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.

Complicated bike

Riding this bike is quite complicated

Destin is an full-time engineer who explores the world and shares what he learns on his YouTube channel “Smarter Every Day”

About the video

The brain is amazing. It can perform all manner of intellectual and physical feats without us even noticing what’s happening, without giving much thought to it.

Like riding a bike. 

But watch what happens when this intelligent, skilled bike rider gets on this specially designed backwards bike. It works backwards, so that when he turns the handlebars to the right, the bike goes left. 

I expected he’d get the hang of it in a couple of minutes, because really, if you need to go right, then turn the handlebars to the left. 

As you’ll see in the video, it’s not that simple. 

This video is only about 8 minutes long and it’s a fun and simple experiment with huge, major takeaways. 

My takeaways

  • We come to expect things a certain way and any deviation from that can be unsettling.
  • We have biases we don’t even know we have.
  • Our biases are deeply embedded in our psyche. 
  • “Once you have a rigid way of thinking in your head, sometimes you cannot change that. Even if you want to.”
  • Children learn faster than adults, as demonstrated by Destin’s 6-year old son learning in 2-weeks what took him (Destin) 8-months. 
  • And the biggie: “Be careful how you interpret things because you’re looking at the world with a bias, whether you think you are or not.”

The “Backwards Brain Bicycle” video is fascinating.

And he’s got links to tons of other videos on his website, Smarter Every Day. And you can find links to some other interesting things he’s done, like interview a president, on his “About” page. 

Does being aware that I see the world through the lens of my biased vision make me smarter? It doesn’t feel like it.

But there is something to be said for being reminded of that biased view. That is a reminder that things aren’t always what they seem to be.

Each of us has to decide what that means for us as we go through life.

For me, it’s a reminder to judge less, love more.

For more recommendations on quality programming to watch or listen to, click here.

crochet lessons

Crochet and life lessons reinforced

I decided to learn to crochet mostly because I liked the idea of making stuff people could wear. I had no idea learning to crochet would reinforce many life lessons for me.

My new hobby came about after I’d finished a few needlepoint projects and wanted to try something different. How hard can it be? I thought.

My mom, who sews beautifully and used to crochet, gave me a quick lesson on how to start a chain using just my fingers because neither of us had a hook.

I went to a yarn store by my house where the sales clerk recommended a bamboo hook and offered a bit of yarn remnants (project leftovers). “You’ll want to get a light colored one so you can see what you’re doing,” she advised.

I decided on a small pastel pink yarn that looked like it could have been used to make a blanket for a baby girl.

With yarn and hook in hand and just enough information to wade into the crochet ocean, I was on my way. 

My fingers cramped as they adjusted to the new movements and I stitched long chains, then pulled them out and chained them again. I was finally ready to try a turn, means hooking the yarn to the original chain and making another row.

My fingers resisted moving as instructed on the Youtube videos. I strangled that first ball of pink yarn into submission. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my stitches were so tight I nearly had them in a chokehold. 

My practice swatches looked like the equivalent of writing with the non-dominant hand. You could tell what it was, kind of, but pretty shabby.

But I kept at it. 

That pink yarn was starting to look a little frayed, so I ventured into a sewing and craft store for more. In the yarn aisle stocked with hundreds of skeins of various brands, colors, material, I had no idea what I wanted or what was best for a beginner to use. 

I met a woman there in the aisle who said she was new to crocheting too. 

She had already made a bag and lots of blankets. And she taught herself. 

I was impressed and envious. 

I felt such a long way from where she was. She said she’d only been at it a few months. I’d been at it a few weeks and my stuff was all crap. 

“You’ll get it,” she encouraged. “It takes practice.”

While watching TV and listening to audiobooks, I practiced my basic single crochet stitch and figured I’d graduate to more complex stitches later. 

I made a coaster with bright-yellow yarn I’d forgotten I had. 

The coaster turned out in more of a rhombus shape not square (due to not counting and turning correctly) and rolled up on the ends (due to stranglehold stitches).

But it was done. 

Curled crocheted coaster (left) and Curled multi-colored, crocheted pot holder (right).

Next project

I thought I was ready to move on to something bigger and decided to make a scarf.

There were tons of instructional YouTube videos, but the problem with those is that experts do them and make everything look so easy. I had to constantly rewind, watch, rewind again, stitch, undo the stitch, watch again, etc. 

That period of learning tested my patience and I’m not sure what kept me going but I did. 

The scarf turned out wearable and functional, not beautiful. The edges were somewhat curvy, not clean, so I decided to put a border on it. Unfortunately, my stitches are so tight I actually broke my bamboo crochet hook trying to add the border. So I added fringe.

Again, not beautiful, but it’s done. 

Since that first project, I have made a blanket for each of my grandkids, several scarves, and a potholder. 

I have a yarn stash like any respectable crocheter and have attempted more complex projects, but find crochet patterns overwhelming. 

I know the basics and enjoy my new hobby. 

It occurred to me recently that I’ve learned a lot from it. Crochet life lessons, so to speak. These are things I know and learning to crochet has reminded me. 

Strive for progress, not perfection. 

I watched Youtube videos following every step as meticulously as I could. My practice swatches never turned out like theirs. So frustrating! Theirs were perfect. Mine weren’t even close to perfect and hardly resembled theirs. 

And while that was frustrating, I had to be okay with my imperfect product because that’s where I was. I had to give myself a chance to get better. 

Needing my swatches to be perfect would have stopped me right at the beginning.

Crochet would have been added to the list of things I always wanted to do but never got the hang of.

Better to strive for progress over perfection.

Comparing myself to others is unproductive. 

That fellow beginning crocheter who said it took her a few months to teach herself and had already made a bag impressed me. Maybe I was a slow learner or not cut out to create anything. I always figured I didn’t have the “creative gene” that runs in my family.

My mom sews beautifully and my sister is an expert at creating beautiful work from garage sale, thrift store, or trash pile odds and ends. 

I never had much success in that area. 

But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. With a little instruction and A LOT of patience, I can. I may never be an expert crocheter and I’m certainly not a prodigy, like this impressive young man, Jonah

And that’s okay. I’d like to get better and I’ve already made huge improvements since that very first wonky swatch.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to start over. 

Crochet patterns overwhelm me, but I found an infinity scarf pattern that seemed pretty simple. It used simple stitches and then connected each round at a starting point. It seemed so simple!

I was using a super soft velvet yarn and the pattern sample was luxurious and I was so excited to make it. And then, about four loops in, I looked at it. Closely. And realized somehow, some way, the yarn had twisted. 

It would never fall right. And no matter how much I wished it hadn’t happened, or wished I would have checked it sooner, there was no salvaging it. It would not work out as it was. If I wanted to make the scarf, I had to completely undo it and start over. 

As upsetting as that was, I had to cut my loss of time and energy and be grateful I hadn’t gone further before realizing my error. 

Still, it bothered me that I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong. It all seemed to be going smoothly! I regretted my error, but felt lucky that I could easily pull the yarn and undo every stitch until it’s just a long string of yarn. 

Of course life isn’t that simple, but sometimes we hang on to things that just aren’t going to work out no matter how much you try to force it. Starting over seems impossible and sometimes it may be, but more often it’s the heavy feeling of regret at being left with just a long, frazzled string of yarn instead of the hope of having something amazing. 

I eventually had to abandon the pattern. Could not get the yarn to stop twisting.

Be okay with being a beginner and keep at it. 

So I’ve been doing this for a few months and you’d think I’d be able to crochet square blankets by now, but nope. I got so frustrated with myself when I was halfway through a recent project and realized it was taking on a trapezoid shape when it should have been a square. 

(I resist counting my stitches 😐 )

For a second, I thought. That’s it. I’m terrible at this. But I know that I’m terrible at counting my stitches. It’s math. I don’t like math.

So how do you get better at counting stitches if you hate to count your stitches? You decide to just do it and then practice doing it and figure out a way to count without it crushing your crochet spirit. 

Because if you want to make square blankets, you have to count your stitches. (I tell myself this but at the back of my mind I wonder if there’s another way!)

To get to the next level, you may need a coach or teacher.

I attempted enough times to know that if I want to explore more complex projects and be able to follow a pattern, I’m going to need instruction. 

My instructor will need to be VERY patient, knowledgeable, and kind. She’ll be able to see what I’m doing, point out where I’m going wrong, and steer me in the right direction. Also, give me incremental goals and skills to develop. My imaginary crochet coach is amazing. 

When you think about it, having a coach makes sense. Every professional basketball team has a shooting coach, professional football teams have a kicking coach, pro golfers have a coach. 

Don’t go it alone

I’ve found a crochet meet up of crocheters and knitters who meet once a week to chat and crochet and knit. I’ve only made the meet up a few times, but they’re always welcoming and helpful. They’re at all different levels, but the majority are very knowledgeable and I would say, expert. The differences in yarn materials, brands, stitches, strategies, etc. 

We talk about books, movies, our families. And we have crochet/knitting in common. 

Crochet and life lessons

I like to crochet, but never thought venturing into this new hobby would reinforce life lessons that have been reinforced again and again over the years.

Is crochet life?

Not exactly.

But for me, it’s like another branch of learning. That I get to create something to keep my neck warm in winter is a bonus.

So when you feel discouraged by some new challenge, remember these things:

  • Strive for progress, not perfection
  • Comparing yourself to others in unproductive
  • Sometimes the best thing to do is start over
  • Be okay with being a beginner and keep at it
  • To get to the next level, you may need a coach or teacher
  • Don’t go it alone

Have you picked up and hobbies recently? What have you learned? I’d love to hear from you.

For more on being a beginner, read Embrace the beginner’s mindset on the blog.

goals

What you can do now to help you reach your goals

You know things don’t happen by themselves, that your plans, dreams, aspirations, bucket list items, things you’ve always wanted to do…don’t just happen by themselves. 

Action is required. Your action. 

At times of uncertainty, goals may be the furthest thing from your mind.

Like now, when the world seems at a standstill and COVID-19 is affecting communities, families, and individuals directly, it’s easy to think, what I want is not important right now. 

Maybe your dreams and aspirations aren’t a matter of life and death, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. 

And if you take action now, you’ll be in a better position to reach your goals when the Coronavirus crisis is history.

Here are some things you can do now:

Set your goals. 

Time goes and goes. Days turn to weeks and weeks to months and months to years…you get the idea.

If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do but have never developed a plan for how to accomplish it, there’s a good chance it’s a wish and not a goal.

What makes it a goal?

  • First, believe you can do it, even if it seems like it could never happen.
  • Then accept the vulnerability that comes with that big goal.
  • Next, and possibly most important, you must devise a plan to make it happen. 

If you take those first steps toward your goals, you’re on your way. If not, it may be just a wish.

Goal or Wish?

I’ll give you an example of something I used to want to do, but only ever wished it, like a dream, and never made it a goal. 

I used to, in a Walter Mitty kind of way, want to be a backup singer. I dreamed of doing the moves old school, like the Pips did for Gladys Knight. 

Never did it. Probably never will, but OMG that would have been amazing.

Either because I didn’t think I could, didn’t know how I would, or just didn’t have the courage to make it real, without a plan to make it happen, being a backup singer stayed a wish for me, not a goal. 

Now, the only backup singing gigs I have are in my mind as I dance and sing in my living room or on the occasional Karaoke night : ) 

Don’t let this be you!

Set your goals. It’s okay if they seem slightly out of reach, maybe even crazy and unattainable.

Then come up with a plan to make them happen.

If you’re not sure exactly what goals you want to set for yourself, you’re first step may be to dig deep and explore some ideas about what you’d like to do.

And try not to look at it as a test. There are no right or wrong answers and it’s okay if you start something and then find it’s not what you thought it would be. You’ve learned something in the process.

Have a plan to work toward your goals. 

Don’t keep them all in your head. Write them down, post them someplace, come up with a plan to meet them, jot down incremental goals in your calendar.

Find whatever works to help you keep them at the forefront of your mind. Break the steps into small, attainable goals to keep you from being overwhelmed and giving up before you start. 

Do what you can. 

These days of social distancing and sheltering in place are not normal. You may not be able to do everything you normally would, but you can still do a lot.

Reach out to people who you trust and who may be able to help or advise you about how to move forward. You may find there’s a lot that’s out of your control, but even if you can’t do everything you’re used to doing, there’s still a lot you can do. 

Approach with enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” 

Think about it. Why would you want to work toward something you’re not excited about? When I was working on my first book, I had days when I felt not even an ounce of enthusiasm about what I was doing. Those were long and dark days, perfect for giving up. 

What a different experience to approach with enthusiasm. I felt a greater sense of accomplishment when I met my daily goals, felt greater compassion toward myself and my work, knew I was in it for the long haul, and felt more determined to finish. 

Doing these things:

  • Setting goals
  • Developing a plan
  • Doing what you can
  • Approaching with enthusiasm

are simple first steps you can take now to help you build momentum toward reaching your goals.

I don’t believe it’s End of Days. We’ll get through this uncertain time, but it’s a good reminder that none of us has forever to do what we always thought we would do.

Action is required. Do what you can now to move you closer to your goals.

Need some inspiration to get started on setting your goals? Check out If not now, when? on the blog.

Feeling trapped

What you can do to help stop Coronavirus spread

I’ve had Coronavirus on the brain for a while. Ever since the news of the virus hitting Northern Italy hard, I scour the news sources, sometimes bleary-eyed for some new bit of informtion.

By now we all know we should:

  • Practice social distancing
  • Not gather in large groups
  • Wash hands with soap and water. If not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Cough and sneeze in your elbow or a tissue.

With that in mind, the news is bleak.

But here are a few stories that have stayed with me and are a great reminder about what we’re dealing with.

The first is from Dr. Emily Landon from the University of Chicago Medicine.

Her message hits to the heart of our current situation and the frustrating reality that the best most of us can do is to do nothing.

She says healthcare workers around the world are doing their part to help us through the pandemic. Now, we need to do our part.

If you haven’t seen it, you can watch Dr. Landon’s March 21 speech or read the transcript at:

Chicago’s Doctor’s Blunt Speech About COVID-19 Hits Home

And this message from Craig Spencer, MD in New York who (via Twitter) implores people to stay home. He says, “You might hear people say it isn’t bad. It is….I survivied Ebola. I fear COVID-19.”

Read the full account at Doctor Gives Harrowing Account of Life on the Frontline for Clinicians Treating COVID-19 in New York

Get the facts

For information about COVID-19, what it is, and how to protect you and your family go to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do to help this crisis pass any faster except follow your state and local guidelines.

And be patient.

Take advantage of the downtime to:

Exercise.

Even if it’s a walk around the block, a short workout, or a dance party in your living room.

Get stuff done.

Pick up those projects you’ve been putting off. It can be hard to get motivated, but start small and keep at it. Little by little you can do a lot.

Get outside.

It’s a sunny 88 degrees as I write this. Outside in the shade would be good. And even when outdoors, keep your recommended 6-feet social distance.

Waste nothing.

Freeze food before it goes bad. Be creative with your meals.

Meet virtually.

We’ve resorted to live-video, group workouts and virtual coffee meetings using What’s App. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s better than going it alone.

Donate time and/or money

If you have the time or money, check with your local Red Cross to find your local chapter about how you can help. They may even have ways to volunteer virtually.

As always, a little gratitude goes a long way.

Reach out to others if you need a word of encouragement, a videochat, a roll of toilet paper, an egg…whatever.

Wishing you patience and health through this crisis.

Need some motivation to kick start your new project? Read What are you waiting for? on the blog.

axe throw

Deep thought for the day: Who are you?

My family and I were big fans of The Walking Dead a few years ago. It sparked some interesting discussion around what we would do in the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse.

My son and husband went through a bow and arrow phase, then an axe-throwing phase.

It’s for fun and recreation, of course, but we also joked about it being great training for the Zombie Apolalypse.

We’d imagine banding together as a family to fight off zombies in a Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead way, not in a Night of the Living Dead or Walking Dead way. The latter being way too terrifying.

It’s a joke we can run a long way with, for sure.

But we’re not bomb shelter, doomsday preppers kind of people. We don’t have a closet full of canned food or MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat).

And although we kid about preparing for the Zombie Apolcalypse, it did raise some interesting discussions about what we would do in the event of an actual catastrophic event. 

COVID-19 pandemic is not the Zombie Apolalypse, but it has disrupted every aspect of our lives.

And it’s got me thinking about human nature and the way we humans act in times of uncertainty. 

The saying goes, We show our true selves in times of crisis. 

So the question is, who are you? (Matt Damon’s character asks the question in the movie Ford vs. Ferrari which I streamed this past weekend so I’ll just borrow it here. Great movie, BTW.)

Am I the type of person who’ll do anything for my family, including buying up all the toilet paper and clearing the shelves of hand sanitizer and masks so I can turn a profit on eBay?

Because I can make a nice profit and my family needs to live too. Supply and demand, baby. You need hand sanitizer, can’t find it, don’t mind spending $10 on something that costs me a dollar? Sold. 

Hey, extreme circumstances, y’know?

These are not normal times, for sure. And what can any of us do about it? We’re just trying to make it through.

Before I judge that guy, I can look at my own actions. Am I acting in a responsible and ethical way?

I’ve been looking for a dozen eggs for a while. Haven’t found any. But the terrible thing is, I have about a half dozen. Why am I looking for something I already have?

The current situation: Mark and I have what we need even though it may not be exactly what we want.

Plus, we’ve ordered plenty of takeout in an attempt to do what little we can to help our local businesses. And so we don’t have to cook.

Those are little things.

Some people are doing big things. Health care workers, public servants and non-profit staff and volunteers who care help people in the community are at the front lines of this thing. They may have to make tough choices that affect lives and livelihoods.

Not me. My job right now is to do what I can, like don’t panic buy, follow social-distancing guidelines, and stay home.

That sounds so much less bad-ass than fighting off zombies, but that’s where we are.

We show our true selves in times of crisis, or said another way, as you pass the days with the current COVID-19 reality, consider the question: Who are you?

Interestingly, this is not the first blogpost in which I reference zombies : ) For another, read Violence in a zombie world

Listen more, get more

What can you gain when you listen better?

As someone a long time ago once said, We have 2 ears and 1 mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. (According to Goodreads.com, Greek philosopher Epictetus said it about two-thousand years ago.)

2 ears, 1 mouth. Listen better. Sure. Sounds good.

Makes sense, even, but I’m afraid it’s not working out that way. Not for me, anyway.

I used to think I was a pretty good listener and included listening as one of my strenghts. I’m not sure what happened to my listening skills. 

I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

This is an actual conversation I’ve had with my husband:

Me: How was your day?

Mark: It was good. Busy, but good. 

5 minutes later

Me: How was your day?

Mark: You just asked me that.

Me: (deer in headlights look) I did?

Mark: Yes

Me: Really?

Mark: Yes

Me: What did you say?

Mark: (Long pause) It was fine.

Whoa. That’s pretty crappy. The problem was not that I forgot what he’d said.

No, the problem was I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t fully present even as I stood right there with him?

Why not? Was I asking a question because I felt the need to speak, to fill the silent space? I don’t know. 

But I know I can do better. I want to do better. 

The thing is I believe listening is one of the most fundatmental ways of showing love. It’s pretty basic really.

When we truly listen to another person, we’re fully present, body and mind, engaged in what that person is saying.

But why is it so hard to do sometimes?

There are many possible reasons.

Maybe we’re

  • thinking about something that happened earlier
  • formulating a response to what is being said
  • wondering when this person will stop talking
  • dying to check our weather app
  • itching to check new posts on Instagram (or Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

When petty stuff distracts me so much that I can’t listen well to someone I love, that’s a problem.

And it’s not just hearing their words that’s important. It’s giving them my full attention. Listening, yes, but also seeing, feeling, and being completely present in the moments that make up my life.

I realize, for example, how quick I am to pull out my phone or think about pulling it out for no good reason. Major distraction.

Shifting focus

The other day, I held my 2-month old granddaughter in my arms while she slept. It was just us and the house was quiet, except for the faint squeak of the rocking chair I sat in.

I thought, Hey, there are tons of movies I’ve been wanting to watch. Maybe I can watch a movie. Or maybe I can listen to an audiobook.

But because I’ve been thinking about this whole idea of “listening” and what it means to listen and be fully present, I stopped myself, didn’t pick up my phone or turn on the TV.

It was so quiet. 

I just sat there and listened. To the quiet, to her breath, to her sigh. And the listening caused me to feel her more, her presence, the weight of her in my arms.

In that moment, I found myself overcome with immense gratitude for the amazing miracle I held in my arms. I prayed for angels to watch over her and for her protection, now and always. 

No movie or book could ever compare to the magnitude of that moment for me. I’ll always remember it as a gift, made possible by the power of listening. 

I know this to be true. And you know what? As wonderful and awesome as it was, I still struggle. It’s still hard for me to listen. 

This is something I have to practice every day, for myself as much as for anyone else.

Listening is an act of love. It connects us to the world, life, people, our surroundings. The Universe has something to say and if we don’t listen we could miss it forever.

Do you struggle to listen? What keeps you from being a better listener? I’d love to hear from you in the comments : ) 

Read more about listening (to yourself) on this post: Discover the value of your intuition