Category Archives: action

Strawberries

Garden Hopes

When I was a very little girl, my father planted a garden in our back yard. Of everything that was planted, I only remember two things. The zucchini, as they will do, took over the world. They grew to immense proportions – some so large that my tiny mother, all of 4’9″, could barely hold them. And the strawberries. And therein lies a tale.

strawberries

My father wanted strawberries desperately. He watered. He pulled weeds. He hoed the soil. He talked strawberries. He dreamed strawberries. No strawberries. Year two, he added fertilizer to his routine. No strawberries. Year three, he gave up. He did nothing. And the strawberries grew in great abundance.

Acting and Waiting

Why is this important? This morning I was thinking about all the time I  – and probably many of us – spend acting, acting, acting. Some days I feel that if I haven’t been a whirlwind of activity I have been lazy and unproductive. I work myself into a frenzy without a moment of reflection. And then, like my father, I am disappointed that I’m not seeing results. I must have done it wrong. There must be something wrong with me. Everybody else has a bumper crop; my fields lie fallow. It is then that I remember those strawberries. Sometimes, the most important thing to do is nothing. Have faith. Expect good outcomes. Give it a little time.

Results

When I pause, reflect, and rejoice in the good things around me, I see my life and my business differently. I sometimes make a list of all the good things that have happened. I sometimes take a moment to recall pleasant surprises.

I trust that good things will continue to appear. I don’t stop working and experimenting and moving forward. But I do it in a calmer manner, knowing that even baby steps get me closer to my goals. Knowing that letting projects and connections ripen is part of the work. I recall a line from John Milton:

They also serve who only stand and wait.

That not only restores a sense of balance but also reminds me of all the great work accomplished by those who knew how to wait. How mindfulness and reflection are integral parts of forward motion. And maybe ignoring the strawberries is too.

 

Time To Review Your Support Network

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Year-End Wrap-Up

Like many managers, I spent much of December wrapping up projects and getting organized for the new year. I reviewed everyone’s performance. I checked project deadlines. I made sure that every available dollar in the budget was well invested before it disappeared. I updated files. I uncluttered my in box. Until I became a coach, though, I didn’t spend anywhere near as much time reviewing my personal lists. Since then, I recommend that my clients complete the same personal year-end wrap-up that I do myself.

Making a List and Checking it Twice

The year-end review actually consists of not one, but three lists. The first isaccomplishments. It’s all too easy to lose sight of what you’ve been able to accomplish in the course of a year. Often, we more easily remember the lows than the highs. The second is goals. What do you hope to accomplish during the next year? I’ll save these two lists for another time. Right now, let’s focus on the list that I find my clients most often overlook: your support network.

Over time, relationships within and outside of the workplace change. People move on, new people come into our lives, roles change, relationships become something else. Yet, often someone will create a support network list (chart, really) and never look at it again. Twice every year there are public service messages everywhere reminding people to change their smoke alarm batteries to be sure they will be at the ready when we need them. Think of this as checking the batteries on your emotional support system so it will be fully functional at all times.

Your Support Network

If you’ve never created a support network this is how it works. The support network consists of four quadrants, each containing a list of names. Each quadrant serves a specific function so that you can identify supporters in each significant area. As far as possible, each name should appear in only one quadrant; never more than two.

The Quadrants

Cheerleader: These people  support you unconditionally. No matter how small the achievement, they are applauding. They’ll cheer when you finish a project or get a promotion. They’ll also cheer when you get your shoes on the right foot. They never criticize; they never make suggestions. That’s someone else’s role.

Comforter: These people are there for you when you’re feeling down. They show up with tissues, chocolate, weepy movies, wine – whatever you need. They will listen to the same story for hours, never saying anything more than there, there or appropriate sympathetic comments. They agree with everything you say. If you say that your boss is terrible, they tell you they’ve always felt that way. If, five minutes later, you say this is the best boss you ever had, they agree. They wrap you up in literal or figurative quilts until the crisis passes.

Confronters: These are the people who keep you accountable. If you tell them that you want to do something, they’ll keep reminding you, gently or firmly, of what you need to do. They may also help you create a plan or break a task down into manageable chunks. Then they’ll keep after you until the task is done.

Critics: It took me a while to recognize the value of these people in my support network. These are the people who stop you from making avoidable mistakes public. Think of them as copy editors for your life – and they’ll edit your writing as well. Sometimes, I don’t want to hear what these people have to say. And I can’t count how many times they’ve saved me from disaster.

The Audit

December, as part of your year-end wrap-up is a great time to review your support network lists. Have you overused certain individuals? Maybe you want to move them to back-up status. Have some of the people on the list become unavailable? Proved to be unreliable? Replace them! Are there new people in your life who belong on your lists? Add them. Make a second quadrant. What roles do you fulfill for other people? Be sure that you know how you’re giving back or paying it forward. Add and subtract to this list as well. And renew your commitment to the new lists.

Why?

We all need support and we all need to support others. Performing this audit twice a year renews you and renews your relationships. Try it. I’m pretty sure you’ll be as glad as I was once you do.

Both Sides Now (Of Your Brain, That Is)

Many of us enter a new year with all kinds of energy and all sorts of plans for personal development, improvement, expansion, change. By the time February looms, many of us have forgotten those plans.

My approach to resolutions and plans, most of the time, has been more logical and analytic that creative and intuitive. I’ve made lists and plans and this year even experimented with (uhg!) spread sheets. I’ve concluded already that another approach is called for. Logic and creativity. I’m revisiting my overarching vision for this phase of my life and revising my vision statement, then taking it a step further and painting it. I’m not creating a vision board, although I may do that for my goals. I’m creating something completely abstract.

I expect this to help my creative side kick in as I move forward. I also expect my painting to help me create richer, more meaningful goals. Then I’ll switch to logic – subgoals, action steps, potential obstacles and steps to eliminate those obstacles. At that point, those spreadsheets will take on more meaning.

This will be a shared experiment. Karen Friedland and I are using this technique in a workshop in February. It’s on the events page here. Our next step will be to repeat this in a virtual environment, so if you want to come play with us and can’t make it to Brooklyn, stay tuned for updates – both about how the experiment is progressing and how you can join.

Writer’s Block and Sunny Sundays

I now have 41 interviews completed for my book. Each is wonderful and inspiring. But the book? Well, that’s another story. It’s hiding and laughing at me. Each interview tells a wonderful story. I know that they all fit together in some incredible way. I know that there are messages here just waiting to be shared with the world. This particular Sunday, though, I just don’t know how.

And I’m feeling the pressure to have answers. And content. Immediately.

The sun is shining. I want to turn off my computer and go out to play. I tell myself that if I can just write for an hour or so I can go out. But wait – the house needs cleaning. Clothes need to get put away. Files need organizing. It’s time to rotate winter clothes away. There’s dust!

I wish I hadn’t had that second cup of coffee. My hands are shaking. Caffeine or fear? Both? It’s cold out. Sitting by the Bay is really not an option. But it still might be nice.

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I know that if I can still my rambling mind, inspiration will come. How to get there, though? I think about V–, who has written many books, or the prolific S–. did they have Blocked Sundays? What did they do?

I come back to the two cards I pulled this morning. One was Consciousness. The message was that today I have the blessing of emptiness and that I ought not be trying so hard to fill it with clutter. The other was Sarasvati, Godess of Creativity. She urges me to dance. so, perhaps, with the 11 already-transcribed interviews as my companions, I shall head out into the Sunday sunshine. I will find a spot out of the direct sunlight (sorry iPad, but you do have some shortcomings) and some herbal tea.

I will hold fast to the notion that being blocked simply means that the ideas are mulling around in my head, not yet ready to be born, but nonetheless powerfully present. I will come back refreshed. And if inspiration strikes while I’m out, well, there’s always the wonderful voice feature.

I remember a friend whose pregnancy seemed to last forever. That baby just wasn’t ready to face the world until she was ready. At 40 – yes, she did finally emerge – she’s a pretty incredible woman. My cousin’s son, less than a year ago, was in no hurry either. And he’s already gorgeous and unstoppable. My book, too, will emerge when it’s ready. And it, too, will be unstoppable and incredible.

Off to the Bay.

Why Not?

As I begin to review the 34 interviews I’ve completed for my book, 50 over 50, I’m seeing what these incredible women have in common. All of them are willing to try new things. They are curious. They enjoy a good adventure.

And they know how to recover from setbacks. One woman had a terrible attempt to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro for her 40th birthday. So she tried again at 50 – and succeeded. Several others were forced out of jobs, only to find something better.

But what struck me about all of them is that, when presented with new possibilities, they all said, “Why not?” As one woman put it, “if I see an open door and it looks reasonable, I walk through it.”

What do you do when presented with a new option? It’s so easy to over-think the situation. It’s so easy to find myriad reasons to not do something. It’s so easy to come up with dozens of reasons to postpone a decision or convince yourself it will never work. Why not?

Saying “why not?” doesn’t have to be as big a challenge as climbing a mountain. One woman who spent many years doing data entry decided to return to work after a lengthy absence. She saw an opening for a home health aide. She had cared for her mother, but had no paid experience in home care. That didn’t stop her. She said, “why not?” and never looked back. She loves her new career and her clients adore her.

Another women decided she needed to step back and enjoy life more. She said “why not?” to the opportunity to move to Florida and live on her boat. She now has a captain’s license and just might open a sailing school.

A third said “why not?” when her husband suggested that their life would be enriched by owning a few alpaca. She’s now one of the top breeders in the country and is starting to sell alpaca products as well.

Why? is a good question too. I’ll save that for another day. For now, start with “why not?” Say it with a little shrug. Envision yourself having already made the choice to try whatever it is.

Why not?

Can’t Get Out? Don’t Want to Shop? Last-Minute Gift Ideas

I recently got an email saying that my Christmas gift would probably be kind of lame this year because the author was having mobility issues. Well, I’m not having a lot of holiday spirit this year, and it’s supposed to be the thought that counts, so the quality of the gift is really of no concern. The message, though, is worth looking at.

This year, my closest friends and I, having long ago concluded that we have too much stuff, decided to make contributions instead. Although I still harbor a not-so-secret desire to have a bunch of people chip in to send a llama in my name through Heifer International, there are plenty of less expensive options. I asked for donations to Occupy Sandy. One friend wants to put desks in classrooms in Malawi. Another will be receiving a thank you note from the Food Bank.

Habitat for Humanity can always use help. So can Meals on Wheels. The list is endless. One of my favorites is Africa Volunteer Corps. Do a quick search on anything that excites you. Another is Frogs Are Green.

Prefer sending a gift? Amazon is a no-brainer. You can send almost anything – or send a gift card with a suggestion. I’ll take all the Kindle gift certificates I can get, thank you. Or pods for my Keurig. Speaking of beverages, Starbucks is a great one-size-fits-all option. Practically every store has an online option – William Sonoma for the foodie, J Crew for clothing, and thousands more. Look for smaller, local merchants in your area. Shop museum stores. I like MoMa a lot.

Surprise someone with a membership or a sponsorship.

Make something. Bake something. I’ll be making chocolate truffles tomorrow for a select few friends and as a hostess gift.

Create a voucher. For my cousins who have everything they want (and who hopefully don’t follow my blog), I’m creating a voucher for lunch with (and hosted by) me.

Be creative. Get excited. What can you add to the list?

Turning a Bad Habit Good

Have you ever left home to do one simple thing and return exhausted five or six hours later? For a long time, this was my story. I had a close friend living down the hall and we regularly went grocery shopping and did other errands together. As we headed out to drop off the laundry, one of us would mention that we were near the Italian grocery store, so maybe we could just squeeze that in … and the bakery … and that great discount store … and … and … and. The simplest trip became an excursion. On the way to the Greenmarket, why don’t we stop at the coffee store – and maybe sit down for a cup of something while we’re there. And maybe we can look at that sound system. And the dress I need for the wedding. And stop at the Strand to see what great books are on sale, etc. etc.

It finally occurred to me that this might be a bad habit. It wasn’t serving either one of us well to hold the fantasy that we were doing only one thing. Or that we’d be home in an hour. We left a wake of undone chores and cranky people and usually came home to tired to do anything else.

We learned to set limits. And to stick to them. We set time limits that allowed for some flexibility in terms of the number of activities we might add to the schedule. We set a limit on the number of things we would do and committed to holding ourselves to it. It worked. We had enough flexibility to enjoy ourselves and allow for surprises and reasonable boundaries to keep the rest of our lives on schedule.

Well, recently, I’ve been thinking about an issue that needs resolving. I really enjoy a clean, neat apartment. I hate carving out huge chunks of time for cleaning. And I’m not ready to hire someone to clean for me. Inconvenient. Involves a lot of pre-cleaning. (Yes, you know what I mean.)

I’m recycling my “bad” habit of adding things on to a simple journey. Since coaching and writing are both sedentary occupations, I’m working hard at getting up out of the chair at least every two hours so I don’t turn into a pillar of stone. Why not make that a productive time? Why not add a little housekeeping to each walk through the apartment? So, I’m back to adopting the add on routine. Now, whenever I get up, I find one thing that needs to be returned to it’s proper home or one thing that can be dusted or cleaned or recycled. Instead of spending half a day cleaning, I’m spending a manageable 30 minutes to an hour a day without even noticing it.

Hey, it’s working! I don’t notice the time invested in this way and the place is looking good. It’s almost better than magic elves coming in the middle of the night. I’m going to apply it to work projects I dislike as well.

Kindness

I have always been impressed with something I heard about the Mennonites. When disaster strikes, I was told, the Mennonites just show up and start working. They don’t ask disaster victims what they need. They just ask which room to start in and do what needs to be done. This impressed me both because of the kindness and because of the practicality. Survivors of any disaster are in a special kind of suspended animation. they are in shock. They aren’t always in the best position to articulate their needs, and, for the most part, those needs are glaringly clear. So having someone show up and pitch in restores an element of calm and comfort.

Many years ago, I heard a similar story about a small town. When someone died, people just showed up at the family home armed with cleaning supplies and got to work. Anyone can bring food or send flowers, but it takes a different perspective to understand that maintaining a clean house is likely, while a nagging concern, low on the bereaved’s action list. And that people are going to be showing up at the house.

This week, in the aftermath of Sandy, people just showed up. Local people showed up with food. Marathon runners ran to Staten Island with backpacks full of supplies. Neighborhood organizations of every sort collected food and clothing. People from other states – not nearby – packed up trucks of supplies and headed to the tri-state area. One of my favorites is a man from Georgia who packed up a load of supplies and has been cooking up some southern comfort – grits and biscuits with sausage gravy – to hearten a New Jersey community. A couple in my building, both unemployed students with no money to spare, packed up a shopping cart full of clothing and food – and took a load from me as well – to a local drop-off point.

I’m not a big believer that every cloud has a silver lining, but often some small good does come out of disaster. Events like Sandy remind us that we’re all connected and that we all need each other. There’s some small thing that needs doing every day – some act of kindness, some small courtesy that will make someone smile, if only for a moment. Will you find one today?

It’s Lonely at the Top and It’s Crowded

Three non-profit heads walk into a bar …

Well, not exactly, although that might have given us a different perspective. My coach, my client and I all share the same dilemma. We each head a non-profit. And we each find ourself drowning under the weight of the position.

These are small non-profits, two with working Boards, one closer to the formative state and not quite ready for a full Board. All three of us are suffering from the Harry Truman syndrome, though – the buck stops here. Remember that old adage about stuff rolling downhill? Well, that’s not always true. Many small non-profits defy the laws of gravity. Work rolls uphill and lands squarely on the desk of the Founder or Chair or President. There are committee chairs and officers who may or may not play their assigned roles. There may be a cadre of volunteers. And still, there are too many projects on my plate. And my client’s plate.

My coach has found a partial solution. She she has an excellent virtual assistant She’s appointed a general manager and a project manager. These two people have the responsibility for organizing how the work of the organization gets done and tracking progress. It’s a good starting place. My client and I are discussing the advantages of hiring a virtual assistant while the client looks for the perfect right-hand person. I have an excellent virtual assistant.

Still, it comes right back to how we organize, what we delegate and how we follow through – the same issues faced by most managers. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Heads of organizations need to be divorced from the day-to-day operational aspects of the organization for the most part. They need to strategize and to be a public presence. They need to make contacts, maintain smooth relationships, instill a sense of mission. They do not need to do the scheduling, bookkeeping, collating and editing.

2. Even small non-profits need an operations or a project manager. Someone needs to track progress, find support as needed, and do follow-up work with committees. They, too, do not need to do the scheduling, bookkeeping, collating and editing. They should, however, supervise the people who do these tasks. The head person should not take on this role too.

3. A good virtual assistant saves endless hours. A good virtual assistant is great at all the things that a leader either isn’t good at or shouldn’t be doing. It’s time to get beyond the notion that VAs are some kind of disembodied clericals. Many are eager to understand the organization’s mission and become an external partner. They can not only keep things off the leader’s desk, they can also give valuable advice on systems and processes that will move the organization forward.

4. Volunteers need to keep their commitments. Every time. No exceptions. (See work rolling uphill.)

5. Someone other than the leader should be following up with committee chairs and volunteers to be sure they are making deadlines. (See project manager above.)

6. Leaders need to learn to sit on their hands. Just because you have a good idea, it doesn’t mean that you have to implement it.

7. Projects, assignments, etc. should all go out with due dates and interim reporting dates so that they can be tracked.

8. If crowded means your desk, your office, your inbox, your brain is/are crowded with other people’s responsibilities, learn to delegate and stick to it.

9. Sometimes, lonely is better.

Excuse me – I’m going off to take my own advice now.

After the Storm

I’m safe. I have electricity and water and phone service. I’m very grateful for this. And I sit here shocked at this storm that has hit the New York area.

I watch in the same disbelief that held me transfixed during Katrina. This time, though, it is my neighbors who are fleeing to shelters. Areas that are part of my childhood are gone. The restaurants where I lunch when I’m working in lower Manhattan may never reopen. Subway stations won’t be open for a while.

I think of friends still recovering from the storm that hit upstate New York and Vermont last year who have barely recovered. And the ones who may never recover.

And I think again about Katrina.

And the New Orleans that was.

Reports are mixed. I am heartened to hear of people helping each other – handing out food, helping people to safety, posting and tweeting their support. I am saddened to hear of people just walking on by. What I really wonder, though, is what people will be doing next week. Will we still be reaching out to our neighbors? Will we help with the clean-up? Or will we turn away?

The storm is over. The hard work has barely begun. I hope that we’re up to it.