April 30, 2010

checking in

How often do you check in with yourself to see if what you are spending your time doing is taking you to where you want to go?
Life tends to catch you up in its flow.  Your time is consumed by the immediate and the urgent.  Often someone else's immediate and urgent.
You may have clear goals for where you want your life to be going right now.  Or you may not, and it may simply be about what you value.  The activities, experiences or people in your life that most matter to you.
Pause for a moment and look at what you spent your time on in the past week.  Write it down.  Did you choose what occupied your time, or did someone else choose?  How well does how you spent your time mesh with what you would choose?  How do you feel about it?
If your list correlates well to your choice, then kudos to you.  You are probably feeling quite satisfied at the moment.  If it doesn't, then consider who is steering your ship.  If you don't choose, then someone else will choose for you.

April 24, 2010


Authenticity is a desireable state of being.  Most people can sense at some level if what they are experiencing of you is authentic.  Some people have very keen spidey sense for it.  Authenticity is attractive.  It creates trust.  It creates respect; people who are willing to be in their own skin are worthy of respect.  Many of us wish for the ability to be authentically ourselves, at all times and in all circumstances.
The easiest situations to bring your authentic self to are when you are comfortable.  Situations where you know the topic, or the people, or the skill well.  It requires more courage to be authentic when you pushing the limits of what is comfortable for you.  It seems to me, using my favourite model for learning from Maslow (which I have taken some liberties with below), that the greatest challenge for being authentic lies in the zones from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence.  

In those zones, you are pushing yourself.  You are required to stretch.  Quite often there is fear:  of making mistakes, of appearing incompetent, of being judged. 
There is the temptation to pretend.  Don't.  It's okay to make mistakes, it's okay to not always know what you are doing.  People respect you for your efforts and your courage, when you are bringing your authentic self along with you. 

"The highest courage is to dare to appear to be what one is." John Lancaster Spalding

April 18, 2010

de nada

How many times have you gone into a store, or called someone needing some information, and had the experience that you were inconveniencing them by asking for something?
In Mexico nothing is too much trouble. If you order bacon in a restaurant and they don't have any, they send someone to get some from the market a block away.  And then they cook it for you.  And the whole thing takes hardly any time at all.
And then there's the experience of being in a shop and asking for something they don't have.  Pedro the shopkeeper sends an assistant to the other shops in the vicinity, and she returns with the item. How much was the item? About 8 dollars.
In Mexico, they respond to your 'gracias' (thank you) with 'de nada', which roughly translates to 'from nothing'.  And they mean it; they mean that they consider what they have done is little and they do it willingly.  Contrast that to the language we use:  'you're welcome'.  This is polite, but doesn't convey the same message, does it?  
What would it be like if we instead brought the grace of nothing is too much trouble to the work that we do for others?

April 17, 2010

being okay with not being okay

I am not always happy. Sometimes I am anxious or stressed. Unhappy, annoyed, and cranky are also in my repertoire of emotional states.
When I am in a 'good' state, I am happy to just be. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it.
However, I have noticed that when I am in a 'bad' emotional state - defined as any of the ones mentioned above, plus a few others - I do spend time thinking about it.  Mostly I am berating myself for it.  Asking why I am spending time being cranky/unhappy/annoyed, what could I possibly have to complain about.  I often spend time trying to 'snap' myself out of it.  Or worrying about the effect my emotions might have on the others in my life.
Does this sound familiar to anyone?
What is the outcome?  How successful is this approach at shaking the state of mind?  Not very.
I have recently discovered something that does make a difference.  Just letting myself be with it.  This week, for example, I have felt anxious.  I have many friends who work for an organization that has been having to lay off employees and another round of this just occurred.  They are public servants, they work hard to contribute to make the world a better place, and they are going through a tough time.
I noticed my anxiety.  I spent a fair bit of time trying to not be anxious.  After all, me being anxious doesn't help anyone.
Then I tried something different.  I just let myself be anxious.
The first thing I noticed was relief.  It was okay; I could just be with how I was feeling.  Then I noticed, after a bit, that it started to lift, dissipate.  In a short time, I felt a great deal lighter.  Calm.
It turns out the best way through it is to just be with it.

April 16, 2010

how things have to be

I am sitting in the warmth at a patio table with my coffee and my laptop.  It is early morning, the sun is out, the birds are chirping, and there's quiet, just perfect for writing a blog post.
But wait.  There's no quiet.  Actually, someone appears to be tearing an outbuilding apart in the yard beside me. There's a large family, about 20 or so, chattering cheerily in another language as some of them prepare breakfast 15 feet away.  A dog is barking frantically on the street.
This isn't perfect at all. How can I possibly write?
This gets me thinking.  What do I not do, because things are not perfect?  I have this idea of how things have to be in order to [fill in the blank].  
This shows up everywhere in my life.  Which I realize limits what I accomplish.  Particularly what I create, because it seems to matter most when I am trying to create something.
Somehow I have linked my circumstances to my effectiveness, to my creativity.  What would be possible if I gave that up?
How many of us hold ourselves back because we are waiting for that perfect set of circumstances to make our special contribution?

April 13, 2010

the time for a new kind of politics

When I watched Obama's campaign unfold in 2008  I was struck by the absence of negative politics.  It allowed me to distinguish something important and valuable that I hadn't before.  I haven't been able to listen to politicians in the same way since.
For me, politicians - the ones that belong to the party in power, and the ones that belong to the party not-in-power - are there to make a difference.  They probably wouldn't be in politics if they weren't, because it isn't an easy career choice.  Always in the public eye, every decision critiqued and found wanting by one segment of the population or another.
If you want to make a difference, is the best approach to criticize what someone else has done?  Everything I know tells me not.  Yet it seems to be the approach politicians choose.
I see lost opportunities in every newspaper article I read that ends with a comment from the Opposition critic.  I can't think of one where something meaningful was said.  In most cases, there's mud slinging along with the pointing out of the flaws in whatever the particular action was.  No other possibilities suggested.  No independent thought.
The voice in my head says:  Actually SAY something.  Don't just criticize the decision.  What about being part of a solution?
What would it be like if our politicians said 'Well, I appreciate that was a tough decision.  I think they could have looked at some different options.  What about [this], did they take a look at it to see if there were some opportunities there....' Or, 'if it were us, we would have...'.
You get the picture.  I, for one, would have a lot more respect for them as leaders.

April 12, 2010

the living document of everything

In January, I moved my blog over to google (blogspot) from dreamhost.  I moved my older posts over too. I lost my comments, which somehow got lost in translation.

And today, I updated the look of my blog.  I like the new look; clean and easy to read.  And with links to my other things:  my twitter feed, my company site, my linkedin profile.  My intention is to have more connection between all the pieces.

Next on the list...updating my company website content.

Everything is a living document.  Isn't that cool.

April 11, 2010

other people's rating systems

I am staying in a wonderful little hotel right now.  Which is quite likely not in any AA ratings list of good places to stay, or possibly in any ratings listing.  Which is a shame, because it is a family-owned and operated hotel.  The people are incredibly friendly.  It is bright and cheerful and tidy.  It is very affordable.  It is cleaner than many 4 star hotels I have stayed in. And I have watched the cleaning staff. They actually care about the cleaning.  Like they get what a difference they are making, they get the contribution their job of cleaning is to the bigger picture.  This place is clean enough for me to sit on the floor.  Which I am doing right now.  How many places are that clean?
It makes me wonder.  What are we losing out on by allowing ourselves to be guided by someone else’s rating system?
I understand why rating systems develop.  It is a convenience thing. A way of making meaning of things that simplifies it.  It creates a sense of trust, perhaps, that someone else has thought about it and made an assessment.  How many of us know what the assessments are based on?  I certainly haven't thought about it much, until now.  Turns out that it is often based on things like whether there's an elevator.  And how big the rooms are.  Whether there is a restaurant onsite.  Go figure.  
The systems limit what’s possible.  Experiences forgone, because of a filter based on things that may not actually be important to you. And you don’t even know what you are missing out on.
What will I do differently after this experience?  Take rating systems with a grain of salt.  Check out what they are making their decisions based on, and look for systems based on information that I would choose as important.  Or collect my own data.
What would my system look for?  Cleanliness. Friendliness. Care. Attitude. Authenticity. Opportunity to interact with the culture rather than be isolated from it. And an opportunity for me to contribute to the local economy through supporting a business run by a local person or family.  

April 10, 2010

how long does it take, really

Writing a blog post really doesn't take that long.  I have lots of thoughts a day that would make a perfectly good blog post.  And yet here I look and it has been over a month since I posted anything.  Yes, I have been busy, yet I could easily have spared the 15 or 30 minutes a couple of times a week that it would have taken me to write down some thoughts.
Some people are naturally good at fitting things in.  I think they are the ones who accomplish a lot in a day, because they just do it.  They don't do what I do, which is think about it and figure out how much time it might take and make sure there is a good safety margin on either side of it and something else that needs to be done so things don't run overtime or make me late for something.
Over the past five years or so, I have moved myself from someone who couldn't fit anything in between appointments to someone who is able to fit things in.  And, with practice, I have lost a great deal of the anxiety that used to go along with it.  Yet I know it is possible to get better at this.  Far better to fit the things in than be anxious about how much there is to do and that there isn't enough time to get it all done.  It is possible to fit a lot into your day, do an excellent job, and be calm.