Time Crunches and Opportunities

Did I tell you I live by two axioms. Well not just two … oh you know the rest.

There is never enough time in the day.

Things always take longer than you think.

But this blog post is not about making the time to take advantage of opportunity. No. This is about, when time is limited, seeing that limitation as an opportunity.

I am fortunate enough to have a somewhat predictable ebb and flow to my busy times. The word, somewhat, being of course open to a very loose interpretation. But I can look at my year and reasonably predict when my time will get taken over by atypical onerous duties I have no control over.  The rest of the time, however my schedule gets eaten by the usual predators; household, family and job. Still these demands are by and large, reasonable. I have made certain lifestyle choices that allow this, choices that I know, having had some intense conversations about it, others are not keen to make. To each his own. Everything costs: time, money, sanity, soul. Pick what is important and what you are prepared to pay and pay it. Did I say I love axioms? Or maybe I just have too much time on my hands. Not likely.

My previous blog was all about managing the time you’ve got. Key elements are:

  • Plan, but schedule wiggle room – allowing an easy pace to your activities will not only help quell the stress, but may allow you to accomplish more.

  • Discipline not to act, is just as important as the discipline to stay on track.

  • Flexibility depends on knowing the demands of your individual activities – seeing the micro and macro and being able to adjust what can be accomplished in the time allotted.

  • Forgiveness is not making excuses – it’s acknowledging the limitations inherent in our lives.

My biggest fear is having time crunches pull me off track completely. I know. I know. I’m the one all about forgiveness and being easy on yourself… yadayadayada… But I worry that it will be so much harder to get back on the path again. So I try not to stray. That might sound a little exhausting and maybe a little unrealistic. Remember I myself wondered how anyone can keep the pedal to the metal indefinitely, but just because I’m going doesn’t mean I’m going at the same speed, all the time. This busy season I was determined to not stress myself out, but also not let myself down regarding my art.

I explored two challenges this past month. One was a version of NaNoWriMo, called Camp NaNoWriMo that happens in April and July. As you may or may not be aware, National Novel Writing Month occurs in November during which, writers attempt to write a 50,000 word first draft. The cool thing about Camp NaNoWriMo is you create your own parameters for success. Want to write an outline for a new novel or revise a draft, or create a world bible for your new fantasy story? This is your chance. You can use word count or even hours worked as parameters and you decide what constitutes ‘winning’.

I chose hours and committed to 2 hours a day of working on a draft of my current WIP [work in progress]. I did not get nearly as far as I wanted. Ah, axiom number two. How disdainfully you rear your head. I did however succeed with my hours. So, good on me. And again, was I religious about the two hours per day? No. My weekends carried the majority of the load, however even those few minutes during the week helped to keep me chugging along and feeling positive about my progress, slow as it was.  I could have so easily let my manuscript hit the back burner for the month and really been totally justified, but come May, the ole jalopy was going to sputter and steam and give me all kinds of grief getting back on the road. This May not only did I not lose momentum, I was rearing to go.

The second thing I did was the Writer’s Digest Poem a Day Challenge. More writing, I hear you scream at the screen. More?!!! What are you nuts? Now hear me out. While I have been working on short stories, my primary focus has been novels. You know novels – huge gargantuan undertakings, a kin to pushing boulders up hills? Yes. Novels. Poems I thought would be much smaller boulders and might offer a sense of completion far quicker than novels. So, challenge accepted. And completed! Yes, I did a poem a day, every day [except for one day – but I made up for it the next] for the entire month of April. Oh, it isn’t good poetry but it is poetry – some of it, atrocious, some of it, meh, some of it, not half bad. I also used the time to get to some lyrics for songs I have been meaning to finish. [Have I mentioned I’m also a musician – I know, I know – I’m a sucker for punishment]

As an AWADJ time management is crucial. Sometimes though, a crunch is inevitable. Instead of getting squeezed maybe try these [sorry – totally did not mean to rhyme – darn you poetry challenge]:

  • Look for inspiration; activities to galvanize action, challenges that will gently but firmly kick you in the butt to keep you going

  • Focus your efforts: work smaller projects to enhance specific skill-sets

  • Set time limits: narrowing your parameters can give you a manageable quantifier, while committing to a month allows you to get in the flow, make up time, if things get extra crunchy, and create distance from larger projects

  • Embrace change: adopt a flexible mindset to make use of, or create opportunities.

Art doesn’t have to be spelled ‘ART’. It can be ‘art’. A little bit is better than none. Besides, you can make excuses, or you can make art. Which will it be?

Understanding Workplace Culture

Perhaps it is the recent economic upsets that have us thinking less about money and more about quality of life. Perhaps it is the immediacy of media, and the amped up technology at our disposal that allows us to share our experiences so much more easily. Perhaps it is both of these things, prompting us to individually and collectively examine our work-lives. Whatever the reason, I am finding discussion and debates regarding workplace culture increasingly present.

So what is culture and why should we care about it?

Culture can be perceived as the climate of the work environment. It goes beyond what your company does, and instead, defines its character or personality. It is made up of the values, beliefs, traditions, behaviours and attitudes of the people that work there. In short, culture is the unwritten rules that govern an organization. As such, culture cannot be mandated. It evolves from the minutiae in every action and interaction that goes on in an office, sales floor or factory line.

Most importantly, culture is unique to your situation. So while this article is titled Understanding Workplace Culture, and it implies an explanation of the term, the deeper implication is; are you understanding your culture? Have you honestly examined the actions of your senior team members, managers, directors, and partners? Have you considered the attitude of your staff? What aspects of your workplace culture might be prompting their attitude? As a leader, are you with purpose and consistency actively involved in fostering an effective culture for your organization?

Culture has a cumulative effect, reflecting leadership, engagement, productivity, creativity and growth.  One might say, workplace culture, like a specimen in a petri dish, is growing all around you. All you have to decide is: are you going to create a culture that enables your organization to thrive, or one that won’t.

By the way, the photo today is courtesy of Tasha Sturm, Cabrillo College. It is an actual hand print on a large TSA plate from her – at the time – 8 1/2 year old son after playing outside. Cool, huh.

Better Teams, Better Companies – in 3 Books

We all find ourselves, at one time or another, growing dissatisfied with our present work situation, wandering over to the “100 Best Companies to Work For” list and wondering how do I get a job there. It is a well-accepted fact that people don’t quit jobs, they quit people; sometimes managers, sometimes co-workers. And while it might feel nice initially to just point the finger and take all the blame off yourself, this approach won’t be the most effective way to go about getting to that ‘best company’. So before you go updating your resume, what about creating that ‘best company’ where you are. But how?  I think it might be possible in three books.

Three books? Only three? Which three? Where can I buy them? Tellmetellmetellme. Whoa. Slow down. Before I tell you which three, I need to tell you why three. What strikes me, is that there are three premises that are key in developing a company that might be list worthy.

Premise 1: If you don’t know yourself, how can you work with or, more importantly, lead others?

My pick: Growth Mindset by Carol S Dweck

The unique opportunity presented in this book is a good hard look at what attitude you might have that gets in the way of success. I stress, hard. We all want to think that we are well put together, positive thinking individuals without that liberal layer of ‘crazy’ lurking beneath the surface. Remember: without honest self-reflection there is no growth.

Premise 2: If you don’t know group dynamics, how can you participate, create, or lead in an effective team?

My pick: 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Partick Lencioni

This book starts out with a fictional story that is so startlingly accurate, you may find it hard to believe that Lencioni wasn’t sitting in on your last team building workshop. It is followed up by an examination of the five necessary functions of a team, why they are important, and how to go about encouraging them in yourself and in others.

Premise 3: If you don’t have perspective, how can you gage your effectiveness? And everyone needs inspiration to keep going.

My pick: Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

Whether you work with what Catmull calls ‘smart creatives’ or not, his guiding principles, his efforts to be actively engaged in managing, and his successes and failures are both inspirational and instructional.

Now, are these the definitive books that are going to set you on your path toward company bliss? I don’t know. Part of the adventure is figuring out which are your three. There are plenty to pick from. Just remember; you work as part of a team, there are other people in that team, and don’t worry, great teams are out there to learn from. Hasn’t it been done before? Isn’t that list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” right there in front of you? Don’t you want to be on it?

What three books do you think might help develop constructive management skills, positive team mindset and get a company on that list?

Growth Mindset

Maybe it’s the impending spring but my mind is turning to new beginnings. Cleaning up the winter windblown debris collected against fences and the sleepy sluggish corners of our minds. Throwing open the once frost locked windows, finally thawed, to invite a breeze to sweep away the stale overheated air trapped inside homes and souls. Time for to-do lists with little check marks all crisp and decisive. For goals to be set. So, what if you set out to fail? I don’t mean that you’re setting yourself up to fail. No. I am asking you to give yourself permission to fail.

Have there always been things you wanted to try but thought, I’m not good at that, I don’t have any talent in that area, it’s not my strength so why waste the time… The reasons go on and on. Some might even make practical sense. I mean, in this day and age when time is a precious commodity, why waste it on something you aren’t good at? But how do you know you aren’t good at something if you don’t try it? And therein lies the crux of the problem. Fear of failure might be at the core of these reasons. And that is the biggest obstacle between a fixed and a growth mindset.

Carol Dweck, Ph.D. one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, talks about growth mindset in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Watch this Ted Talk or for more information check out her site. In her book, Dr. Dweck explores the concept of ‘not yet’ a way of measurement that does not focus on failure but on the process of learning, improving, bettering ourselves, evident in a growth mindset. Adversely, a fixed mindset prevents us from discovering previously unknown territory. It keeps us safe in the familiar, never risking venturing off the path. It gives us every reason to say no.

So if a growth mindset is a way to deal with the fear of failure, what can you do to go from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset? Here are the four main points from the book and a few quotes to perhaps help anchor them deeper in your mind.

Learn to recognize when you are holding onto a fixed mindset

  1. Becoming is better than being. Carol S Dweck
  2. Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort? Carol S Dweck

Recognize that you have a choice

  1. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. Albus Dumbledore
  2. Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future. Deepak Chopra

Realign your thinking to a more growth mindset track

  1. Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. Albert Einstein
  2. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Wayne Gretzky

Take the growth mindset action

  1. Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. George Bernard Shaw
  2. Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

So, what will I attempt while exploring and hopefully developing a growth mindset?  Writers Digest is promoting a Poem a Day in April. This of course is not a random undertaking, but a focused effort to better my language skills. I will push myself, explore my gifts, and improve my skills. I will be disciplined and committed. I will be brave. But most importantly I will give myself permission to fail.

So, if you are a writer or someone who has always wanted to write, or someone who’s had that hidden, secret desire that you couldn’t voice, even to yourself, you might venture forth this April. Of course, it’s an opportunity to improve your writing, but maybe that’s not the point. At least not the only point. You might learn failure doesn’t kill you. It doesn’t define you. You can not only survive it but thrive because of it. So fail. Fail magnificently and beautifully. Fail and learn and grow.

Whatever you decide to try, perhaps a purposeful exercise in courting failure will help to deal with not just the fear of failure, but those moments in life when failure is all too real. Because failure is more than academic or theoretical or just a word on a page. It is not just an idea but at times a presence that is a formidable as a six walled room. Failure is that niggling little hand that plucks at your heart one string at a time, calling you to hear a strain you want to silence. It’s that finger that pokes you in the chest and says not you. It’s that fist that closes around your heart until you can’t move.

Maybe that’s when you need a growth mindset the most. To keep moving, one foot in front of the other. To tell yourself, hell, why not you. To remind yourself, it’s okay, maybe you aren’t there.

Not yet.

The Not-To-Do List

On a previous post, I talked about how occasionally one might feel the need for a mental tidy. One of the most notorious contributors to that cluttered feeling is the T0-Do List.

We are all familiar with this sometimes growing, often never shrinking list of things that we must do, in order to keep our lives from descending into chaos. Sound dramatic? Don’t do the dishes or mow the lawn or recycle the garbage for a while. You may find yourself trapped in your house, a camera crew waiting outside and your family preparing for an intervention. I’m just saying.

But we never let it get that far, do we. We soldier on, pushing that rock on up that hill. Why? Because there’s no one else to do it? If it’s going to be done, you want it done right, and you’re the only one for the job? What will the neighbours think? What would you think of yourself?

Let’s start dissecting these arguments. You might find a Not-To-Do List surprisingly easy to create.

The no-one-else-could-do-it-like-I want-it-done Syndrome

Who else indeed. Did you know that there are entire professions, list of professionals, with the necessary skills and tools to get these jobs done? Google it. You might be surprised at how many enterprising people are providing a service for almost any task. Especially those that you might not feel are the best use of your precious time. Not only that, but as professionals they probably have standards that are even higher than anything you might be able to accomplish.

Got’em, Need’em, Trade’em Technique

Can’t afford to pay? Barter. That’s right. If you can’t afford a professional, barter with your mate, your kids, a family member, or even a neighbour. What might it take for a neighbour to mow your lawn while they’re doing theirs? You can return the favour in whatever ‘currency’ you both determine is fair. And who knows? What one person thinks of as a chore, could be a form of relaxation for another. You might be doing your bartering partner a favour in more ways than just relieving them of an undesirable task. You might actually be giving them something to do that they enjoy.

Other People Opinion Anxiety

Worried about what other will people think? Frankly they’ll probably think oh, thank goodness. I thought I was the only one. Sharing the load is something humans have had to do since we hunted on the plains. The fact that we have machines now and are isolated in our little boxed-off domiciles has made us forget that. Ask for a hand. Better yet, reach out a hand. You might find people are eager to take it and reciprocate the favour.

The Inner-Critic Visit

Now perhaps that negative voice in your head pipes up. You worry what does a Not-To-Do List say about you? It says you’re a realistic enterprising person who knows how to manage their time and recognizes the skills they have and values the skills of others. Look around your office, your neighbourhood, your home. Are there people with the skill-set, mind-set or abilities better suited to some of the tasks on your list? Are you better suited for something on theirs? Just because an item started on your list, doesn’t mean it has to stay there.

In closing

Now, there will be those jobs that just have to be done by you. Whether by necessity or circumstance, you just can’t put them on your Not-To-Do List.  If, however, you’ve re-examined these items and thinned the herd a little, maybe you won’t feel so trampled by the ones remaining.

How do you manage your To-Do List? What might go on your Not-To-Do List?

A Mental Tidy

Sometimes life is just too much. Sometimes it’s just so too much that we don’t realize it until we are sitting/standing/lying there and thinking; how did I end up here, feeling this way. Feeling…

Cluttered.

What I’m talking about is that lie in bed and stare at the ceiling sleeplessness that comes when the noise in your head may as well be a dance club complete with disco-ball and strobe lights and a nasty and extremely public break-up at the bar. It’s that multi-screen movie theatre flashing in front of your eyes as every random thought, worry, and concern vies for attention. It’s when you feel stress has come at you like a runaway wagon driven by the four horseman of the apocalypse and you are trapped under the wheels.

That’s when you may need a mental tidy.

For some, this slang intimates a minimizing or condescension of a real struggle with mental health. That is not my intent. Mental illness is a serious concern, and as such, needs serious considerations from those much more knowledgeable than me. However, I find the reality is that we all have our moments when we are plagued by worry, insecurity and fear. And while they may not be as dire as someone with clinical psychological problems, it seems to me that sometimes these more minor bouts of anxiety can have a cumulative effect, resulting in a serious impact on our lives and the lives of those around us.  Why not try to actively engage in solutions for those moments. Here are a few suggestions.

Exercise

Get your mind off the roller-coaster and move your body instead. Any physical activity that gets your heart rate pumping will do. Run. Walk. Swim. Dance. Heck, even housework would do. Plus, you get the added bonus of a clean house. Engaging in a little sweat equity regarding your body, can help to tidy your mind.

Breathe

This sort of goes along with the previous suggestion. I mean, try not breathing while you exercise. Does not work. So breathe, breathe, breathe. Fresh air is always preferable, but really the focused act of breathing will do wonders to calm and refresh, to centre and relax. Once you’re there, you can tackle the jumble of thoughts into an organized and manageable list of tasks.

Smell the Roses

No, this isn’t an extension of breathing, but rather a call to slow down. And don’t just indulge the olfactory. Treat all your senses. Go to an art museum. Listen to music. Take a walk in nature. Enjoy a meal. Better yet, enjoy these things with a friend. Slowing down enough to share these moments makes them even richer and gives your mind an opportunity to expand. An expanded mind is less likely to suffer the claustrophobia that a cluttered mind does. An expanded mind will see obstacles as challenges and opportunities for growth.

Change Tracks

Resume a hobby you enjoy. Try something you’ve always wanted to try. Take a one day course. My personal favorite is give yourself the perfect day that your ten-year-old self would have loved. Remember back then when you said when I grow up I’m going to be able to do whatever I want? Guess what, today’s that day. The beauty of this suggestion is that you can actually schedule these mental tidies before the clutter has a chance to become overwhelming. Your life will still be waiting for you when you return but your approach will be smoother as you pull into the station, ready to resume your regular schedule with renewed zeal.

Be thankful

When life is too much, we forget that our stress comes from caring about a life we essentially love. Count your blessings. Even better than counting sheep. When we focus on the positive things going on in our lives, we gain perspective on the noisy negatives. A de-cluttered mind is also so much more empowered to constructively deal with the elements in our lives we want to improve.

Have you ever felt the need for a mental tidy? What do you do to get yourself mentally refreshed, re-aligned and de-cluttered?

Turning The Legitimacy Corner

What do you do when something you do, that you are passionate about, that occupies your every waking moment, is seen as a hobby by others but a vocation by you?

How can you expect people to take you seriously, when your job is described as playing?

When do hobbies turn the ‘legitimacy corner’ and become jobs?

Not only do I consider myself a writer but I am also a musician. Awesome. Double-whammy!

I can’t tell you how many times, after I’ve shared my musical and authorial endeavors, I have been told that’s a nice hobby. Each time, I would have to grit my teeth and bite back a response. I wanted to explain my situation, defend my position, justify my stance. Maybe it’s my age, but now I just smile and nod and make my deposit, or cough and wait for the stethoscope to move to another spot on my back, or kiss my family member on the cheek. I suppose it’s hard for others to appreciate that although this ‘music/writing thing’ is not my day job, it is my career. I treat it as such. I have in fact been paid for it in the past. I endeavor to one day be paid for my efforts again.

This is often the case with art; you create and hope that at some point you might be able to make money from it. This is not as unusual as it may sound. And it certainly isn’t unusual to me. Art as a vocation is fraught with rejection. Rejection means that for whatever reason they don’t want what you’re selling. And when that happens, whether it is losing out on a gig or not finding a publisher for your story, you don’t get paid.  There are no guarantees that any of our efforts will be financially rewarded. That’s just the way it is.

The difficulty is the average person doesn’t have a frame of reference for this. They go to work and every two weeks, there’s a paycheck. Easy, peazy, lemon squeazy.  There is a clear line of sight between work and remuneration. So not only don’t they understand what it takes to do what you do, they don’t understand why you are doing it. You aren’t famous. You aren’t making lots of money. Why bother? Even the mere existence of your day job calls into question whether you are really committed. So, to be fair, the confusion of friends, family and strangers is understandable. It’s just not helpful.

Perhaps they don’t see the uncertainty and confusion that we wrestle with every time we step up to the easel, sit down to the computer, or strap the guitar around our necks. They aren’t there as we struggle to find the right word, or melody, or inspiration. For the most part, if we’re lucky, they only see the end result, a finished (or nearly so) piece of art without all the messy false starts, crumpled up pages and plethora of profanity that goes along with the previous. Often, the one thing we are sure of is that we are quite sufficiently skilled in doubting ourselves and our art. And the biggest doubt is about where the heck is that legitimacy corner and when will I turn it.

So if you are feeling exceptionally doubty in the deep, shy, insidyness of you, check out this podcast from Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl. Shawn has a way of putting your doubts, if not to rest, at least to their room for a nap. You might even share it with a friend or family member. Listening to it might help to give them perspective on what it means to be an artist and to relieve some of their own misgivings about your endeavours.

Regardless of others’ opinions, in my heart of hearts I know my art is my true vocation. I am in good company. Many great artist have had to support their art with day jobs. Some art didn’t make any money  until well after the artist’s death. Not that that is something I’m hoping for, but it does, in a strange way, help me to keep the faith (and eat my vegetables and get exercise so that I can live long enough for others to appreciate what I do). And regardless of whether or not I make boatloads of cash, (enough to be able to tell all doubters to suck-it) I know I am treating it as my profession.

Look – you are not going to be able to convince everyone that your art is legit. They’ve got their own baggage. And really why would you want to. You are too busy working your craft, improving your skills and fueling your inspiration. They don’t have to take it seriously. Only you do.

Artist With A Day Job

I have mentioned that I am an AWADJ –  Artist With a Day Job. And the truth of the matter is that until Blockchain Technology or some system that can ensure compensation for intellectual property comes into play, most of us while endeavouring to secure paid work, probably have other forms of employment. But I’m not here to complain about that. The reality is artists or artist-preneurs or author-preneurs or whatever label seems apt, must often supplement or support their vocation/career with a ‘day job’. This also includes jobs that are shift or at night. In fact the new paradigm might be to have multiple jobs at the same time and we artists have been doing this forever. So instead of bemoaning the fact, I have chosen to look at it as a welcome reality.

Reasons Why We Need You

Money – duh. You can easily google stats on what the average artist makes a year and without supplementing or supporting our art, it isn’t a living. There is however another advantage to the artist than the money and stability [and maybe even health benefits] a day job offers; the outside world. We can get so locked into what we are doing that we forget about the world. Not only is this harmful to our mental health it is harmful to our art. Without some inspiration often found just outside our door, it is hard to create. Where better for the writer to find inspiration for that twisted character? Where else can the musician experience angst for that poignant lyric? Where else can an actor study people? A day job forces an artist to step through their door and into the world.

Reasons Why You Need Us

Some artists have day jobs in the same field as their vocation. A musician might teach music in a school. A writer could write copy for an advertising firm. A visual artist might be a web designer by day.  Here, the benefit to an employer is obvious.  Some artist however opt for something that allows creative energy to be saved for after work.  What’s the benefit to the employer here? Someone happy to do a mundane task, satisfied that they are getting paid to do something necessary to the success of the company but perhaps not the most glamourous of jobs. Don’t however overlook these employees. Even while sorting mail or answering the phone, an artist might see problems differently, and in so doing create a solution using outside the box methods that bypass the group think that can manifest in some industries.

What You Might Have To Put Up With

You might be worried about artists being flighty or non-committal or easily distracted. Other words for these are creative, adaptable and curious.  These are key soft skills most employers site as desirable. Now, I’m not saying all artist will absolutely bring these skills to the table. Artist are as diverse as any other group of people. However, by the nature of being an artist, they do tend to engage these soft skills. Of course, there are other real dangers to having an artist in your employ. You might find yourself cornered in the lunch room with requests to see our play, buy our cd,  come to our art show, or read our story but as any of these art forms take a long time to produce, it’s not like we’d be hounding you every week.

If only we were lucky enough to gig that often, well, we wouldn’t need the day job now, would we.

Winter Blahs

It’s like the hamster running the wheel in my mind is curled up in the corner of the cage, staring at its toes. In other words, I’m finding it hard to get going.

I don’t know if it’s the weather. Overcast with only rare hints of sunshine that I can never quite time right to appreciate anything outdoors. It makes me feel less then enthused about getting out. Maybe it’s going to and from work at what has been described as dark o’clock. I don’t think I have SAD but I do find myself tired – like – all the time.

Not that I would ever suggest giving up any vacation time, but sometimes the Christmas break only reminds you of how much you’d rather not go to work. Adversely, you find yourself missing the routine because all that freedom is daunting. As an AWADJ you may be filling in all your free hours with all the stuff you can never seem to get to and you’re suffering from burn-out. No matter the reason, it’s hard to pull back far enough to see things accurately.  It’s a dismal case of can’t see the forest for the trees.

Trees? We’re talking about trees now? What trees? All the trees that contribute to that lost in the woods feeling; not knowing which way to turn, what direction is the right one and whether or not you should just stay put and not move at all. So in an effort to dissect that feeling, let’s look at some trees.

The Birch has a relatively short lifespan in the tree world. You might be feeling that time is running out, getting away from you, slipping through your fingers. I’m hearing like the sands in an hourglass, so are the days of our lives… But I am dating myself so let’s move on. Birch however grow in temperate deciduous forests which experience drastic changes both seasonally and climatically and are populated by diverse wildlife. Perhaps you need to mix things up, change your routine, do something new. That just might shake you out of your mood.

The Pine seems so perfect, all triangular and smug in their never-ending greenness. Are you waiting for the perfect time to do… whatever? When you’re in the mood? When there’s enough time? When you’ve had enough sleep? When it’s quiet? Pine grow in boreal forests where, on the surface, circumstances are less than perfect. They however can not only withstand harsh conditions, but thrive in them. Maybe you’re not giving yourself enough credit for your hardiness or you ingenuity. Maybe you need a challenge. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Create it.

The Kapok tree is the tallest in the rainforest, that’s saying something when the canopy may be over 100 feet/30 metres above the ground. Imagine the view from up there. And maybe that’s what you need; a different view. Can’t see where you’re going? Look up. Look around. Change your perspective. Trees reach for the sun. Try to do the same.  This time of year, that can feel impossible, but you don’t have to do this on your own. Seek help, company, inspiration and vitamin ‘D’.

So as we consider forests and their trees, remember trees also rest. The natural world has an ebb and flow that we as humans and our 24/7 lifestyle so easily forget. If you are finding it hard to get going – maybe don’t do something – do nothing. That includes beating yourself up. You are a creature of nature and just as the trees take their time to rest and replenish, maybe you should too.

I’m thinking I’m going to have to take my own advice and pencil that in – like – now.

Holiday Traditions – The Gift of Time

When you look back over the years, what do you remember about the gifts you got this time of year? Probably not much. But you might remember the friends and family visiting, the special meals or even photos with Santa.  Holiday traditions anchor us to the season and to each other. From the food, to the lights. From the music, to the hugs. Memories are made at every turn, engaging all the senses and making them all the more vivid and unforgettable. Traditions give us a link to our past and something to always look forward to from year to year to year. They can be an extremely personal matter, yet a shared event that enrich our lives and the lives of those closest to us.

Imagine all that enhanced with true communication, real sharing and more closeness with friends and family.

The holidays might be the one time of the year when everyone gets together. And if you come from a large or extended family or perhaps gather with your friends, you are dealing with a lot of bodies. There is something joyous about the raucous chaos of holiday gatherings, but in the excitement of sharing a year’s worth of your life, you might not be listening to what is going on with anyone else.

I mentioned emotional intelligence in a previous blog. Empathy is one element of emotional intelligence and perhaps the most difficult to tackle. One way to employ empathy is to practice active listening. In active listening, you pay attention to what someone is saying.  You listen to understand. You engage your heart and your mind and even your body. Everything about you should be saying, I’m here to give you my full attention. If you are interested in getting more specifics about active listening you may want to check out this site.

But maybe you’re thinking you don’t need to work on this. How can you tell if you haven’t been listening? Cast your mind back to last year.

  • If the only thing significant from an encounter is the memory of the hideous reindeer sweater your brother-in-law was wearing, you might not have been listening to what he was talking about.
  • If you can recall your meal to perfect detail but not so much any stories about your friends’ kids, perhaps you weren’t as engaged as you should have been.
  • If the only thing you can remember is how shocked everyone was at your office drama, maybe you weren’t asking enough questions about what was going on in their lives.

In the fast paced rumble tumble of holiday festivities, it’s hard to get to everyone, to have those intense moments of one on one. Heck, sometimes it’s impossible to finish a sentence. Giving everyone adequate soapbox time feels as impossible as serving a perfect holiday meal, but maybe, like a meal, all it takes is a little planning. Maybe all it takes is time.

Perhaps create a game where everyone is given a moment to talk about a significant personal event and everyone else engages in active listening. What about using a talking stick or a candy cane or a giant Toblerone bar that you pass around? What about drawing names and at certain times through the night, each person shares something that they are grateful for to the group? What about using mistletoe for something other than kissing? Or a necklace of tinsel? These ideas might seem silly, but I’m sure when you get together, there are people who dominate conversation and those who can’t get a word in edge-wise. Using some sort of game might give everyone a chance to talk, and everyone a chance to practice active listening.

Active listening can be the beginning of a new holiday tradition and the greatest gift you can give. So give your loved ones your time. Listen. Be attentive. Be empathetic. Being generous of spirit will cost you nothing, but an investment like that in your friends and family could pay-off richly throughout the year in deeper more meaningful relationships.

And to that, I wish you all the best and see you in the new year.