Never a Good Time

The book club I’m part of has one very convenient feature: two of our members are Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library librarians. They label and check out our books for us, and when book club is over, they gather them up and return them. So last month, when it happened that neither librarian could attend, we all looked at each other blankly and asked ourselves, “How will the books get back?” Lisa volunteered to take them.

There was no particular reason that Lisa should have been the one to do it. Continue reading “Never a Good Time”

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One Change at a Time? Not so Fast.

Among those in the business of telling you how to change your life, it is universally contended that the best method is to choose the most important change you can make, make it, and then move on to the next one. Continue reading “One Change at a Time? Not so Fast.”

Stop the Boredom

The more we rely on external entertainments, the more bored we become. If you would stop being bored, stop trying to entertain yourself.

(Hint: the quickest way to stop being bored is to learn something or make something.)

The Value of a Horrible Warning

“If you can’t be a good example, at least you can be a horrible warning.”

It has been many years since I was first amused and instructed by this little saying, and since then I have found it more applicable than one would think. Continue reading “The Value of a Horrible Warning”

The Danger of a Slow Start

Last night we had a guest to whom we gave the master bedroom, which meant that we slept in the front bedroom and endured the constant parade of cars driving in and out of the driveway, people walking past, a cavalcade of wailing sirens, and the rattling coming and going of our neighbor’s shopping cart early this morning. (The first time I saw her, I thought there was a homeless woman in our driveway. I’ve since realized that she does live there, but her contribution to the family’s income seems to be collecting bottles and cans for recycling.) Needless to say, I did not sleep as well as I would have liked.

On such days, waking tired and grumpy, I am tempted to start the day slowly. Have a leisurely breakfast and a few cups of tea or – the sign of a truly desperate morning – coffee; read whatever book I’m working on at the moment; catch up on emails and Facebook and articles; and just generally work up to the strains of the day.

This is false interpretation of the lessons to be learned from Days That Seem Like They’re Going To Be Impossible To Get Through, But End Up Not Being So Bad.

These are the days that begin exactly as today did, but which don’t have the option of a slow start. There’s a meeting first thing in the morning, or there’s a big project to work on, or an appointment before your usual quitting time that means you need to start early. You suck it up and slog through and maybe have an extra dose of your caffeine of choice, and somewhere in mid-afternoon you suddenly realize you feel just fine. You’ve been focusing, your body has compensated, you’ve been productive. Sweet!

The lesson here is obviously: get on with it. Do what needs to be done, and everything will sort itself out.

What I usually hear is: I’ll feel better later. I just need to distract myself from how bad I feel until I get to that place.

And almost inevitably, the Slow Start continues to a Slow Middle and then, more often than I care to think about, to a Slow End.

I was pretty pleased that I woke up/got up just slightly before 8.  Less so when half an hour passed before I could be bothered to get a bowl of cereal. Kind of horrified when it was fully 11 and the nice cool fog had burned off before we even got ourselves out the door for a walk. Now it’s 1:30 and yes, I’m writing a blog post and that’s great, but none of the important and urgent things I intended and needed to do today are one jot further along than they were yesterday. Oops.

I’ve been reading a book about brain plasticity that spends a lot of time talking about how we often wire very bad habits into our brain by simply trying to avoid feeling bad. “I’m tired, so I’ll put off working,” is a perfect example. Pretty soon you’re convinced you can’t work when you feel that degree of tiredness. Then, of course, you feel still worse because some part of you realizes you’re not doing what you need to and could do and you feel bad about it. Because you now feel worse, you feel even less capable of doing whatever it is you’re avoiding – and before you know it you’re stuck in a negative, frustrating spiral.

Yes indeed, the slow start is an insidious and dangerous idea. Much better, when I hit these days, to throw myself in the shower first thing and race through the morning. After all, tired me can’t keep up with that kind of pace and soon falls completely out of the picture.

Prove it’s Easy

As a teenager I once spent a day at a challenge camp where, long story short, I chickened out and failed to reach the top of a 10-15 foot rock-climbing wall.

It was a failure I occasionally thought of over the next 10 years, always with a sense of disappointment and a wish for a re-do. Consequently, when my dear new husband suggested we visit a rock-climbing gym with a 30’ wall, he found me much more persuadable than I usually am about exercise. Continue reading “Prove it’s Easy”

Theoretically, Knowledge is Useless

I love to read and always have – to the extent that whereas most parents have to bribe their children by the book, my mom was able to use a “time-out” from reading as a punishment. The main difference between then and now is that now I read much less (why are adults so busy!) and that the proportions of fiction and nonfiction have flipped. Now I mostly read books about history and business/management and articles about marketing and the best way to do everything.

A love of reading is a useful thing. It certainly made school more enjoyable, and it’s enabled me to take jobs about which I knew next to nothing, because the company knew I would read everything I could get my hands on, absorb what I needed to know, and essentially train myself. It is, in fact, how I know 98% of what I know about marketing.

But what a voracious reader eventually runs up against is: if it’s only theoretical, knowledge is useless.

What good is knowing the theory of good customer relationship management if you never put a plan in place? Of knowing that a piece of machinery has been pushed too far and become unsafe if you never alert anyone? Of knowing the importance of treating people with respect if you still regularly allow yourself to lose your temper?

Knowing something may be half the battle, but if you stop halfway through the battle, you’ll still lose.

The unavoidable and difficult fact is that knowledge needs to be practical and in use to have any value.

As I near the end of this 52-week project and reflect on what I’ve learned from it, I don’t think I’ve accomplished what I wanted to. I appreciate the enforced focus on a lot of ideas that otherwise would have been glossed over in the demands of day-to-day life, and I think I’ve gained some understanding from it. But I’m questioning my old belief that enough exposure to an idea will ultimately change your actions. Thinking and action are connected, but thinking is not action.

“A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” – Kahlil Gibran

Enough Rope and the Myth of the Slow Day

A coworker mentioned that things had been slow in their department this week. I nodded in rote sympathy. What you really want is just enough work, not too much, not too little, but too little is arguably the more painful. Not that I remember what that feels like.

But then later on as I was taking one of my head-clearing walks I thought, “But when it’s slow, doesn’t that just mean you have time to do the strategy- and project-work that you’re always meaning to get around to otherwise? Isn’t that just the chance we’re always struggling for to be proactive rather than reactive?” Looked at that way I don’t think there is such a thing as a slow day. Continue reading “Enough Rope and the Myth of the Slow Day”

Do It Anyway

I’ve hinted that I struggled with moodiness on last week’s trip to NYC. It doesn’t often hit, which makes the “Go away and leave me alone!” reaction that much stronger when it does.

There was a point on Sunday afternoon at which I was regretting having made arrangements to meet an old New York friend for dinner; I didn’t want to have to be social. But I wouldn’t let myself make an excuse to ditch – and I had a great time. I even came away excited for the next few months (albeit with a new time-consuming project).

Also, it so happened that the last day of my stay was my birthday. Continue reading “Do It Anyway”

Declarations and So On

Happy Independence Week.

While the Fourth of July is not my all-time favorite holiday, it is the most exciting one. The details of the story of how this nation came to be, and the characters that formed it, never get old. So on the appointed day this week, between BBQ and fireworks, I spent a few moments trying to imagine what it must have been like to be among the founders on the day they founded the United States.

Only, of course, it’s hard to say exactly what day that was. Adams thought July 2 would be the day in the history books, and there’s some thought the ceremony of signing the Declaration wasn’t until August. The war was won in 1781. Legally the colonies did not become a country until 1783. The Confederation didn’t give way to the Constitution – and the presidency of George Washington – until 1788.

So easy to think, as we troop down to the nearest open space to watch some fireworks, that the country burst forth in a similar blaze of glory on July 4, 1776. Nothing wrong with picking a day to mark the occasion, so long as we don’t forget that the real story doesn’t end with the Declaration of an intent to act. Just as with everything else, the work and the story that matters came after that.