Thursday, May 28, 2009

Which Comes First?

My word for the day is "sequence" and I am curious...which comes first? I am thinking about:
  • a serious and nagging and correctable physical limitation that hinders your ability to enjoy your life and really stay present. You are slammed with work responsibilities making it difficult to "schedule" your treatment until next year. So which comes first, labor through (and suffer too) your life and work now--impaired--hoping for the time to heal later or work to accommodate the required treatment and healing now and getting the painful, limiting episode behind you?
  • an episode of unemployment that appears to be going nowhere while also exploring life purpose and possibility. So which comes first, satisfying the need for a job in your known but unsatisfying field (you have to pay the bills) while squeezing in time to explore the bigger questions or significantly rearranging your life to pursue your bigger vision while earning the money any which way?
  • life, life planning, death planning, and death...four pretty complicated, deeply personal, and intertwined ideas. So which comes first, joyfully living your life as if the end will never come and blissfully ignoring your responsibility to plan for death or courageously planning for death as part of life and moving on from this place of completion and freedom?
  • job searching and a process that has people seriously off balance and in fear. This is a process that we do because we have to, not one we will often choose to do. It's why we stay stuck in careers and with companies/organizations and in relationships long after the date of expiration. Job searching is about marketing a product (ourselves) when we really only often see ourselves as a part of the larger production effort of an even bigger product. So which comes first, do you do the job the way you get the job or hold that there is no correlation?
Each of us will make the choices that feels best to us. Sometimes, we may even make the choices that don't feel good but are bigger risks, have the potential to take us someplace new, may enlighten us in some way. For me, it is not always about whether I am willing (or not) to make choices, it's in which order I will make them. For me, the greatest challenge and risk and fear and adrenaline comes from considering the sequencing, from exploring options and outcomes...and then acting!

What's up for you today? What do you notice when you shift around your day by making what is primary last and what is last primary? What do you notice if you deeply explore that which you find un-explorable (i.e. "No, I can't go to grad school now!") and really see what's there? What happens if you re-sequence your tasks/goals/ideas/plans and choose differently?

Now go...and choose!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Economic Right Sizing (In the Form of Venting)

I am amazed by the willingness--and the lack of willingness--of people to cut back during these tough economic times. I hear of the daily struggle to make ends meet and yet the act of cutting back is so difficult. What's up with that? Sometimes the process of considering options has to be cut very short. I am reminded of the athletic company advertising slogan "Just do it!"

A little horn tooting: We gave up the second car in November (yes, the gas guzzling SUV); in addition to our economical car we have a scooter for running around our small town and we use the public transportation system often; we rarely eat out in restaurants; We have had (and enjoyed) our stay-cations and have used 2 for 1 coupons for local attractions (like a snowboarding area) where possible; we planted a large vegetable garden in the yard; we have been enjoying the movies that come with our basic cable subscription vs. renting DVDs from the local store; we rediscovered our love of new music by playing old albums from our extensive collection ("vintage" is so cool); we groom the dog ourselves and I recently began ordering her monthly heartworm and tick prevention medications online at a fraction of the local vet's cost; 5 weeks between haircuts; wash the car at home; my son has discovered that worn pants can be great summer cut-off shorts; and we have really enjoyed the feeling that comes from repackaging the bulk food purchase from Costco and loading our freezer and pantry. These (and many others) cutbacks have not been easy!

Each day I read the newspaper and many web sites and blogs to learn more about just how tough it is out there. Staff cutbacks. Furloughs. Early retirements. Restructuring. Mergers. Acquisitions. Bulk buying and shared operational/administrative costs. Leaving vacant positions un-hired. Bankruptcy. Perhaps these cost saving measures are enough for now and they certainly get our collective attention since they primarily affect workers. I cannot quantify it, but I guess there is a collective attempt being made to right size. And I can't help but see--glaringly--the waste that still exists in these tough times. Really, what about waste? What prevents us from rigorously inventorying our personal and organizational waste and then doing something about it?

So this is what tweaked me this morning: I am walking into my local Jewish Community Center where I swim three days a week and see the big corporate water delivery man wheeling into the JCC dozens of the giant bottles of water. In good economic times one could make the argument that bottled water being purchased by a non-profit might be excessive. The leaders making such decisions might find it useful to look into a water purification system instead of water delivery, but I digress. But in these tragic economic times, and at an organization that has been laying off staff and threatening the community with closure in the weekly town newspaper, wouldn't eliminating this water delivery make sense as one tangible demonstration that the leadership is aware and accountable? Of course the economics of eliminating the delivery won't keep the place open, but over a year I bet it is the cost of a few lifeguards or art supplies for the classrooms or a part time grant writer. Really!?

There is the reality here (water delivery is expensive and not particularly efficient) and there is perception. Wouldn't a non-profit, especially one that is vulnerable to closure, want to be conveying to its members and donors that it values their donations and will look at every single possible place to cut back non-essential services and eliminate waste before cutting staff and programming and closing the doors?

Cutting back is not easy. Managing limited capacity is not easy. Protecting your brand it tough times is not easy. Managing a non-profit in today's economic climate is not easy! Doing more with less is not easy. Not knowing how we will emerge at the end of this mess is not easy. Asking your constituents for help and support is not easy. Remaining upbeat, in control, hopeful, and strategic when you are threatened is not easy. Letting go of the past and accepting the new reality is not easy. And carrying your own water bottle from home is not easy. Times are tough!

My message to you: this is the moment to get smart about our own personal and organizational economies. This is the time to plan, sort out, realign, redesign, correct, reinvest, discover, imagine, consider. This is not the time to down is the time to right size!

In this economic meltdown, what are the real cuts you are making? What do you notice? What are the real, yet more symbolic cuts you are making? What do you notice there? What are you noticing is hopeful and smart and right about what you are doing? We all experience barriers to making difficult economic choices; what are the barriers you notice? What will you do?

Enjoy the weekend...within your budget!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cyberbully Pulpit

My son was bullied by some middle school classmates via the Internet (here is our story). As a result, we became educated, resourced, and passionate about the issue of cyberbullying and the effect it has on our kids. It is a huge problem in American schools! One of the best resources out there is from the experts at Children Online. Open their May 09 newsletter for the latest research data and analysis about kids and their Internet use.


Most adults aren't aware cyberbullying exists or that it is as widespread as it is. Now that you are aware, what do you notice? If you know your kids (or the kids of friends or family) are being cyberbullied or are cyberbullying, what holds you back from taking action? What is the correlation between a kid's right to privacy and an adult's responsibility to be informed and engaged?

Read. Consider. Take action!

Thursday, May 14, 2009


"Things were so simple then..." an executive director of a large non-profit said in a moment of quiet reflection: A staff of 3. A board of 7. A budget of $100,000. A small functional office. No quarterly reports to submit to foundations. A direct mail program managed from an office computer and laser printer. Volunteers. An abundance of good will. Just look out the window and see impact.

"I can't believe that..." said my 14 year old son who loves to talk about (and sometimes ridicule) the old days in which I was raised: Record albums and 45's. 50 cents an hour babysitting gigs. Getting off your seat to change the 10 channels on the black and white TV. Packs of teenagers sitting out on a porch talking or making crank phone calls. Summer drives across country and camping. Typewriters. Carbon paper. Encyclopedias.

Things were simpler when compared to today. It's true. And time and technology and life move on, forward, progress, future, tomorrow, next.

What I notice is how unbalanced it all feels when we are not in control of or aware of the choices we make, and our lives become overwhelmed...not of our own design. It is not my interest to keep the future from happening or necessarily trying to define how the future should unfold; my interest is in being mindful of how I choose to participate in it unfolding. I work hard to make the decision to participate, or not, in service to the simplicity and ease I need in my life. It's when I lose sight of the fact I have choice that I begin to flail, feel overwhelmed, act less skillfully on my own behalf.

My life, and keeping it simple, is a work in progress:
  • Simplicity of a home-based business: My laptop computer, a cell phone, the Internet, and a well-equipped home office allow me to do business anywhere in the world at anytime, raise my son in real time, and have a work and life balance that enhances me. It is easy to overwork though. Setting boundaries can be a challenge.
  • Simplicity of staying in touch with friends, family, and colleagues: I have joined 3 social/business networking web sites (only 3!) and I find they take up more time maintaining and less time really being engaged with the people on them. There is a passivity to it all.
  • Simplicity of less stuff: We gave up our second car and are saving a lot of money. And yet, even one car is a lot to maintain (the airbag warning light has been on for three days requiring a visit to the mechanic). And Boston public transportation can be unreliable. I'd like to use a boat and yet the owning of a boat feels out of the question. I love my home and property; there is a difference between gardening and yard work. Love the ocean view from my decks; a 50 year old deck has collapsed from rotted wood. Ugh!
  • Simplicity of service: I have volunteered to serve on an advisory board of a non-profit organization and managing the details of membership on this board is more time consuming than my service to the organization itself.
When I was a senior in high school I entered a speech contest. Lion's Club, I think. The topic had something to do with our increased reliance on technology. I visited with my uncle who was a brilliant and inspiring thinker and we came up with this idea that a key purpose of technology was to provide humans with more leisure time. The other young speakers talked about efficiency, mechanization of factories, etc. And I talked about--nearly 30 years ago--how we were so stressed and overwhelmed by the technology in our lives and how our lives did not actually become simpler, more leisure filled. Having a dishwasher means we wash more dishes. Same is true for the washing machine; we just do more laundry. Cars, boats, swimming pools, computers, large yards and homes...more to maintain. How was it then, and how is it now, that with all of these technological wonders we are enjoying less leisure time and feeling more disconnected from one another? What do you notice abut the amount or quality of simplicity in your life? If you want more, what will it take to get it?

Simplicity... keep it simple...ease.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Some Change Theory

Take a minute to read this article from Time magazine called How Obama Is Using the Science of Change

In addition to the ways in which our elected officials view our thoughts on change, it is a fascinating exploration of what we believe about change and the barriers that creep into our lives as we try to create change.

What will you change this week? Once you get in there, and it gets difficult, what do you notice and what will you do next? How will you celebrate a successful venture in change?

Go for it!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Note to Self

A week ago I was in New York City having lunch at a fussy private club in a lovely Upper Eastside building with the ladies who lunch (in this case, lunch is a verb because, in my mind, for lunch to be a noun it has to larger than an appetizer, and this lunch was a side salad at best!). I was the guest of my dear friend, Beverly Tobin, author, teacher, world traveler, opera lover, mother, grandmother, wife. Beverly was invited by her friend, author Andrea Buchanan, to read her piece from Andrea's book, Note to Self: 30 Women on Hardship, Humiliation, Heartbreak, and Overcoming It All, to an audience of women as part of Andrea's whirlwind book tour.

Beverly Tobin (L) and Andrea Buchanan (R)

The book is a collection of 30 short stories provided by women, well-known and unknown, about their personal experiences overcoming hardship, humiliation, and heartbreak. Andrea has taken each story and compiled them into a book that is inspiring, illuminating, and one that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. Each woman's story is quite personal, human, and powerfully relatable. After reading the collection I was more aware of each woman's heroic individual story and triumph, reminded of the transformational nature of storytelling, and awed by the power of sisterhood.

The clever device Andrea uses throughout the book has to do with sticky notes and the simple reminders they seem to capture in our lives. Each lengthy and meaningful tale told by these women is summed up by a useful reminder of the lesson to be learned, the note to self.

After reading the book, attending the luncheon, listening to Beverly and Andrea share personal stories, and mulling over the impact of the story-telling moment on me, I offer my personal notes to self:

Note to Self: An individual's story of personal transformation is powerful. When this story is held in a larger context of community, awesome!

Note to Self: Overcoming something is a matter of scale. What may be easy to one person could be extraordinarily challenging for another.

Note to Self: Reporting events of the day is easy. Telling our individual and collective stories is hard work. To go deeper than the simple details, to the essence of the learning and the growth and the transformation--and be public about it--is the hard work.

Note to Self: There is something incredibly unifying about sharing our common human experience with one another.

Note to Self: We often forget how extraordinary the ordinary is. And we often are unaware of how ordinary the extraordinary is.

Note to Self: Men have a lot to learn about brotherhood by observing, honoring, and modeling sisterhood.

Note to Self: We are not given the choice of being victimized. We are given the choice of overcoming having been victimized.

Note to Self: Sometimes our circumstances invite us to be something we did not intend to be. Write an inspiring book, become a spokesperson for inspiration. Be a secret teller, become a beacon for truth. Overcome illness, become a healer.

Note to Self: We love a "play really big" story! People who play big, win, overcome, step up, challenge, defy odds, push, get busy, create, incubate, transform...pretty attractive, I must say!

Note to Self: Lunch has to be more than a salad.

What is your personal Note to Self? What do you know about overcoming hardship, humiliation, or heartbreak? What transformation is trying to happen for you if you were willing to tell your story? What will it take to do so?

Get out a sticky note and give it a try.

P.S. Note to You: Purchase Andrea's transformative book Note to Self: 30 Women on Hardship, Humiliation, Heartbreak, and Overcoming It All