On Mission

Productivity

You will not find your mission by standing still. The only way to find it is by challenging yourself in something – I would almost say it does not matter what. Then by making consistent effort, the direction you should take will open up before you quite naturally, just as wide, new horizons open up before someone walking up a hill. Little by little you will come to understand your mission. That is why it is so important to have the courage to ask yourself what it is that you should really be doing right now, at this very moment.

It is likewise important to set your sights high. The greater the tasks you chose to take on – one step at a time – the more rewarding and joyful your life will be. A person with a strong sense of mission is a source of light. For such a person, there is no darkness in the world.

– A Sense of Purpose in A Piece of Mirror by Daisaku Ikeda

Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.
Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.

Two days after my 41st birthday, I ventured to Aspen, Colorado. I had never visited the state, nor participated in a Socratic seminar. Most of the texts we digested in preparation for the week-long session were “classics,” yet foreign to me for one reason or another. In more ways than one, the experience was an education.

Although I wrote primarily of the texts and our conversations around them, I also made heartfelt connections. Several of the women stand out, and two of them left me with words of encouragement related to mission. I spoke with them separately and about very different things, yet their guidance was quite similar. Although I “know” what they shared, it was a warm nudge and a great reminder to take action. Do the work, don’t just think about it, or wonder about it. Don’t just dream it. Live it.

If you discover an idea in a moment of inspiration, that’s your story to tell. Tell it! ~Stevie Kallos

Hermana, we are in this world together to create the opportunities that matter. ~Lisette Nieves

In short we all have something to contribute – something to do. Not only that, we don’t have to walk that road alone. Allies are nearby if we are open to them.

So it’s Monday, which is a great day for beginnings. It’s time to get moving. What is your work? How will you be productive this month, this week, this day?


Here’s the round up from the series:

  • The Aspen Seminar. Things get underway this evening and I plan to document my experiences while I’m here.
  • Opening. We just concluded the opening session of the seminar. We’ll be here another six days so there’s a lot in store.
  • First Full Day. Today’s session was on human nature. Our readings included Aristotle, Hobbs and Darwin.
  • Toklat. Today’s readings investigated individual rights and liberty.
  • Three Poisons. In Nichiren Buddhism, the three poisons are greed, anger and foolishness.
  • Over the Hump. Our morning focus was equality and social welfare. Notably today also featured poetry, fiction and writings from women.
  • Antigone. Perhaps the highlight of the day was our late afternoon performance of Antigone.
  • Leading from Within. Today was the closing session of the Aspen Seminar.

On puzzling

Personal Narrative, Productivity

crowd pleasersSo we puzzle. The kids are gifted puzzles for birthdays and what have you, and the four of us sit around at various intervals and piece them together.

Our latest enterprise? Tour de la Tour, a 1000-piece Crowd Pleasers that features countless bikers who are dressed alike and are engaged in sometimes similar, oftentimes strange activities. This puzzle is sort of challenging, yet also sort of easy because many of the pieces have tell-tale images:

  • A small red bell on a bike that’s otherwise the same as all the other bikes.
  • A black shark fin in a stretch of sandy pathways.
  • A dark sheep in the middle of all the ivory ones, and so on.

I’ll have to admit, this puzzle has drawn me in more than the others we’ve done so far. Perhaps more than the others, all at once, the eyes no longer cooperate. Suddenly you simply can’t find the edge of that yellow brim on that rounded edge even though you’re sure it’s somewhere “over there.”

The smart ones walk away, and do something else for a while. Perhaps housework or homework or work work. And as you return to consider the puzzle once again, the edge of the yellow brim practically leaps into your hand, as do those other three pieces you saw but didn’t recognize during your last round at the table.

Creation is like that. Or doing anything that requires serious engagement. Sustained focus is helpful and even necessary for some projects or tasks (or conversations), but there comes a time when too long on task leads to diminishing returns. It’s helpful to take a break in the action, put some distance between you and the activity and returned refreshed, ready for a new perspective. And in fact, when I’m working, I’ll often turn to puzzles to clear my head, shift my thinking, or change my energy levels.

What about you? Do you enjoy puzzling? Are there any strategies you use with puzzles that you apply to daily life?

Discipline, composure and victory.

Personal Narrative

It’s not often you’ll find me in front of a television, but this weekend I caught a few minutes of the Penn Relays. I was in for a treat. As a high school runner, I enjoy a good track meet and I immediately bond with a team or athlete, wringing my hands and/or cheering until a given event is over.

I tuned in just in time for the Women’s Sprint Medley Relay. For the uninitiated, each member of a relay team runs a specified distance, then passes the baton to the next member, who does the same. Sometimes all members of a relay run the same distance as in this brilliant world record win by the USA Women’s Olympic Team:

But for a medley, the legs vary, and you must employ different strategies depending on your distance. This particular race featured two 200s, a 400-meter and then the 800-meter anchor leg.

By the time Ajeé Wilson received the baton, she had a serious job to do. The final runner, she had 800 meters to run, and she was behind the leader by a good 15-20 meters.

You have to pace yourself on the 800. It’s two full laps around the track. If you start too fast, you’ll be completely out of gas by the final 200 meters. And if you go too slowly, hoping to keep some kick until the end, you’ll get too far behind to catch up. You’ve got to determine your pace and run your race.

I’d never seen Ajeé run so I didn’t know how it would go. She grabbed the baton and dashed off, then locked into a steady pace. I noted how comfortable she looked, as though that were her normal, speedy, yet measured stride. The problem was, she wasn’t making up any distance.

I was tense. This was my team and I wanted us to win! Was she going to dig a little and pick up the pace, or maintain this speed and distance and possibly never catch up?

Me, mesmerized. She, calm, composed, maintaining her stride, looking almost relaxed. “She looks really comfortable,” I repeated twice more. But I had no idea if I was glad of that or not.

That is until the back turn.

Suddenly there she was, kicking on the final stretch. She closed the gap, walked down the front runner, and went on to win the race for her team. It was truly a magnificent run.  There were lessons in its brilliance:

  1. Don’t give up. There were time and distance left on the clock, and she didn’t sell herself short. Ajeé remained calm and composed. She ran through until the very end.
  2. Be undeterred. After the second 200, the team was behind, and although they made up a little ground during the 400, it looked bleak. Regardless of the circumstances, Ajeé knew her pace and ran it. I can only assume she experienced a fair amount of physical and mental stress, but she kept focus and heart, and excelled.

 

I’m proud of the team and inspired by Ajeé’s talent and confidence under pressure. May we all be so graceful during life’s daily races.

Dreams, obligations and learning to say no.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Text Talk

How many minutes per day are enough to set aside for your dreams when you have a full 25 hours of obligations?

Blue posed this question to me last week. I was between two appointments and missing Tananarive Due’s Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activism at Spelman College. (#OctaviaButlerSpelman). I was disappointed, but thanks to social media, I caught some of the proceedings later via live stream.

Blue’s question was a good one. He offered a response: Maybe the secret is minimizing your obligation footprint.

But how?

In the past my approach has been to start with dreams instead of waiting to fit them in later. “Later” isn’t tangible. In fact, by definition, later is always some time other than the present. Starting with dreams means waking before sunrise to tackle priorities. Or it means designing the day with hard breaks for non-negotiables.

In general, obligations take up more space than they’re due. Portrayed as sprawling affairs, they cover time and consciousness they simply don’t deserve. They’re akin to shadow puppets. They play games with light, appearing bigger or smaller in response to our motivation and energy levels.

But let’s be real. Creative scheduling and clarity of purpose do not absolve us of obligations. And despite our best efforts, sometimes they pull rank, and demand healthy portions of our limited attention. But then, what happens to our dreams?

Time is a finite resource, and minimizing your obligation footprint can mean being more efficient, but it also means cutting away that which doesn’t truly move you forward.

yes-238371_640I’ve spent the past couple of days cuddled up with Pearl Cleage’s latest. I’m underlining and starring key points, and alternating between laughing (or gasping) aloud and reading aloud as audience permits.

In the first section of the book she whines, schemes and strives to create time for things that are most important. Eventually, she quits a job that makes her unhappy so she can focus on living her life instead of lamenting about it.

Last May I came across  Learning to Say No, an essay Pearl penned for Essence Magazine in 2004. In it, she said she was a recovering yes-woman:

I realized there was only one way to stop saying yes when I meant no, and that was to understand that I wasn’t just giving up an hour or two here, or a Saturday afternoon there, but the precious, irreplaceable moments of my life. And I decided to stop doing it.

She lights on a specific moment in her life and the circumstances of the essay dovetail with the journal entries detailing her resignation and new departure. She said no to obligations that didn’t serve her, so she could say yes to the priorities that would. We can learn to do that with the big issues of our lives, but it’s also good practice for vetting the energy vampires in our day-to-day. More wisdom from Pearl’s essay:

That night I came up with six questions that I hoped would help me reclaim my life. I call them The Big Six, and I offer them here for one simple reason: They work. Next time someone asks you a question that requires a yes or no answer, ask yourself the following:

    1. What am I being asked to do?
    2. Who is making the request?
    3. Who will benefit from this activity?
    4. What do I want to do?
    5. What will happen if I say no?
    6. What will happen if I say yes?

Wishing you the perfect balance of no, yes and joyful reclamation.

xoxo

Great beginnings

Productivity

It’s a marvelous Monday. Did you start off strong? If not, maybe it’s time to revamp your opening rituals. Successful people spend the first hour of their day in preparation and edification.

Postpone email and other non urgent tasks. There are more productive ways to begin your day than to see what other people need or want from you. Give yourself some time to gear up before launching into administrivia. The truly urgent messages will make their way to you, but the others can wait.

Practice mindfulness and gratitude. No matter where you are in time and space, there’s something you can be grateful for. What is it? Bear it in mind as you begin your day.

Eat that frog. Determine the most important task for the day and devise a clear plan for getting it done first. Although one strategy is to get all the small things done first, Mark Twain’s advice: ‘Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.’

Check in with yourself. Are you on the path to professional fulfillment? If not, think about what you need to do differently. It’s possible to be grateful about things in your life while being honest with yourself about your circumstances. Think about changes you need to make to orient yourself toward your dreams.

Check in with your colleagues. Connect with co-workers, mentors, and other contacts. Work is not simply about the tasks, but about people, too.

Read more about it at Fast Company.

On clarity and sabotage

30 Day Blog Challenge

This has been a year of transition.  Every season thus far has boasted some sort of change, and that remains true with the advent of fall. Recent professional shifts have left me considering next steps, which, in many ways, will be a return to previous steps. As I checked in with self about my current professional path, the thought above came to me.

When I say “supposed to be doing” I don’t mean according to some external metric.  These days it’s easy to be swayed by the expectations of Big Brother. We’re a surveillance-happy society, wherein we’ve virtually relinquished self-control and self-expression in favor of conformity via the policing of bodies and thoughts by peers, or nonconformity and the punishment industry. So no, I don’t mean what someone else thinks I’m supposed to be doing.

I mean the thing or things I truly desire deep down. The things I feel pulled toward when I am otherwise occupied. Over the years, that pull hasn’t been very strong, so I put plans on the back burner. Eventually I’ll get to this, that, or the other thing. But I have new goals and new plans to meet these goals, and right now daily life isn’t in alignment. In a moment of stillness, I felt that pull.

To the degree that I am clear on my desires, and my mission in life, my bouts of self-sabotage become more difficult to sustain.

It’s time to get in sync.

Good credit. #NaBloPoMo #amwriting.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Productivity

NaBloPoMo March 2013When good things happen, people tend to underestimate how much credit is due to their own efforts, and overestimate the influence of outside forces.

  • That was just luck.
  • It’s only because someone else did thus and such.
  • I was in the right place at the right time.

Meanwhile, when something negative happens, the opposite is suddenly true. They get plenty of credit for the poor outcome, while the external forces are let off the proverbial hook.

  • It’s all my fault.
  • I always do thus and such wrong.
  • If only I had done this, that or the other thing.

In either case, the scales are always tipped to favor luck for good things, and self for bad.

Why is that?

We are co-creators in this world. That means just as there are some things outside of our control, there are other things that we have the ability to influence. We owe it to ourselves to get clear on our power in either case. We deserve credit for the victories in our lives. Perhaps we were in the right place at the right time, but we were also prepared and ready for the opportunity when it came along.

History is created by people. Each individual is a key protagonist in that endeavor. Instead of relying on others, we must enact our own great drama of creativity. Then we can break through the shell of our limited self, advancing and improving ourselves day after day. ~Daisaku Ikeda

We have agency. Don’t relinquish your power, content to subject yourself to the whims of the universe.  Sure, good and bad things “happen.” But be just as sure that you contribute to the good things. The more you recognize your power to co-create the wins in your life, the more victories you can accumulate.

Yes, Lady Luck deserves some of the credit, and so do you. Give credit where credit is due.

Beets and baby steps. #NaBloPoMo

30 Day Blog Challenge, Productivity

Baby steps count. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating from time to time.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m traveling a lot these days. When I’m home, I try to detox to some degree. This weekend I had the great intention to make hot pink smoothies. What makes a smoothie hot pink? One half of one raw beet!

#hotpinksmoothie

My time is limited on the weekends, and I was excited to make it to my local grocer to get beets and the other ingredients. Once home, I unloaded the groceries and immediately departed. No time to clean beets and fire up the blender.

I rushed around handling other business, lamenting my unprepared beets. Hours passed in this way. Then one day. Then two. Not until I was just about ready to depart did I finally get the beets ready.

I was disappointed I didn’t make my smoothies before I left, but guess what? Everything is ready for my next visit home. It’s a little step, but one big enough to put me ahead of the game next weekend.

The Joy Jar

Personal Narrative, Productivity, Temple Building
In 2013, I shall fill my joy jar to overflowing.
What, you may be wondering, is a joy jar? It is a piggy bank of sorts. Instead of money, in go notes, mementos, and expressions of joy about the wonderful things that have happened throughout the year. Melanie Duncan explains it this way:
Image
A beautiful idea, and a creative twist on the gratitude journal. I am currently in search of an appropriate vessel, and I’m excited in advance, about all the things it will contain. A few reminders are in order:
  • No victory is too small, and every joy is worth documenting.
  • Attention brings awareness to the joy already present in daily life. Look around in wonder and with a grateful heart.
  • It’s not a race to fill up the bowl. Quantity and quality are not mutually exclusive.

Melanie’s idea is that this is an end-of-year ritual, but one needn’t wait 52 weeks before reaping. Perhaps I will review the contents of my joy jar on special occasions like: my birthday, my anniversary, the last day of the month, a rainy day, a random Monday in July…

I shall celebrate every milestone. Every victory. Every inspired moment. Every single one. I shall count joys early and often, and in so doing, accumulate all the more.

Wishing you peace, love and joy in 2013.

xoxo

A Request

Feminist Thought, Personal Narrative

You are not an impostor and you are not alone. This, despite any feelings or supposed evidence you may have to the contrary.

I wish someone had shared this with me before I started graduate school. I wish it had been the hook of a song I was required to sing each morning upon waking. I wish I had repeated it, hand over heart, at the beginning of each class period; a pledge and a reminder.

As it was, I didn’t figure these things out until quite near the end of it all, after many days (years) of wondering what the hell I was doing there. Really.

A former student of mine solicited advice on finishing up away from peers and profs. It’s a good question. There’s enough isolation during the process when you’re surrounded by support; never mind away, with a new job to boot. Vulnerability is not easy among strangers, especially in a professional setting. And there’s something to be said about the implied distance within virtual spaces.

I’ve developed a response, but I’m going to let it marinate overnight.