle. He listened and said, Tell me more about that struggle.

I explained, When I think about it, it’s like, I wish it were different. I mean, this sucks. Are we going to have to wear masks at Thanksgiving and Christmas? I want us to be past this.

He said, What you’ve just described is The Stockdale Paradox. That’s covered in the book, Good to Great.

He recently read it as a recommended book about leadership. So…what does my bad attitude about quarantine-COVID have to do with leadership?

Attitude and leadership

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses something called The Stockdale Paradox.

“The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over twenty times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again.” 

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. New York, NY, Harper Collins Business, 2001.

When the author met Stockdale, he asked how he had dealt with his circumstances when he “did not know the end of the story?” (That is, whether he would survive and make it home)

Stockdale’s response:

“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Stockdale said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Coronavirus and the Stockdale Paradox

1. Have faith that you will prevail in the end. 

Believe that we’ll get through this. The virus will eventually be contained. It may be a long time from now and things may be different by the time that happens, but we will get through this. 

2. Have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of the current reality, whatever they might be. 

I would not have thought of my mindset as discipline, but it’s basically having the kind of attitude that says, Well, this is where I am. This is what’s happening. And this is what I can do about it. And then doing that thing. 

Brutal reality

So what is the reality of our current situation? In Texas, where I live, the reality is that more people are getting sick every day and there’s no end in sight. 

Stockdale says “faith that you will prevail” is not to be confused with being optimistic. He says the “optimists” in the POW camp are the ones that didn’t make it.

“They were the ones who said, ‘We’ll be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

That’s me!

I always thought it was good to be optimistic, but according to the Stockdale Paradox, having faith that you can get through even the most difficult circumstances is not the same as optimism, where a person avoids or denies reality, kind of like they wish things were different and hope it all goes away. (Exactly like I was doing!) 

Leadership is personal

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t takes an in-depth look at why some companies make it through difficulties and other don’t.

What it boils down to is leadership. A strong leader has the “discipline to confront the most brutal facts” of their reality. Ignoring or wishing away brutal facts doesn’t change them. Neither does irrational optimism when you’re in a storm.

As much as I want to be optimistic in relation to Coronavirus, I now understand the difference between being optimistic and facing the facts of the current situation. 

This isn’t about politics or predicting the future or hoping for the best. It’s about dealing with the undesired reality of the current situation. And it’s about taking the couragous path of leadership, even if it’s only for my own attitude.

Although you never know how your actions and thoughts can affect the people around you.

Mindset changes everything even if it changes nothing

My attitude now? Wanting and wishing things were different doesn’t make them different. I have to deal with COVID-19’s brutal reality.

I’ll focus on what I can control (wash hands, wear mask, social distance, etc.) and not worry about what’s out of my control (what other people do).

And keep the faith that we will prevail and thrive in the end.

It’s strange, but I feel better prepared to live with quarantine-COVID now.

How are you handling the current situation? What struggles have you faced and what are your thoughts about The Stockdale Paradox and leadership? Feel free to leave your notes in the comments below.

Journal and pens

Ever thought of journaling? It’s a great time to start.

I love journaling. Journaling’s my favorite.

It is!

I started journaling in 10th grade and have been doing it off and on since then. I’ve had times of great journaling consistency and times of inconsistency.

But lately, with a few strategies I’ll share with you today, I’m on a journaling roll and believe in its value now more than ever.

My Journal(s)

I’m particular about my journals (I keep a few). For example, I have an simple, plain, black, leather-style notebook that I keep notes about my writing projects and other work-related things.

But my personal journal is different. I like a personal journal that stores little surprises for me, like quotes or drawings, that help me focus and reflect. I’ll give you an example.

My recent journal

My most recent journal has pink flowers and gold flowers on the cover. I picked it out in a rush and wasn’t crazy about the pink flowers or the title on the cover, “Always Be Kind.” (I know. So cynical.) While I believe it’s important to be kind in principle, I wasn’t sure I wanted the daily reminder. Sometimes I journal when I’m angry and not feeling so kind.

But it also has quotes, which I really like and it’s been one of my favorite journals ever.

The quotes are about being kind, like this one,

“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay…small acts of kindness and love.” JRR Tolkien.

What a great nugget of truth.

Some people like to journal electronically, like in a journal app. I prefer writing longhand in a notebook. It feels more intimate to me. My handwriting is unique, like my fingerprint. 

What’s the purpose of journaling?

Journaling is great for:

  • mind dumps
  • clarifying what’s on your mind
  • chronicaling a journey
  • writing practice
  • venting

Mind Dump

Sometimes when I’m feeling conflicted about something or struggling with an issue, journaling helps me clarify my feelings about it. That sounds strange to say because who doesn’t know what they think about things? But many times, I don’t. I’m a very “Living in the gray” kind of person. Things are rarely absolutely black and white.

Sometimes I can have an opinion about something but something about that opinion still doesn’t feel right. Although, to be truthful, I rarely write about current events or issues. I mostly write about me, my thoughts, my feelings, and my impressions about what’s happening in the world. 

Vent

I don’t expect my journals to be read by anyone else, except maybe when I’m dead. They’re for me. 100%. That frees me up. I don’t have to hold back or think about what I can say without hurting someone else’s feelings.

I think maybe I’ll write a disclaimer at the front of every journal, something like: Please understand that I write in the heat of the moment. If I vented about you, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It means I was angry, frustrated, or annoyed with life in general and maybe you in particular.

Purpose?

Journals can be like a “Dear Diary” or can be a chronicle of a trip or journey toward a goal. I’ve kept a gratitude journal in which I wrote specifically who and what I felt grateful for and why.

I keep a notebook of writing ideas, story issues, plot points, and blog ideas.

If you’ve ever thought about journaling but have never gotten past the first page, here are some tips I recommend to get you started. 

Decide how long you will write.

Start by setting your timer for a designated time. Work with what you have. If you only can set aside 5 minutes a day, then 5 minutes it will be. It may not sound like much, but 5 minutes is better than 0 minutes. You may be surprised at how quickly you fill the pages by writing just a short time several days a week.

Also, decide how often you will write.

3-5 times a week may be good to start and set the days you’ll journal, like Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. Or you can shoot to journal every day for 5 or 10 minutes. No worries if you miss a day. Pick it up the next day.

Remember, it’s for you.

I used to write for hours when I was feeling down or angry and I’d look back on those journals and actually feel bad for that angry, discouraged girl. It may have helped at the time, but I can’t say for sure.

I definitely vent and mind dump all over my journal, but I also use the space to gain perspective for a more positive outlook on whatever’s on my mind.

What do I do with it?

Keep it if you want, but you don’t have to. Put it in a time capsule, in a lockbox, will it to be buried with you. 

But you might be surprised at how interesting your experiences may be to some one in the future. We are, after all, living through a historic event.

I just finished reading Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. Great book and one of the most compelling things about it are the personal accounts of the harrowing Antartic journey as written in a log book, or journal. The details fill in the blanks of their incredible story of survival.

Here’s one historian’s view on the value of journals: Historian: Why We Should All Be Keeping Coronavirus Journals

If you’ve ever thought about keeping a journal, now is a great time to start.

And remember, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Find the way that suits you best and then keep it going!

Read more about keeping a gratitude journal on the blog: Make every day better with an attitude of gratitude

Do you journal? What’s been your experience with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter of journaling in the comments.

be the light

Bias, racism, discrimination, and invisibility

I’ve thought a lot about the current situation regarding protests for racial justice and my thoughts are all over the place:

  • What can I do?
  • Am I racist and have I let race rule my thinking?
  • Is it time for self-examination in general? 
  • What are my biases?
  • What is racism, anyway?
  • No form of racism is good, but there are definitely different degrees of it, aren’t there?

What is it?

Racism is a noun. A thing. Defined by dictionary.com as:

  1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.
  2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
  3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

Definition #3 is probably what most people think of when they call some one a racist, “hate and intolerance.”

Definition #2 has to do with the idea of systemic racism, such as Jim Crow laws and redlining, as well as “discrimination.”

And according to definition #1, thinking a group or individual is a certain way, positive or negative, because of their race is racist.

But can’t that also be bias? We all have biases we don’t even think about. How can bias always be bad? Except for racial bias, which can lead to stereotypes and discrimination. (For an interesting discussion about racial bias, go to Speaking of Psychology: Understanding your racial biases)

I accept that I have biases, but I’m not aware of racial biases? Do I have those too? And at what point do biases become racism and descrimination?

George Floyd’s murder and the protests that have followed have sparked serious self-examination and memories of conversations, experiences, and books about racism and discrimination.

One experience stands out in my memory. It has to do with being invisible.

Racism and invisibility

When I was in college forever ago I had the most amazing teacher for an American Lit class. He was a tall, balding, bearded man who wore very thick glasses to aid his low vision. My teacher was legally blind, and used a white cane to help him get around campus. 

He was big on class discussion and literary analysis and I wasn’t the most diligent student, but I loved books and could talk about them all day, every day. I loved that class. 

In the Spring semester he assigned The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. The book is about a black man who has been through something that has made him invisible, not because he is a ghost, but because people refuse to see him.

To my 19 year-old sensibilities, the work was deep and I muddled through it thinking I had a decent understanding of the novel. 

But when I got toward the end, the story took a strange turn and I was lost. I couldn’t understand what was going on when the main character took on several different personas all at once. 

I decided to visit my teacher during his office hours for some insight. 

The question that stumped me was,  Who was the main character at the end of the story? 

I went back and forth with my teacher in an attempt to analyze the work. He asked me questions meant to develop my understanding, but I was still confused. 

It doesn’t matter what you think

Then our discussion got personal. He asked about assumptions we make about people. He used himself as an example: Why would people assume that I need help opening a door? I’m able-bodied, I just can’t see. Why would someone see me coming half-way down the hall and stand there holding the door open for me while everyone stands back and watches me pass?

He seemed irritated by the gesture, which surprised me because that’s something I could see myself doing. 

I responded, I think people are just trying to help. 

He said, People assume I can’t open a door for myself because I use a walking cane. They don’t know me, but assume they know what I need.

We must have continued to discuss and I must have continued to make my case in the spirit of, Why wouldn’t you just accept people’s thoughtfulness. 

Then he gave another example

He elaborated on the idea of making assumptions and then drove his point home by saying, It’s the same as someone assuming you’re a certain way because you’re Mexican. 

I hadn’t expected that at all and I must have looked stunned, like he’d just slapped me.

He said: When you came to me wanting to enroll in the class, I really didn’t want to let you enroll. I thought, Who is this Mexican girl thinking she can sign up so far into the semester? This is a 2nd year English class. We’d already read a novel that you totally missed. (Well…you see…what had happened was I wanted to drop an 18th Century British Lit snoozer class and enroll in his American Lit class, but it was so far into the semester I needed special permission to make the switch.)

His first impression of me exemplified his bias, prejudice, and even racism. He had thought of me as a late (true) Mexican (also true) who probably wasn’t very smart (false) and not a very good student (It’s complicated). 

But he came to realize he was wrong about me, just like people who assumed he needed and wanted help were wrong about him.

His racial bias caught me off-guard. I would have never guessed I had made such a negative impression on him, but that example helped me understand Ellison’s character and who he was at the end of the book. 

Class discussion about conclusion of The Invisible Man

In typical form I was late to the final discussion on The Invisible Man and snagged a seat by a window close to the back of the crowded classroom that seated probably 40 students of all different majors. 

He stood behind a podium at the front of the classroom and posed the big question to the class. Who is the main character at this point in the story? Different characters call him by different names and he seems to transform into a different person every time. Is he any of them? Is he all of them?

It was one of those lively class discussions where hands shoot up with students eager to get the right answer. 

But none of them did. I had my hand raised too but he didn’t call on me until the rest of the class was out of ideas. 

Finally he called on me and asked, Who is he? 

I said, It doesn’t matter who he is. 

And a girl with perfect hair said, Well then why are we talking about it? 

The whole class laughed. 

He ignored the outburst and pressed further, Why doesn’t it matter?

I said, Because people didn’t see him. They saw who they wanted him to be. To the people he encountered (not just white people either) he was who and what they thought he was. 

The person he wanted to be, his dreams, abilities, aspirations, family, heritage, or plans for the future didn’t matter a bit. 

That’s what made him invisible. 

Just like my teacher and I were invisible to each other when we first met, it turned out. Our biases caused us to falsely assume things about each other, like character, attitudes, and values.

“Otherness” and me

Not being racist is not enough.

When my biases cause me to assume a person thinks and behaves a certain way because of the color of their skin, heritage, gender, physical difference, language, religion, socio-economic status, level of education, or some other “otherness” they become invisible to me. 

If I think, I’m not racist. I’m not the problem, and continue just as I am without examining my own biases and prejudices, then I’m not doing enough to be part of the solution. I can do better. 

I wonder if future generations will understand any of the current protests and calls for social and racial justice. Will they think it insane that policy based on bias, racism, and discrimination went on for so long? Will they be grateful for the more just and inclusive framework they enjoy?

I hope so.

On a related note, read Words and actions reflect your personal policy on the blog.

Healing

Ta-Nehisi Coates looks at the past for a better future

The Water Dancer, a novel with qualities of historical fiction and magical realism by Ta-Nehisi Coates, had been on my Books To Read list for a while. When I finally got to it (I listened to the audiobook) I thought it was brilliant.

The novel is a story about family and freedom told in the context of slavery.

The main character, Hiram, is both the property and the son of Howell Walker, the man whom he calls “Father.” Hiram works as servant to his brother, Maynard.

Hiram is smart and a gifted storyteller with an extraordinary memory. He remembers everything he sees and hears. But he cannot bring forth the full and clear memory he most desires, that of his mother, the “Water Dancer.” His father sold her away when he was about 5. 

He discovers he has another power called conduction and eventually works in the Underground Railroad with the woman known as Moses.  

Hiram’s experiences help him gain perspective and understanding. He witnesses family, belonging, obligation, freedom, justice, and love in action.

The Water Dancer is a great book and I was eager to explore more of the author’s work.

A letter to his son

Between the World and Me is a narrative to his teenage son after the news that police officers will not face charges for the death of a black man in their custody.

The author imparts his hopes and dreams for his son. He speaks of the challenge he will face to protect his body in a society that proves again and again it does not value his body. 

He shares his own experience growing up in the rough streets of Baltimore and of attending Howard University. Of broadening his perspective as he traveled the country and to Europe. 

The author’s deep desire to protect his son comes through clearly.

Also clear is his realization all parents must accept, that his child will have to find his own way.   

A case for righting past wrongs

His article, “The Case for Reparations,” published in The Atlantic magazine June 2014 issue.

It’s a long essay that addresses systemic racism, from slavery to Jim Crow to redlining housing practices and unjust incarceration. Coates makes a compelling case for reaparations in order for America to end the pain of racial divisions. He does not propose exactly what amount or form of “reparations” would be adequate, but he does address bill H.R. 40, Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. 

The author says of the Commission: 

Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.  

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, accessed on theatlantic.com 6/11/2020.

Impacting future leaders

The final Ta-Nehisi Coates item is his guest lecture to the West Point Corps of Cadets in 2017. 

But whether you agree with him a hundred-percent or not, Ta-Nehisi Coates is a deep thinker. His ideas provoke thought and consideration on difficult subjects, like justice, race, American history, and leadership. 

I highly recommend you read or listen to his work. At the very least, he will give you something to think about.

Go to Ta-Nehisicoates.com to learn more.

Get started

Time to get to work. No excuses.

When I think I have good reasons for not getting stuff done it’s sometimes hard for me to admit I’m really just making excuses.

But no more. Time to get to work. 

No more excuses. 

I’m working on a new book. Non-fiction. It’s part commentary about aging and part memoir about my journey to menopause. 

The thing is, I wrote the first draft 3 years ago. 

I wrote it in hopes that my experience would help other women better navigate what can be a very confusing time. 

But then I put the manuscript on a shelf and left it there. 

For 3 years. (Did I already mention that?)

There are a few reasons I chose to get back to it:

  • I still think my story might help other women or at least give them something to think about. 
  • There’s value in the message. 
  • Re-writing/editing the manuscript is do-able, even if it may be difficult.

So I decided to get back to it and have given myself until April 2021 to publish. 

I made that commitment this past April, thinking, Oh yeah. That’s plenty of time. 

And just like that, 2 months have passed.

I have been working on it, but it’s pretty slow going. Even when I was stuck at home in COVID quarantine with no place to go, no people to see, and not much else going on, I chipped away at it very slowly. 

This has all helped me realize a few things about what I need to do to improve my results and meet my goals.

These realizations may help you, too.

Decide whether you really want to do it.

Projects kept on the “back burner” don’t get done. Of course it’s important to prioritize and you may have to shift things around now and then.

But if you really want to do that thing you’ve left on the back burner, you’re going to have to move it to the front burner eventually. 

I left my manuscript on a shelf in my office without looking at it. For 3 years! If it was ever going to be finished I had to pull it off the shelf, read it, and decide, Yes, I still want to do this. 

But this goes for anything you say you want to do. If you’re waiting for the perfect time to do X, and are just waiting for “someday,” it won’t happen because “Someday never comes.” 

It’s okay to change your mind about stuff you thought you wanted to do. But if there’s truly something you want to do, you have to decide to do it, then get to work.

Which leads me to my next point.

Make a plan. 

Time races by. It’s important to have a plan to do the things you really want to do. Even a loose plan is better than no plan. 

I find I work a lot better when I have a clear idea of what I’m going to be doing and when I’ll be doing it. And I have to write it down in a calendar, planner, journal. Something. 

I came across a journal in which I’d written my New Year’s goals several years ago. In 2015, I wrote that my physical fitness goal was to do 100 double-unders unbroken (double-unders are fast–you jump rope with 2 turns of a rope instead of 1).

That goal is funny to me now because I said I wanted it, even wrote it down. 

But I didn’t make a plan to meet my goal. 

Had I really wanted it, I would have practiced several times a week, gotten coached on the skill, set intermittent milestones throughout the year, so that on December 31, 2015, I had a good shot at setting up and knocking out a hundred double-unders with no problem. 

Didn’t happen. Not even close.

No plan, no good.

Give it time. 

If there’s something you really want to do that you’ve put on the back burner, take a peek at it now and then. Maybe you can’t be all in at the moment, but are there little things you can do here and there to prepare for when you can?

Most things take time and preparation. You may have to take a class, read up on the subject, do some research, start with trial and error. Expect it to take time.  

No more excuses.

Anytime I come up with “reasons” I don’t do what I say I want to do, even though some of those reasons may be pretty significant obstacles, I have to see them for what they are…excuses. 

Jim Rohn said, If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. 

When I make excuses for not sticking to my plan or continuing to put things on the back burner, I have to ask myself, if I really want to do this, then what’s keeping me from doing it?

At that point I can begin to discover what obstacles are keeping me from reaching my goal. Often, it’s some internal obstacle stemming from self-doubt or fear. Or maybe I don’t really want it that bad. 

And that’s okay, too, because it frees me up to do the things I really want to do.

And…begin.

Now it’s time for me to plan my work and then work my plan. No more excuses. 

How about you? Is there something you really want to do but have put it on the back burner for someday? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Read more about setting goals on the blogpost: Create your vision and dare to dream big

Music

Music – The great escape

Music can change the world because it can change people. ~ Bono

Do you ever feel like sometimes you just want a little, tiny, minuscule vacation? Like the old bubble bath commercial catchphrase, Calgon, take me away.

Music does that for me.

And sometimes, one song can change everything and speak to me in a way that touches my soul. 

What gives a song that power?

Sometimes it’s a memory of the song or some nostalgia built around it, like Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” First of all, Aretha, Queen of Soul, that big, soulful voice. But when I hear that keyboard intro to “Think” my mind immediately shifts to Aretha’s killer scene in a neighborhood diner in “The Blues Brothers” as she sang in a pink waitress outfit and house shoes, made all the more memorable by the girls who jumped off their dining stools to sing back up.

As the song continues and she sings, “Freedom!” I’m dancing. I managed to channel my best Aretha singing “Think” at Karaoke last year. I butchered the song, but did my best Aretha pantomime. So fun.  

Deep thoughts put to music

Sometimes it’s the heart of a song that speaks to my heart, like “Closer to Fine” by Indigo Girls. It’s a catchy tune with great vocals and acoustic guitar, but for me, the song is about our search for truth and clarity and for some assurance that we’re on the right track in life, but there’s not one “right” answer.

It’s in the journey that we discover our truth for ourselves.  “The less I seek my source for some divinity, the closer I am to fine.” 

Timely reminder

One of my very favorite songs of all time is “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, first released in 1979.

I know. It’s an old song, but it’s amazing and also, as I was reminded the other day, completely relatable.

I was cooking dinner, listening to music, when the familiar baseline came on: 

Doon, doon, doon, d’duhdoondoon.

Clap. Snap. 

Doon, doon, doon, d’duhdoondoon. 

Pressure. 

There’s a lot going on in the song, music swells, random lyrics:

Umboon, bah, bah, beh

People on streets. 

That’s okay.

And always goes back to the bass line: Doon, doon, doon, d’duhdoondoon.

Then around the middle of the song there’s a swell and overlapping of lines and sounds. 

And then goes to snapping fingers to the beat. Snap, snap, snap. 

Then the lyrics, “Turned away from it all like a blind man. Sat on a fence but it don’t work. Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn.”

Then another swelling of sound, drums, Freddy Mercury’s falsetto, guitars. 

And then one word rises from the chaos,

Love, love, love, love, love,

repeated in a rush, as if in a flash of revelation, like, Yes! That’s it! 

And then the lyrics that always gets me:

Insanity laughs and the pressure we’re breaking. 

Why can’t we give ourselves one more chance? Why can’t we give love one more chance?  Why can’t we give love, give love, give love?

It’s like a great release and simple answer to life’s pressure and the feeling that the world is closing in on us and there’s chaos and wondering how we can protect ourselves and our family and still be okay. 

And David Bowie sings in the rush of words

‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night and love dares you to change our way of (join voices and crescendo) caring about ourselves this is our last dance this is our last dance. (Slowly and more quietly) This is ourselves ….under pressure. 

Baseline. Snapping fingers. 

I think I love this song more every time I hear it.

When the music wells to the big ending it’s as if all the scattered thoughts and concerns — people in streets and good friends screaming let me out—and you feel the desperation and searching. All that stuff pushes down on you until the rush and realization: 

Love, love, love, love, love. 

This is our last chance, this is ourselves …under pressure. 

Whoa! Yes! This!

Mindshift through music

“Under Pressure” is pretty much the perfect song right now, a great reminder of our connectedness and the call for getting back to the basics of love, for each other, for ourselves.

Or maybe it was the perfect song for me to hear at that moment when I wanted to shift my mind from negativity and bad news.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or discouraged or have just had enough of all the “latest news,” put on some music to transport your mindset to a lighter level.

It might provide the perfect short but great escape and may even have a ripple effect of goodness you’re need right now.

For more ideas about how to lift your mood, read Tips to Shake Off the Blues here on the blog.

Next step

Your goals and dreams and the “new normal”

As the world emerges from this COVID quarantine, slowly in some places, suddenly in others, it can feel a little strange being out and about in our new normal. 

But regardless of what a governor or local municipality deems “safe”, we each must decide our own level of tolerance and comfort with being out and around people again. 

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a commentary that was circling social media about us not being in the same boat. About how this global pandemic affects us all, but how specific health or economic circumstances can make its impact vastly different. (Go to We may be in this together, but we are not in the same boat to read the post.)

Those things are still true. Opening things back up doesn’t change that.

But as we choose to venture out, continue to stay in, throw caution to the wind, or somewhere in between,

Here are some things to consider as you come to terms with your “new normal”:

Your exposure is not yours alone.

For me, it’s important to continue to limit my exposure as much as possible to help protect the people I love, like my family, particularly my grandkids and my mom. I have to remember that my exposure is their exposure so it’s best for me to venture out with caution.

Isolate with care.

Lots has been reported about the mental and emotional drain of isolation. The fact is humans are social creatures. We need each other.

While you may be able to continue to isolate yourself from just about everybody and may not feel safe being around people at all, it’s also important to connect in whatever ways you can.

Maybe the new normal is being around people while keeping social distance standards. That’s hard for me to remember, I admit. When I greet my brother I want to give him a hug and he jumps back. “What are you doing?” Oh right. Sorry. I forget. I’m glad he remembers. I can visit with him and keep my distance. It’s better than not seeing him at all.

It’s not over.

COVID is real. It’s not a hoax or political conspiracy and it’s not gone. To date, more than 89,000 people in the US have died from COVID. We sometimes fall into the attitude that it won’t happen to me, and if it does, I’ll be okay.

But we’d be better off as a community if we could get out of the “Me, me, me” mentality. It’s not all about any one of us alone. One person’s actions can affect a whole lot of other people.

Your goals and dreams await. 

Enough of the warnings and reminders.

As we’ve seen with crystal clarity, nothing is guaranteed.

So whatever you want to do in this life, do it now. Start.

It’s okay to start small, but whatever you’ve held in your heart as a deep desire, maybe so deep and daunting you’ve kept it to yourself and haven’t dared to share it with another soul.

Maybe you’ve come up with dozens of reasons why it won’t work, why you can’t do it, or why it’s just not the right time. Start the work now so when the time is right, you’re ready. 

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

What does the future hold for you? 

Believe in the beauty of your dreams and take action toward your dreams.  

There’s so much that is out of our control. That’s true.

But there’s still a lot we can control, like setting goals, making a plan to work toward them, and working the plan. 

It starts with believing you can.

And….begin.

small acts of kindness

Words and actions reflect your “personal policy”

A recent encounter with a stranger at a Tuesday Morning store in my neighborhood reminded me of how important it is to be mindful of how our words and actions can affect others.

We’re still practicing social distancing where I live, but retail stores are opening up again and I couldn’t wait to stop by one of my favorite stores.

A woman wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, sunglasses, and a light blue face mask that covered her nose and mouth, waited by the door.

“Are they open?” I asked.

She checked her watch. “They open at 10, I think. We got about 10-minutes,” she said through her mask.

Talking amongst ourselves

That’s how I came to be standing on the sidewalk in the shadow of the building on a hazy Friday morning. A few minutes later another woman walked up, she had a black mask pulled down over her chin. 

Standing a safe distance from each other, we got to talking about the current situation–COVID, quarantine, social distancing–and how happy we were that stores were opening again. 

The woman in the straw hat said she had just gotten laid off from her job but had not had any success filing for unemployment. “I’m 68 years old,” she said, “but I still want to work. The president of my company said they planned to recall part of the workforce, but said if you’re over 65…you should just stay home.” 

Even though her former employer’s leadership may not have explicitly said or meant it, the message she heard, loud and clear, was:

  • You, over-65-year-old people, are the problem.
  • We don’t want you back.
  • Go home and stay there.
  • It would be better for everyone if you just disappear. 

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it?

It would be easy to explain the company policy away and say, “I’m sure that’s not what they meant.” Maybe even assume she was being oversensitive.

Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.

But what struck me is how policy—public, corporate, even personal—sends messages beyond words. It’s through our actions, how we live and treat others, that speaks volumes about what we value. 

What I learned about her in our short conversation that morning was that this woman is active in her church, sings in the choir and has lots of church friends. The quarantine has cut her off from all that. She lives alone and is ready to get back to life and get back to a job she loved.

But now they don’t seem to want her back because she’s over 65 and they seem to think people over 65 should stay out of sight out of mind. 

That impromptu, casual, social-distanced, sidewalk conversation left an impression on me. 

That company president’s words made this woman feel unvalued and irrelevant. He probably didn’t intend to leave that impression, but that was her takeaway.

I felt really bad for her. She loved her job and didn’t want to leave it and now she felt a real sense of loss at yet another thing being taken away from her.

The virus hasn’t changed our need for community and relevance and value. If this whole thing has taught us anything it’s that we need human connection and community.

And especially now, when people are more physically isolated, people need to know that they matter.

You and I may not be able to do a lot to help the current situation, but small acts of kindness can go a long way at this time of social distancing.

Here are a few small things we can do to build connection and community during this time of isolation.

Words matter. Choose them well.

It’s hard to be mindful of the power of our words even in the best of circumstances, but it may be even more important now, especially when it comes to interacting with strangers. It may not seem like a big deal to say “Thank you” to the grocery store clerk, but they’re not robots. Acknowledge them.

Phone a friend.

It happens to me all the time. I have a friend who’s been on my mind and I really want to call them, but every time I think about it, it’s too late, I’m busy, or it’s not the perfect time. When I finally stop putting it off and just make the call already, I’m always glad I did.

Encourage a fellow human.

You may not have many chances to encourage people in the current situation, but don’t be afraid to offer a kind socially distanced gesture of encouragement, like phoning a friend or neighbor, supporting a local eatery, or leaving a positive comment about a service you’re received.

Or go above and beyond to show you care.

One of my family members recently put care packages together for neighbors who live alone. All women. She delivered the packages the day before Mother’s Day with a note saying, We’ve been thinking about you. The gesture surprised them and brought a few to tears of joy.

What a brilliant way to show people they are loved!

The world could use more random acts of kindness right now. Need some ideas? Check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website.

Be mindful of your actions and how they may be perceived.

A friend of mine recently made a run to a grocery store and even though her city leaders strongly encourage people to wear masks, she noticed half the crowd wasn’t. She didn’t feel safe being in that environment.

And when people don’t respect the call for social distancing, it makes me wonder, Do they just not care?

Still, what other people do and say is out of your control. The best each of us can do is to speak and act in ways that reflect our own “personal policy.”

Our individual policies in action

If you’ve ever worked for a company you love, their policies probably made you feel valued, like you mattered. They cared about whether you were there or not.

That’s highly motivating for people. And wouldn’t that be what you want your “personal policy” to reflect?

We can do that every day by acting in a manner that reflects a policy of caring and kindness.

That was true before COVID-19 and will be true when COVID-19 is history. But now it seems even more important to take every opportunity to lift people up even in the small ways you can.

For more about the power of words, read Words Have Power on the blog.

I’d love to hear from you. What are you seeing and feeling as communities open back up?

Boat on the water

We may be in this together, but we are not in the same boat

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that affects us all, so it may be true to say, “We’re all in this together.”

What’s also true is that we each possess unique personalities and particular circumstances which directly impact how we will weather this storm. Individual experiences through this common crisis can be unique.

And even as cities and states begin to reopen, emerging from quarantine life to our “new normal” will be different for each of us. 

A friend of mine shared this “Perspective” about our current Coronavirus/Quearantine situation on Facebook. You may have seen it, but in case you haven’t, I want to share it you. 

Perspective:

WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT …
I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.

For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial & family crisis.

For some that live alone they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest & time with their mother, father, sons & daughters.

With the $600 weekly increase in unemployment some are bringing in more money to their households than they were working. Others are working more hours for less money due to pay cuts or loss in sales.

Some families of 4 just received $3400 from the stimulus while other families of 4 saw $0.

Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk and eggs for the weekend.

Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break the quarantine.

Some are home spending 2-3 hours/day helping their child with online schooling while others are spending 2-3 hours/day to educate their children on top of a 10-12 hour workday.

Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don’t believe this is a big deal.

Some have faith in God and expect miracles during this 2020. Others say the worst is yet to come.

So, friends, we are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.

Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is very important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.

We are all on different ships during this storm experiencing a very different journey.

Realize that and be kind.

Unknown author

(Copied from a Facebook post which appeared on my feed from a post published on April 29.)

Different people, different experiences

This perscpective sheds light on the fact that though COVID has affected each of us, our individual experiences may be completely different.

This pandemic has changed every day life for most of us, but it doesn’t change everything. Life goes on.

People still get sick from things other than COVID-19.

Babies are born every day.

Kids continue to grow and must continue to learn even though they can’t go to school.

Family dynamics and struggles go on, sometimes more intensely.

Communicating well with loved ones is still a challenge.

Creators still create.

The very old and very sick still need patient caregivers.

People with anxiety may have more to be anxious about.

And a ton of other scenarios, both wonderful and heartbreaking, happen every day.

We’re still connected in ways we hardly think about. And we need people in our lives.

And my struggle and how I handle it may be very different from your struggle and how you handle yours.

So the least we can do for eachother as we each weather this storm is to be kind and be patient.

If you’d like to donate time and/or money, here are a few links with opportunities and ideas on how you can help:

Want more ideas about how you can help? Do a web search “how to help covid-19” and specify your city.

If you’d like more insight about doing what you can even when it doesn’t feel like much, read What you do matters on the blog.