Aging is Not a Hammer

How hard did aging hit you?

This is the wording of the latest social media challenge making the rounds. The wording is accompanied by a Facebook user’s collage containing their first-ever profile picture and their most recent.

I resisted at first, partially because it is impossible to make my original picture and my current picture symmetrical (the 2007 picture of Tenley and me is taken from a distance; my current profile picture is a headshot). I still shared it on Instagram, but the inability to make the two images symmetrical was a hurdle.

The other hurdle? I am not a fan of the challenge’s name. 

“How hard did aging hit you?” makes it sound as though we are at the mercy of aging. I also almost physically recoil at the imagery related to “hitting.”

First, Here’s What I Think

It’s not that aging doesn’t bring hits

I’ve had my share of adversity as I have grown older. I suspect anyone could say the same thing. Wayne’s job loss (twice), my mom’s death, the consequences of making financial decisions that turned out to be poor choices.

For all the pain, every one of those “hits” have been a part of making me better and forcing new growth. Wayne’s job loss made us communicate differently as a couple. My mom’s death brought priorities into sharp relief. Poor financial decisions made me be crystal clear to my kids about what to look out for in their spending decisions as young adulthood approached.

The work world has changed, and I refuse to take an “I’m a victim of being “hit” mentality into my career path

I am a mid-life person and have started a career in a new (to me) profession. I have been involved in the profession (editing/writing) on a freelance basis and as a pastime for most of my career. (In addition, my co-workers from Healthy Kids would no doubt argue that my tendency to edit everything gave me away.)

The work world is changing. People don’t stay in their positions as long as they used to. Offices are literally structured differently, and more people (such as me) work 100% from home. People communicate in less direct ways (most of my communication is by email and Slack).

I have had peers lose opportunities because they “couldn’t keep up.” I don’t want to be blind to my shortcomings, but I will fight hard to be well-versed on changes in technology and work life. These are not things people who have caved to being “hit” are willing or able to do.

Life is so much broader than pictures from the beginning of Facebook until now can communicate

Most of these “first profile pictures” come from 2007 (or so). And this is a non-scientific observation, but most of the participants are women. The number of men chiming in when I asked about this on Facebook was tiny. And one of them pointed out how military service had shaped him. Not that people aren’t still serving in the military, but the period of time covered by Facebook’s existence just doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of life’s influence on our evolution. There’s more to life (looking at you, people who survived Vietnam) than our children’s prom pictures and our travelogues (not that those aren’t great!).

The Reveal

Here’s the version that is true to the challenge – first profile picture (2007 at Xanadu in NYC) and most recent (headshot by Debby Stubing).

Aging is not a hammer

Now, Here’s What My Wise Friends Think

I asked my friends and acquaintances on Facebook and Twitter for a substitute for the “being hit” imagery.

Aging is not a hammer

Here’s their hivebrain response:

“A potter’s wheel. Being guided and shaped from the inside and the outside over time. Sometimes breaking under weak spots when life spins out of control, but rebuilt with careful attention to be stronger in those areas.”

“Aging Disgracefully”

“Aging is a beautiful thing when you do it with health and a really good dose of wisdom.”

“Aging isn’t hitting me at all. It’s more like massaging me gently towards the inevitable grave.”

“Chicken or egg? Do we tell ourselves we are getting older & feel that way or, depending on one’s health, it happens. It happens. But it can happen if we are young, middle-aged or older. I like how poet @maggiesmithpoet writes each day: ‘keep moving.'”

“Evidence of a life lived”

“For a while I was annoyed that I hadn’t planned for a life that lasted so long. But I’d have to admit that’s better than planning for a long life and not getting one.”

“… hey, I’m 10 years older”

“How far I’ve come…” and “flourished”

“How has life shaped you?” would be better…

“How I have been refined…”

“…how many wonderful memories you have made between these two pictures!”

“I am wiser”

““If we’re lucky, we’ll all get old. — Mom”

“I’m a good single barrel whiskey that’s been aged to perfection. The older the whiskey ages, the more it’s worth and enjoyed…”

“Less as a sledgehammer and more like a woodcarver’s chisel. Time and experiences shape us. But it also grows us in new ways, like a tree grows around damage or obstacles.”

“…like being a teenager all over again. A blank palette. What are you going to do with your life?”

“Living life unfiltered!”

“Maybe like the patina on copper? Or weathered wood?”

“Natural wisdom, growing beautiful, enlightenment of inner peace and knowledge”

“Older, wiser and healthier. How I took better care of myself for this thing called life.”

Reducing a sauce down to increase flavor and strength!”

“…runaway steamroller”

Seasoning. Maturing. Becoming. Thriving.”

“Slide down a sometimes bumpy hill. Leaves you bruised and confused.”

“Sweet caress of a mother? Gentle head pat from Father Time?”

“…the current state is much better”

The ‘look I’ve changed over time and I’m supposed to be devastated challenge'”

“We don’t age, we just get better, like a fine wine.”

My friend Stacy said, 

In the process I’ve birthed and raised two kids, co-authored a book, written hundreds of articles, earned a good living, turned my marriage into an even more deeply satisfying partnership and stood up loudly and proudly for things that matter the most to me.

A handful of pictures don’t tell that story and never will. I have wrinkles and fat in places I’d rather not. I have bags under my eyes and a double chin. My breasts are baby chewed and my backside rather more spread out than it was when I was who I was so long ago.

I also have memories that of a life that, while not always as well lived as I have liked, has meaning and value.

No challenge can tell that extremely important truth nor can any comparison pictures tell the honest truths of our authentic lives.

 

As for me, I lean toward the image of a glassblower’s torch, transforming something that already had potential into a more beautiful sculpture, demonstrating a few imperfections, some sharp edges, and more nuanced curves than it had before.

Lastly, I’ll let my smart and insightful friend, Caroline, have the final word.

Aging is Not a Hammer

 

Five Minute Friday: BETTER

 

Five Minute Friday Better

Five Minute Friday: BETTER

I had a conversation on Twitter a few days ago that has given me an earworm of “Rainbow Connection,” the Muppet song. (The person tweeting said they had failed their child because their kid had not heard the song.)

The conversation got pretty amusing (to me at least), because it sent me down memory lane. “Rainbow Connection” was the song we walked to as contestants in the Miss Union County High pageant in 1981. Is there a less pageant-y song anywhere? It was cute in context, though. The whole theme was essentially rainbows and happiness.

I am not pageant material. However, participating in Miss U-Co-High and a pageant I did in college are things I think about frequently. It’s not that those times in my life were better times (not at all), but that being in those contests helped me be a better person. They also give me a better understanding of pageant culture and a certain angle on what pageants have become in our society.

I remember clearly my talent at Miss U-Co-High (I played “The Entertainer” on my flute and created a “jazz” kind of feel — I had on a vest-type thing and brought out an old gas lantern I had borrowed from my aunt.) I also remember Mary Annette Shadd’s talent (she won! congrats!) — she sang “The Rose” and clinched the deal by accompanying herself on the piano, something she ended up deciding to do somewhat spontaneously. I’ve always felt that addition of accompanying herself gave her an edge (can you tell I was first runner up?!).

For the other pageant I did, it was one of the scads of for-profit pageants that are around, the kinds featured in reality shows. I had no clue what I was doing. I got a dress with a hoop skirt (in a situation where most women aim, to an extent, to demonstrate that they are in good physical shape — I obscured all that). What I remember most clearly is how hard it is to smile CONSTANTLY. My lips were quivering. My knees were knocking. It was nerve wracking.

Despite the nerves, I am still glad I took a stab at sharing my better self with the world. It taught me a few lessons that stay with me decades later.

Five Minute Friday Deep

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)

Toy Drops, Accountability, and the End of Overdue Book Fines

In October and December of last year, I shared posts recapping my favorite SmartBrief stories among the briefs I edit. Here’s an update:

From ASPA (The American Society of Public Administrators) and from ICMA (the International City/County Management Association)

Cities loosen penalties for transit fare evasion (ASPA)

Utah library stops charging fines for overdue books (ICMA)   

Why it’s so interesting: When I lived in New York City (1989-1992), fare evasion was definitely seen as a “no-no.” Now it’s (to an extent) in the same category as fines for overdue books. Speaking of overdue books, some cities are choosing to forgo fines for those now. This (keeping a book past its due date and owing money for it) was seen as a “no-no” long before I was a NYC resident paying my fair share for transit services. Things are changing regarding how municipalities incentivize behaviors that contribute to the greater good. The Utah library was concerned that fines exacerbated inequity, for example, and made it hard for the people who needed the library most to use its services. Also, in both cases, there were analyses of the amount of resources spent on enforcement in comparison to the revenue generated. It makes me look at the world in a different way than I did before. 

Favorite December 2018 SmartBrief stories

From Sigma Xi Science Honor Society

Invasive wasp endangers Spain’s chestnut crops

Why it’s so interesting: It’s a problem in itself that sweet chestnut production in Spain is down 30% due to an invasive Chinese parasitic insect. It’s a bigger problem that the diminished chestnut production and parasitic attack is a) affecting a struggling economy dependent on exporting sweet chestnuts to France b) contributing to an increase in forest fire risk (because some farmers are burning their crops to kill the invader c) resulting in “urban drift” as young people have become more cynical about a future in chestnut farming and d) causing more questions as one method of combating it (the release of the parasite’s natural predator) may itself cause. This is one of many stories I read that help me understand the challenges our world faces. As one government investigator said, “If we take a wider view this is another example of the unintentional globalisation of parasites and the problems facing scientists as they search for ways of eradicating, or at least limiting the pest.”

From the National Association of Social Workers

Commentary: Seeking, finding support helps former foster child

Why it’s so interesting: This story was about Deitrick Foley, who spent time in the foster care system as a child, and says his involvement in several support groups has helped him see that it is possible to find affirmation and support from people who are not relatives by blood. I loved this quote: “I learned to never give up spreading love to the people around me, and to look at one person leaving my life as leaving the door open and making space for two people to come into it.” So wise.

From UN Wire

Female Venezuelan migrants selling hair, sexual favors for income

There is absolutely nothing uplifting about this story. Nothing. As difficult and heartbreaking as it is to read stories like this, it means a lot to me to be a part of sharing them to a broader audience. For International Women’s Day 2018, Kathy Escobar wrote, “May we remember that our freedom is all tied up together, and none of us are free unless we are all free.” I concur.  

From BoardSource

Organization, bipartisanship help nonprofits excel, Bono says

Why it’s so interesting: When I first read this article, I thought about the last time I participated in “Hill Day” for Shot at Life. On Hill Day, advocates visit the offices of their congressional representatives and share their hopes for their cause. There were so many ONE advocates it was almost comical (it was heartening and wonderful, of course, but the visual was a dramatic statement). Bono, the founder, knows what he is doing and he doesn’t mind being direct and possibly even controversial. Case in point: this line from the article: “Whatever you feel about the NRA – and I don’t like them very much – they’re a very well-organized group and we want ONE to be the NRA for the world’s poor.” I admire him for his ability to praise the organizational abilities of the NRA (while also systematically working day and night to achieve goals that are mostly diametrically opposed…).

From the Reserve Officers Association

Operation Toy Drop prep involves 260 jumpmasters

Why it’s so interesting: Operation Toy Drop (not surprisingly) doesn’t involve actually “dropping” toys. In short, it’s a cooperative, multi-national training opportunity that involves paratroopers from 14 partner nations. The participating troops also collect toys for children in the surrounding area. The event started in 1998, and I enjoyed poking around to learn its historyAt a time of so much divisiveness internationally, I loved the cooperative tone of this project. 

This video gives a brief overview of the event:

(As a side note and point of personal privilege, this story was also relevant to me because my daughter went skydiving for the first time ever last month. Thank you to Jump Jasper Skydiving for delivering her back to terra firma safely. And props to Tenley for being brave enough to do something I have no desire to do. EVER.)

From the National Emergency Number Association

Peevyhouse: Trauma among 9-1-1 professionals should be given priority

Why it’s so interesting: First, I loved the title of this commentary from Jamison Peevyhouse, President of the National Emergency Number Association, “Hell is empty, & all the devils are here.” Such an evocative use of words to introduce a piece about the stresses first responders and dispatchers face. Besides the explanation of the challenges faced by dispatchers, I loved the emphasis on being observant, of being a team, such as, “Be the one who will commit to check on each coworker after a tough shift.” We should all do the same, regardless of our industry.  

From SmartBrief on Leadership

Letting employees design workflow increases engagement

I edited SmartBrief on Leadership for six days in December. This brief is how I became acquainted with SmartBrief years ago, and it has its own significance to me for that reason. Being entrusted with editing it was mixture of enthralling and nerves (but mostly enthralling!). One article from that six-day period that stood out to me was this interview with Stephen Mumford, an executive at Baton Rouge General Medical Center. In discussing employee engagement, he said this:

Listen, listen, listen! I find that sometimes my employees just want to be heard. I make rounds in the departments as much as I can. My employees really like when I come to their areas and see them in action. I also let my team design the processes and workflows for their departments. This keeps them engaged, and they hold each other accountable to the processes they build.

People like to be involved in designing “processes and workflows.” In the medical environment, who better to be a part of designing workflows than the people who do it? I can see why they are more engaged and why they emphasize accountability if they had a hand in the way things run. 

Another cool component of the leadership newsletter is its Twitter feed. Check it out by visiting @SBLeaders.

About Working at SmartBrief and Our Current Openings

When I share my recaps, I also like to give an update about openings. I wrote in more detail about my experience here.

SmartBrief’s Open Position(s)

Here are SmartBrief’s currently advertised open positions:

And in the New York office:

If you apply, please list me as your referrer. 

To Recap

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including our newest, the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us on Facebook, SmartBrief Twitter, Leadership SmartBrief Twitter, LinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram and Life at SmartBrief Instagram. (There’s also a SmartBrief feature at The Muse.)

Thanks for reading, and I hope to play a part in keeping you informed long into the future!

Favorite December 2018 SmartBrief stories

6 Sincere Ways to Say “Thanks”

Sincere Thanks

This quote by William Arthur Ward is charming and inspirational, but may be as ill-fitting as a “Best Wishes on Your Wedding” bag among all the Santas and Snowmen under the tree, especially in the work setting.

“[T]here can be serious consequences to misusing, or overusing, displays of appreciation in the office,” says Vidyard CEO and co-founder Michael Litt in Gratitude schmatitude: How too much praise devalues appreciation.

I have had my share of curmudgeonliness here on the blog this year (looking at you, gender reveals). Since I try to position myself as someone who leans toward optimism, I don’t want to close the year out on a “but think about the downside” type of note.

Litt’s article, which appeared in SmartBrief on Dec. 19, did leave me thinking, though. Does gratitude lose its effect if said too often, too insincerely, too mechanically?

With those questions in mind, six ways we can try to be more intentional and creative with our expressions of gratitude in the coming year:

Recognition

Some people find recognition extremely rewarding; others not so much.

Case in point: My son won an award at school in the spring of his senior year (April 2017). The awards were intended to be for the “non-traditional” sort of achievement and give students who might not tend to get more conventional awards a moment of gratitude. It was a lovely ceremony, and he was given a certificate, a medal and several other mementos.

His items are still sitting in the back seat of my car … a year and a half later! (And yes, I realize this says way too much about how often I clean out the back of my car!).

Sincere Thanks

Maybe the recognition meant more to him than he let on, but given his choice of what to do with the mementos, I’m inclined to think it was not, in the scheme of things, a huge deal to him.

Consider whether the person you want to thank finds public recognition fulfilling and/or motivating.

Trust

For me, one of the best ways someone can express their appreciation for my role on a team is by trusting me with the details of “the big picture.” I simply function more effectively when I understand how my contribution fits into the overall plan.

There are some facts and details pertinent to an organization’s life that need to remain confidential for logical reasons. However, there are many more elements of an organization’s plan that are better off being exposed to broad daylight.

Transparency also has the potential to help leaders do a better job and help organizations fulfill their missions. “When employees are in the loop about an organization’s challenges, they’ll likely better understand and support the tough decisions that leaders must make,” says Rebecca Hawk in 5 Benefits of More Transparency in Your Workplace.

Is there a way you can translate your gratitude for an employee’s trustworthiness and commitment to the organizational mission into a more transparent approach?

Sing Someone’s Praises — Without Them Knowing

This may seem counterintuitive. In the context of the opening quote, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” it may seem warped.

Look at it, though, as wrapping the present and then giving it … not to the recipient but to someone who can use it to the recipient’s benefit in some way.

I was involved in the freelance social media and communications world for the last four years, and trust me when I say that although its universe is broad, it’s still exceptionally common for people to know each other, or of each others’ reputations, even if they haven’t ever spoken.

If someone comes up in conversation, it never hurts to say, “[Facebook Frances] did a great job on my campaign; she made a difference for our brand. Don’t say it if it’s untrue, obviously, or if it is awkward, but if you’re talking about Facebook Frances and have an opportunity to say a kind word, go ahead and say it. That’s the kind of paying it forward that may make a difference when Facebook Frances is looking for work in the future.

Take the time to say the word of praise if it’s natural and true, even if it is not said directly to the subject of the compliment. It’s a way of giving karma a little boost.

Flexibility

Flexibility is huge. Flexibility as a reward is something many people appreciate. I would argue it also goes hand in hand with trust.

“[I]t’s becoming more common for employees to perform ‘life’ tasks during work hours and take work home during ‘off’ hours,” says the Staffing Industry Analysts group in Workplace Trends for 2019 Include Flexibility, Digital Sophistication, explaining why flexibility is gaining prominence among desired work conditions.

Although I agree that the trend SIA is discussing is happening, and employers will gain employee goodwill by accommodating it, my thoughts on flexibility are a bit different.

Now that I am a remote worker, and have a great deal of flexibility, this problem has been largely resolved for me. However, when I was in a traditional office, and still juggling the multiple balls involved when a family has active kids and both parents work, I would have had much less stress (and much higher morale) if there had been options to modify my schedule and work around everyone’s needs.

Seek ways to help people who are performing well configure their life in a way that helps them make the best use of their energy levels and helps them take care of their other obligations. They’ll be less stressed (and more productive).

A Receptive Ear

With an increasing amount of our workforce finding themselves as freelance workers, opportunities for disconnects between people engaged in mutual work grow. (Statista reports that 35% of the US workforce in 2016 were freelancers, an increase of two million over 2014.)

Throughout my four years of freelancing, I was a member of quite a few Slack groups.

Not to overdramatize, but there are times when you are a freelancer that your Slack channels are the main way you interact with other humans during the day.

I have had some pretty deep (yet brief) conversations on Slack. As my responsibilities grew in one of the organizations, and my status changed from freelancer to employee, one resolution I carried forward was a commitment to — within the bounds of professionalism and efficiency — make sure to always express my gratitude and to recognize the way personal stresses present challenges unique to freelancers.

You may not be able to see a freelancer on the other side of a Slack (or whatever system you use) exchange, but they still need to know their efforts at doing a good job matter and their stresses are acknowledged.

Money

One of Michael Litt’s points in writing about the dangers of watering down gratitude by expressing it too often and/or too insincerely was, “Money doesn’t always buy thanks.”

Litt didn’t mean that money should never be used to express gratitude. However, he says research does not substantiate the effectiveness of “short-term or one-off financial bumps” for improving performance.

Litt’s organization gives “off-cadence options” (shares in the business) in truly “exceptional” situations to demonstrate “a direct connection between an employee’s contribution and the continued success of the company.”

Don’t rule money out to demonstrate gratitude, but be deliberate in your approach and choose something that directly correlates with the difference an employee made.

In closing

I like financial rewards as much as the next person, but I agree with Litt that there are other ways to help employees feel appreciated.

For me, the most important ways to show appreciation are trusting me with glimpses into the “big picture,” honesty about where things stand (organizationally and with my performance) and appealing to my sense of teamwork.

How could an employer best show gratitude to you?

Sincere Thanks

The Simple Gift of Friendship

Simple GiftHolidays 2018 have been characterized by disorganization on my part. The tree just got put up yesterday (December 22). The stockings will (hopefully) get put up tonight. I have precisely two more hours (possibly) into which I need to squeeze the rest of my shopping.

My son’s gift was airfare for the trip he is currently on. My daughter’s requests had to do mostly with practical choices rather than things that will go under the tree. I have been pushing myself to finish some commitments that resulted in late nights at the keyboard instead of leisurely early evenings decorating. (Oh, and the cards just got mailed yesterday too. Some of my usual recipients are going to have to get New Year’s cards instead.)

Therefore, when my sweet friend asked if I could get coffee today, my first inclination was to beg off, citing all of the “not done” items on my list. One of those items? Spending an hour(ish) doing my blog (since I rarely miss a Sunday).

But you know what? The keyboard, the screen, and my opinions will be here 365/24/7 as 2019 rolls around. Time with good friends is fleeting. I spent last Christmas Eve in the ICU wondering if my mom would survive (she ultimately didn’t, and passed away the following February). That experience brought home the importance of prioritizing those who are most important to us.

I’m off to have coffee with Sandy. Blogging can wait.

Simple Gift

I’ll see you next Sunday, when I’m sure I’ll have an opinion to share, reflection to publish or cause to espouse.

Why not pick up the phone and reconnect with that friend or relative you keep putting off?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone.

This post is based on a Kat Bouska prompt, “Share a quote you love.”

Simple Gift

 

Five Minute Friday: WITH

 

Five Minute Friday WITH

Five Minute Friday: WITH

There is a particular construction I find myself using in my writing at work, and each time I do, I question if it is the best choice.

Any of you who know me will know “I question if it is the best choice” is something pretty common to my thinking.

In our work, we only have two sentences into which we have to fit enough information to give a reader the gist of the story that we are linking to, but not so much that we lose their valuable attention. It’s a balancing act. My “with” is usually an attempt to squeeze in some secondary point without spending a whole sentence on it.

I couldn’t find a perfect example (I’ll find one the minute I press “publish” on this post, I’m sure!). But this is sort of what I mean:

“UNICEF reports that 1 in every 10 Ebola virus cases in the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo involves a child younger than 5 years old, with a third of all cases being children. Children are vulnerable when they act as caregivers for people who are ill with the virus.”

There are other words that would have worked here, such as “and.”

Why do I go to “with” so much more frequently? I don’t know which is better grammatically, but (just to share my personal preference) I really dislike a sentence that has a comma, then an “and.” In this case, “… involves a child younger than 5 years old, and a third of all cases are children.”

***end of five minutes***

Maybe it goes back to Mrs. Bowen in sixth grade (she was great!) and her dogged determination to get us to memorize all of the prepositions.

Maybe it’s instinct.

I usually think, “what would sound best if I were saying it to a companion?” That’s a bit of a false equivalency, I know, because a conversation has the advantage of body language and shared enjoyment of each company going for it. Come to think of it, I would never naturally say, “I have plans in New York City this January, with two of the days committed to visiting friends.”

I would be more likely to say, “I have plans in New York City this January and two of the days involve visiting friends.”

I think it’s the comma before an “and” that strikes me as less-than-elegant.

But we didn’t come here to watch me break down a sentence, right?

The parallel that I would make between “Paula thinks really hard about how sentences should be put together” and life is this …

The concept of being “with” someone or something often sits more comfortably with whatever is already happening. An “and” feels like more pressure and takes the focus off of whatever the initial priority was.

And keeping priorities straight is something I’m working on right now. Maybe Kate helped me find my word of 2019?

Five Minute Friday Deep

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)

10 Lessons from Writing More Than 1000 Blog Posts

“The first thing you learn when you’re blogging is that people are one click away from leaving you” is a quote attributed to Alex Tabarrok. Through more than a decade of blogging weekly and trying to keep people from clicking away until fully digesting what I’ve had to share, these are the lessons I’ve learned.

Consistency matters

I have repeated Scott Ginsburg’s advice that led me to blog every Sunday, whether I felt inspired or not, often because it is so true. “Make a date with the page,” he said. He was right. I may have missed five Sundays out of the ten years, max. Scott’s advice made me discipline myself and overcome the mythical idea that it takes a magical shot of brilliant insight to get words from the brain, through the fingers, and onto the page. It takes dogged determination to keep at it. Period.

People are going to be insulted and hurt

Honestly, I can’t think of a topic so neutral that someone won’t object. Although my blog topic started off as something pretty specific (being a back of the pack runner), it expanded. I write what I think, and I sometimes write to spark dialogue between people. I try to do so respectfully, factually and clearly. But the online world is not a place where everyone agrees, and a blogger can’t fully control her message. One of my personal principles is to ask myself “is this something you would say in person?” This is especially true with questions that have local ties, such as the student who threatened to sue because she wasn’t selected to the cheerleading squad at my daughter’s alma mater.

Likewise, it still bothers me every day that a Facebook “friend” shared my post about gender reveals with one of her groups, that the group then raked me over the coals as I sat there, diplomatically responding to every single barb and attack, then unfriended me. I know I’m the one with the thin skin to still be bothered by it. But I stand behind what I wrote and am the kind of person who takes it to heart when I can’t come to some sort of reconciliation following a conflict. (Of course it was the attack about my writing that irritated me the most, almost more than the multiple ones about how “insensitive” I am and the fact that I must have some deep-rooted psychological issue.)

Some things are better said face to face (or not at all)

This is a bit of an offshoot of “people will be hurt and insulted,” but it involves a different nuance, I think. While I can’t think of a post that would have been better delivered face to face, I do think the things I write may be perceived differently by people who don’t know me personally than by those who have a different sense of how I conduct myself in person.

Errors happen

I am a freak about accuracy, but write more than 1,000 posts and you’re going to make mistakes. Fortunately, there is an “edit” function and mistakes can be rectified, but it’s much more pleasing to get things right from the outset.

I think way too often of the error I made on this 2012 post about the opening of Jason’s Deli. The restaurant was built on a site that had housed a previous restaurant. Having driven by the vacant building almost daily, in my head it had been several things, so I wrote it as “a location that had seen a parade of short-lived establishments.”

One of the comments (from an anonymous commenter) was:

A “Parade of short lived establishments” in that location? Umm… There was ONE short-lived establishment: Helen’s Diner. The previous occupant, Banjo’s BBQ had been there for decades. One short-lived tenant does not a parade make.

I immediately added an author’s note to respond to that comment, acknowledging that I was unable to document the “parade.” What bothers me is that I’m pretty sure I know who the commenter is. If so, it’s one of two people with whom I still interact frequently and I just wish we could talk it out!

I know I need to make like Elsa and “let it go.” It has been six years after all, but it bugs me!

The other error that sticks with me is one from this blog I wrote as a reflection on a New York Times “Modern Love” column. The column responded to a letter from a reader who had started a relationship with a man, and who wrote about how the man’s former wife was supportive of the relationship. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with a former wife choosing to be supportive of a relationship, but this woman didn’t convince me with her account of how she fell in love with the guy while he was still married to his wife.

I did some very amateurish poking around on social media that led me to the inaccurate conclusion about the wrong individual, and made a few unfair and distinctly wrong leaps of “discovery” about the author’s mental health. This is not good because I consider myself a mental health advocate. Once I came to my senses (and my facts), I corrected the post and wrote a clarification. Unfortunately this all came after I had shared a link to my post in the comments of the New York Times article. Lesson learned several times over.

Our positions change

Ten years is a long time to be on this earth. And pretty much anyone, if they are dedicated to personal growth and keeping an open mind, may come to a different conclusion over time compared to what they originally said (or wrote). That said, I can’t think of many posts I look back on and think “how could I have ever felt that way?”

One of the major shifts, though, probably has to do with how I look at disabilities and how I am (hopefully) doing less “othering.” I was heavily involved in Autism Speaks around 2012. There has been quite a bit of movement among many former supporters of that organization. I think specifically of my friends Matt and Jess, who I met in 2012 when I ran a half marathon for Autism Speaks. Although I still feel strongly about supporting people with autism and their families, and especially about making sure there are options for adults with autism to have meaningful work and the opportunity to function as independently as possible, I view autism less from the perspective of “something to be fixed” now and more from the angle of “a different set of features and life skills.” I still can’t adequately address this, but Jess of Diary of a Mom can, and did so here.

Success at blogging requires more than blogging

This depends on your goals, of course. I started blogging to “flex my writing muscle,” but quickly started wanting more: more interaction with readers, more opportunities to do sponsored posts and make some money from blogging, more “community.”

If you want your blog to be more than words on a screen, you have to share it (even though being self-promotional can feel awkward). You also need to share it in other forms (such as video), because people prefer to receive information in other ways. For example, this is a video I did to support my blog about dress codes at internships.

Everyone needs feedback about their writing

Hopefully this goes without saying, but writing is one of those areas where we all need to seek (and act on) feedback. We are our own worst editors. I am thankful to Randi Atwood, who taught a fantastic writing course earlier this year, and who has helped me shape my theater reviews (and opinion pieces) for the Tallahassee Democrat.

People love food posts

Out of all my posts, the 2nd-highest performing post was one I wrote about “hippie juice,” an adult beverage made with powdered lemonade mix and flavored vodka five years ago. It was outperformed by a post I did about brain health, which reassures me a little bit! But still … hippie juice instead of white privilege, getting tested for HIV or a great book? Go figure!

People are reading, even if they don’t comment or tell you

While I know the proportion of people who comment on blogs is small relative to the number of people who read, it still surprises me when someone tells me they read my blog. I’m glad (very), and I know commenting is a pain, but I suppose I wish I could hear more about what people think after reading what I have written. My favorite was a conversation with a friend/reader and the turn the conversation took when we began talking about grocery dividers. It makes me laugh a little bit that people think about me when they are at the conveyor belt (thanks, guys). More importantly, I hope the post makes people recognize microaggressions and resolve to be more aware of them.

I still love writing

A love of writing is the main thing that propelled me down the road of being a blogger. It’s nice to interact with others. It’s really nice to make money occasionally from blogging. Most importantly, it’s rewarding to try to help people be aware of causes for which they can advocate and social problems they can help resolve — to try to help people have a broader perspective that hopefully helps them contribute more fully to the world around them.

If none of that happens, though, I usually walk away from the keyboard happy because words are so enjoyable.

NOTE: Thanks to Mona Andrei, whose How writing 500 posts for my personal blog helped position me as a writer post inspired me to write my own reflection.

lessons from blogging

Five Minute Friday: STILL

Five Minute Friday Still

Five Minute Friday: STILL

Here is a stillness that I can’t fathom in any way, shape or form: the stillness of the lost lives of the children in Sandy Hook who were massacred six years ago. Also, the stillness of the migrant child who died after she and her father crossed the US-Mexico border seeking asylum.

I have an acquaintance in a running club who used to ask us to run every year for Chase Kowalski, one of the children killed in the massacre, who was one of her child’s classmates. I looked her up today. I’ve been a little out of the running world (okay – I’ve been totally out of the running world but it is still a huge part of my social life). There she was, still running in Chase’s memory along with her own child, now (obviously) much older, just like Chase would be.

It is unfathomable, still, that Chase is still. So still.

The same for the 7-year-old from Guatemala. As I heard her name, Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, read, I thought, “is it possible I met her or one of her family members of community members when I went to Guatemala?” Guatemala is a big country, so it’s unlikely, but all of these people seeking asylum immediately bring to mind the people I met in Guatemala, the little girl (Estela) our family still sponsors.. Tenley and I were looking at her most recent picture the other day. She was so little when we first started sponsoring her in 2011. Now, seven years later, she is becoming a young woman. Her uncle said to me, as we were meeting her for the first time, “how much would it cost to come to America?” And it didn’t matter, because any amount I had said — $6, $60, $600, $6000 — would have been out of reach. But the question was one, not of “how can I have an easier life?” but “how can I have opportunities to work, freedom to say what I think, a vote?” (Obviously I am just inferring what I think he meant, but no one I met there would be unwilling to work hard, strenuously hard, for the opportunity to make a decent living and have safety for their children.)

***end of five minutes***

I usually listen to music while I respond to the Five Minute Friday prompt, and I often try to choose something related to the theme.

Tonight, I left the the music silent.

It just doesn’t seem fair to be entertained by having the air filled with sound when the souls of the Sandy Hook children and the little girl from Guatemala are so still.

Five Minute Friday Deep

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)

Destroying Your Inner Critic by Serving a Creativity Soufflé

If cooking is your thing, think about the last delicacy you chose, shopped for, prepared and served. Each step differed, yet was an important component of the process.

Choosing a recipe involves deciding whether the ingredients and preparation method will lead to an enjoyable dining experience.

Shopping for recipe ingredients involves envisioning the final product and the enjoyment of those I’m serving it to. Preparing food is work, but anything we choose to do typically involves labor.

Now, imagine that instead of presenting the dish to customers, friends or loved ones, you leave it sitting on the kitchen counter. Eventually, it will cool off. Cheese will congeal. If it’s a soufflé, it (does anyone actually make soufflés anymore?) If it’s our house, the cats will decide the humans lost interest and will make a mess.

Whatever the case, if you work that hard to select, shop for and prepare a dish, it’s a loss to all involved to stop short of sharing it. Two things are at play here: 1) you won’t get the closure of seeing all your hard work pay off in others’ enjoyment and 2) your customers/friends/loved ones won’t get to enjoy a gustatory sensation.

Why creativity matters

Several friends posted I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life recently. The people who posted it are among the people I trust the most to sense insight when they find it, and the comments to THEIR posts hinted at the idea that the piece filled a need, so I read it. And I, too, shared it.

I suspect each of us who posted “broke and friendless” got something different out of it. Maybe that’s the hallmark of a good piece of writing. Maybe, with this essay, the lesson a reader takes from it has a whole lot to do with where they are at personally in their lives.

At first, the line, “Shame is the opposite of art. When you live inside of your shame, everything you see is inadequate and embarrassing,” spoke loudest to me. I did just read a Brene Brown book (I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”), after all, and shame has been one of my biggest personal foes throughout my lifetime. 

More than the examination of shame and its role, though, the piece immediately led me to think about what it takes for us to have the courage to share the things we have created, whether they be blog posts, newspaper articles, speeches, songs or pieces of art. Why do we hesitate, assuming it’s somehow presumptuous of us to share or that what we have created may not be “enough”?

Here are the ingredients I hope you’ll consider putting into your “creativity soufflé.”

Change how you see your creation

Sankin Speech Improvement’s Public Speaking | How Can You Reduce the Stress? has a section I shared with my Toastmasters mentee to help her prepare mentally for one of her first speeches. The section is titled “change your internal conversation.” This principle applies to so many things, but especially to that voice in your head that asks “is this really worthy of sharing?” “am I being too self promotional?” “who do you think you are anyway?” prior to putting whatever you have done out into the world. Here’s what it says:

Instead of saying “I am so nervous that I think I will be sick”, say “I think I can really help these people with the information that I am going to share”.  The goal of your presentation is to have a positive impact on your listeners such that they leave your presentation with new information that they can implement in their lives.

Honor your own hard work

For several years, one of my tasks at the Lead Change Group was compiling the monthly Leadership Development Carnival. This task was such a pleasure because I had the opportunity to read so much excellent writing on the topic of leadership. I often walked away frustrated, though, because there were so few comments, even to the posts that had the strongest potential to help people turn the tables when their leadership struggles threatened to get the best of them.

Comments aren’t the only indicator of blog success, of course. I can tell from my own Google Analytics (and from people who tell me they’ve read my blog) that many more people click on a post than comment. But there is something validating to the fact that someone took the time to comment on something you’ve written. At the beginning of my time compiling the carnival, I would try to comment on each post, but eventually I stopped (I wasn’t getting paid to spend all that time commenting, and authors rarely acknowledged the comments (pro tip: acknowledging your comments builds engagement)). Yet I still wondered who was reading these great posts and why they didn’t engage more people in dialogue. It seemed like a loss all around.

To get comments, you have to do a certain amount of sharing of content (unless you’re that rare superstar that people flock to no matter whether you put yourself out there or not). They won’t know it’s there if you don’t give them the option to read it (and maybe a smidgen of encouragement to do so).

Accepting compliments and responding to naysayers comes with taking any risk

The receipt of compliments sounds simple enough. Who wouldn’t want to hear positive responses? For many of us, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Shonda Rhimes wrote an entire chapter in Year of Yes about how hard it was to learn to accept compliments graciously. She especially emphasized the need to do so without minimizing the complimenter’s intentions. If someone makes the effort to say they like your dress, for example, “thank you” is the best response. Not “this old thing? I got it on consignment.”

Why rain on people’s good intentions? Many of us grew up being conditioned to be deferential and to not be full of ourselves. There’s a difference between simply acknowledging someone’s generosity of spirit and being arrogant. But you can’t enter the compliment quandary if you don’t share what you’ve done. Do it. Then practice by repeating after me: “thank you.” Period. End of sentence.

Thank you.

Naysayers are a different challenge, and I can’t say my skin has been particularly thick about this over the decade I’ve been blogging. In my new job, I also have the task of responding to reader feedback. Shockingly, it isn’t all of the “that was the best thing I ever read” nature. But they’re reading, and they’re willing to talk to me about it. That’s more of an opening than a closing, for sure. There’s a saying in the fitness community when someone hems and haws about whether the mile (or whatever) they ran was enough that goes along the lines of, “you did better than someone on the couch.” I’m usually a little annoyed by that, honestly, but the part of it that rings true is the fact that the person who ran the mile did burn the calories, condition their muscles and generate the endorphins even if it wasn’t star-athlete quality. Trying matters. The opinion of the people on the couch, for this purpose, don’t matter.

In closing

This “Broke and Friendless” post resonated deeply with me. My thoughts in this post have only scratched the surface. However, the topics addressed in “Broke and Friendless” are so varied from each other (even though they relate, of course): shame, doing satisfying work, making something of your life, that trying to squeeze it all into one response would defeat the purpose.

I feel strongly that there are many of you with whom I interact, either in person, on social media, or some other way in blogworld, who need to be reminded and/or encouraged to serve the creativity soufflé before it falls.

Please. I’ve already taken my seat at your table and I know you’ve worked so hard.Confident Self Promotion

Five Minute Friday: BALANCE

FMF Balance

Five Minute Friday: BALANCE

Balance is misleading. Keeping balance looks like something that takes supreme caution — being exquisitely tuned to each breath, each movement, each thought.

The irony is that balance takes a certain amount of letting go of all those microscopic “what if this doesn’t work?” types of thoughts.

If you have ever paddle boarded, you probably know what I mean. Once you’re on the board, the process of staying on the board and out of the water takes an orchestration of your physical body, your mental senses, and whatever goes on in our inner ears to give us the sense of balance.

I have only been paddle boarding once, sadly, but that one time gave me the sense of what it takes to stay balanced. It isn’t what you would think watching paddle boarders from shore. It takes a wide stance (to give yourself a more solid base). It takes looking ahead and where you’re going rather than down at the water around your feet (yes, the water you could potentially end up in if you lose your balance!).

Most of all, it requires trusting yourself.

Just like in other situations where we must seek balance, if we spend the whole time second-guessing our choices, we are likely to sink emotionally.

Five Minute Friday Deep

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)