Look and Listen: Lessons from Birds

I had an amazing experience in early June, I went on a birding expedition with the Lower Neuse Bird Club. When my companion Roy suggested I go, I was a bit intimidated since “I know just enough about birds to be dangerous.” That means I know the difference between a cardinal and a blue jay (the former being red and the latter being blue). My knowledge starts and ends about there. Getting up at dark o’clock and heading out to a preserve with a bunch of folks I don’t know, to look for elusive bounty seemed impulsive. I figured I’d be lucky to see one yellow bellied sapsucker or some other assumed mythical creature. I was wrong.

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Lower Neuse Bird Club. Photo by Mike Creedon

This is what I learned from my birding adventure:

  • Expert. This whole adventure would have been foolhardy without a few experts along. We met up with the caravan from New Bern, NC in Otway, NC and then traveled to the North River Preserve in Carteret County, NC. Our expert for this trip was John Fussell. This guy is mighty in his knowledge of all things birding. Our first stop on the preserve had Fussell with iPod in hand shouting out bird names like, who has never seen a Dickcissel or Blue Grosbeak? I meekly put up my hand. I had no idea if that was a bird or a disease. Well, I soon learned that Fussell had already scouted the area that morning and was calling the birds with his mighty iPod. It was fascinating. Calling up bird like ordering up fries at a drive through. Having an expert along when birding is critical.
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Indigo Bunting. Photo by Mike Creedon.
  • Patience. As I have written previously, patience has never been my strong suit. Well, when you go birding, you better be patient. Fussell would be trying to call up a bird and there all fifteen of us stood at the ready with binoculars, high-powered cameras and scopes waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then suddenly someone would call out the bird and its location. I was skeptical that my patience, albeit finite, would pay off. Sure enough, after struggling to find an elusive Indigo Bunting on the top of the large pine next to the tallest grass on the right of the electrical pole and five feet to the left of the ditch. Magic. There is the bluest bird I have ever seen. Not in captivity but there flitting in the top of the brush singing its song. Patience pays off.

 

  • Observant. Veteran birders are super observant. I figured a newbie like me might be lucky to see much more than one or two birds. I have never been super observant. I will say that when I am in the market for a new car or phone, all I notice is that particular car or phone. The same thing applies to birdwatching. With a few experts along, suddenly all the brush and grass disappeared and there was a Dickcissel perched on a branch. Focusing on movement and the environment around you. It’s funny, all of a sudden, there would be a bird flying overhead and someone would call out “Common Yellow Throat.” Paying attention paid off with all kinds of sightings.

 

  • Notes. It didn’t take long to notice that many of the birders were taking notes. Pretty soon, I had my phone out to take notes myself. I had no idea that I would see so many unusual birds and that I would want to remember the names. It’s like everyone was keeping tabs on the various birds they observed. Initially, I figured, what was the point? But then I realized, I might want to find out more about the birds later. And…I just might want to write a post about this experience. So, I better keep track. There were at least five to six people keeping track. By the end of the trip, I had at least twelve birds I had never seen before. And I can pull up a name like Indigo Bunting without having to use my faulty memory. Keep notes of your observations. It will keep things fresh.

 

  • Listen. I had no idea that most of birding centers around listening. This may be obvious to you. We all have heard birds singing first thing in the morning. I rarely listen to a bird’s song. Well, these birders? They know a bird’s song! They have little things that they believe the bird is singing. It’s similar to a Mourning Dove’s sound, which sounds like weeping. I can’t remember what some of the more experienced birders said, but it was interesting how once they gave an identity to what a bird sounded like — “That’s a dog, that’s a dog, that’s a dog” — that was all I could hear. The real lesson here is to just listen. Now all I hear is bird’s singing and notice how one is different from another. It’s easy to just skim over the sound but if you focus in and listen, they are all unique.

I cannot begin to tell you how helpful everyone on the expedition was. If you asked, “What is that?”, someone would chime in. If someone didn’t know, they would say so. It’s like we were all there just to experience whatever came our way. I have to say, it was a lot of fun and opened my eyes to what is really going on out there. Get outside and start to notice what is around you.

I am Intelligent and Witty. Blind Spots and the Johari Window.

I worked on a coaching certification several years ago and the classwork involved the Johari Window. The Johari Window is an instrument developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham and it helps you understand the way you view yourself and how others view you (or don’t). It has 56 adjectives and if you’d like to try, go to this link. So our assignment at the time was to coach a classmate through the Johari Window and my classmate, Stephen Starkey, coached me.

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Blind spots on the Johari Window are those adjectives that others selected to describe you. Of the friends and family that participated, the majority chose intelligent and witty to describe me. I was taken aback by this and my coach Steve helped me uncover why. Although I think I’m smart and that I can be witty, I don’t really own it. It’s OK for me to describe someone else with those adjectives, but it seems egotistical to own them myself. Wow. Was that a breakthrough! I thought it was OK for me to describe others as intelligent but I couldn’t embrace it myself. How is that holding me back?

This brings up a recent book I read by Sheryl Sandberg called Lean In. She describes how women hold themselves back and offers advice on how to “lean in”. I can remember being in the top of my class in elementary school and then, suddenly, flicking the switch. Smart girls (intelligent girls) weren’t valued. At least from my skewed eleven-year-old perspective. Time to lean into and recognize my attributes.

If you think your blind spots are holding you back, let’s look at some ways to embrace them:

  1. Own. The first thing I did was set up an action item to own the words. My action item was to incorporate the words into my daily meditation. You might need to incorporate them into your daily prayers, affirmations or gratitude at the end of the day. You can’t live the words unless you own them. Obviously, others already know you own them so it’s time for you  to pick them up and carry them around.
  2. Utilize. So start using them. If one of your adjectives in your blind spot is “happy”, then go out and “be happy.” Live it so that you feel it. Smile to yourself in the mirror. Don’t forget, it’s you that you need to prove this to. Most others already know that you are “happy.” Utilize the adjective so that it comes alive in you.
  3. Free. Set it free. I have to say I found this to be quite empowering since acknowledging these two blind spots. Suddenly it’s not as hard to write or develop a solution to a problem. I’ve said to myself, “Cathy, you’re intelligent and witty, writing a blog post shouldn’t be that hard…pssssht.” Like I said, it’s like a road block as been removed. Now I am free.
  4. Get over it. I have to say I was terrified to write this post. I initially felt like an egomaniac, actually putting these two words out there. I can’t embrace it unless I “get over it.” Everyone out there has attributes and it’s obvious to everyone else that you are “happy, compassionate and adaptable.” Get over it, they already see it. You’re not an ego maniac (yeah, it’s not one of the adjectives available).
  5. Live. Live your acknowledged adjectives. Keep them alive and depend on them going forward. Don’t forget to make them apart of your everyday life. This is what you “are”, so live it. Quit trying to hide your “happiness” or “silly” sense of humor. There is a reason you were gifted these adjectives, so go live it.

I hope you check out the Johari Window and see what blind spots you might be ignoring or hiding. Can’t wait to see what you find.

My daughter. My hero.

My daughter, Natalie, is my stable rock. My ballast. My hero. She has recently turned twenty-five and moved to Seattle about a year ago.  I had the great fortune to spend a recent weekend with her in New Mexico where she was born.  It was great fun to return to a state that has many natural marvels and be able to give context to how her life began.  Some twenty-six years earlier, my first husband and I moved to Albuquerque to run a restaurant and try our luck as entrepreneurs.  The restaurant eventually failed and put immense pressure on our marriage.  The wonderful shining glory that came out of that ill fated move to Albuquerque was a delightful, precious blue-eyed baby girl with an infectious smile and laugh.

Outside of a return trip to New Mexico when Natalie was eight, she has not returned.  She has faint memories of that trip and certainly does not remember her first four months of life in the Land of Enchantment. We had a lot of fun returning to where it all began. It also brought up some of the reasons I have depended on her for so much in her quarter century on the Earth.

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Here are the ways Natalie is my hero:

Open. Natalie is open to any and all adventures. We did not have much of an agenda once we landed at Albuquerque’s Sunport except for a restaurant reservation or two.  Whether it was strolling the plaza in Santa Fe or taking a hike around a reservoir, Natalie was open.  She had no deadlines, no agenda, no must-see spots.  I feel like so many people in life have hidden agendas or hidden intentions.  Not Natalie. Anything goes. Wanna hike?  Sure.  Shop? You bet. Sleep in? OK. It makes me rethink how open I am to what is next. Be open.

Decisive.  Natalie may be open to all the options but once she has made up her mind, or the group has made up their mind, she goes after it. We had decided to hike Tent Rocks located outside of Santa Fe with my brother, Rick.  Once the decision was made, there was no going back.  I’m pretty sure that even if it was raining or 110 degrees, Natalie would have made it to the top of that slot canyon. She was committed. Even a random crossing of a rattlesnake on our path could not deter her from her destiny. Once you have weighed out all your options, be decisive.

Empathy. I have always had an issue with balance. I pause at the top of steps and escalators to get my barring. There were several times along the hike that Natalie grabbed my hand. I didn’t ask. She knew. When navigating very narrow footings, she said, “just one foot in front of the other.” I didn’t ask. She knew. As we hiked she would insist on a water break.  Not for her. For me. She pays attention. She senses the discomfort. She anticipates the need. It’s such a gift that I don’t know she is even aware she has it. Be in tune to those around you.

Navigator. Natalie and I had explored a trail near Santa Fe around a reservoir.  The trail was not well marked.  Towards the end of the hike we lost the trail. Pretty soon we were hiking through low uncharted brush and no fellow hikers were to be seen.  We had no GPS.  No cell coverage. I felt a bit of concern. There was no need. Natalie had a feel for where we were and led us back to the trail head and parking lot. There have been many hiccups and storms in my life over the last year and Natalie has been the calm navigator seeing me through. Make sure you have a sound navigator to help you through the storms.

Ballast. Every boat has a ballast to weight the boat upright. Natalie is my ballast. She is rarely rattled by events and keeps an even demeanor.  I can be easily flustered and fly into worst case scenarios. Natalie keeps me balanced by listening and asking questions to help me understand my own thinking. I may be ready to unload all the cargo on the boat or drop anchor but Natalie is the voice of reason.  Who is your ballast.  Maybe you are a ballast for someone else.  It’s important to have a ballast to even things out.

Joy. Natalie has infectious energy. She also happens to be a great selfie taker.  There she is in the center of the photo flashing her enchanting smile.  I cannot look at a photo of her without smiling. She is joy. She is possibility. She is magic. There are very few people that I know who exude that joyful energy. It sparks action. Everything seems possible when there is joy in the room.  I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Find joy.

I am so proud to be Natalie’s mother and, most importantly, that she is in my life. She makes everything brighter and more amazing. Who is your hero?

3 Misconceptions About Happiness

I have written and read about happiness a lot in the last seven years since I began my blog. My editor and friend sent me this link to an interview of Laurie Santos on the Megyn Kelly show. Dr. Santos teaches the largest class at Yale University and she has some great insights. Happiness seems even more elusive in our technology-fueled life when we have a powerful PC in our hands and are over committed in all aspects of our lives. You can imagine the stress a Yale student must be under. Just getting into an Ivy League university is a major feat of stamina, tenacity and grit.

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As written in the New York Times, Yale had such a demand for this class, with one quarter of the undergraduates enrolled, they had to move the location a few times in order to accommodate all the students. As reported, Dr. Santos speculated that Yale students are interested in the class because, in high school, they had to de-prioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called “the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.” It’s important to understand the misconception around happiness as it can shed light on what to NOT do if happiness is your aim.

Here are the three misconceptions as espoused by Dr. Santos:

You don’t need change to be happy. This is like the carrot in front of the horse spurring forward action. We believe that we will be happy when we lose 10..20..30 pounds. We believe that the next job, promotion or pay increase will suddenly create happiness. We decide that getting engaged, married, buying the house, having a child, or getting that kid out of the house post-graduation, will finally bring happiness. We put off our happiness until we attain this elusive change we imagine will bring that great joy. Weddings and births are landmark moments in your life. They are fleeting. Don’t delay what you have right now. Change will come and it is constant. I believe that being in the moment is where happiness lies. Are you alright, right now? Then feel the warmth in your heart, take a deep breath and be in the moment. Don’t delay happiness for the next hurdle.

Don’t procrastinate and veg out. When we are so over-committed, it’s easy to think…oh wow Tuesday night is free. Let me sit on the couch and veg out. Instead of vegging out, happiness lies in challenging ourselves. Think about using your hands. I am a cook and find satisfaction in trying new recipes and stretching my comfort zone through baking bread and making gnocchi (a two-day process). There is great satisfaction even if the end product is not perfect. As written in Psychology Today by Dr. Carrie Barron, “Research has shown that hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful creative, domestic or practical endeavor. Functioning hands also foster a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought.” So is that guitar gathering dust? When is the last time you picked up those knitting needles? Joy is found in the act of challenging yourself. Don’t get wrapped up in the perfection of it. Just do.

Don’t focus on the hassles. I have worked on this a lot in the last decade. I am impatient by nature so getting in a traffic jam ten years ago would send me in an angry spiral. I re-frame it now. I pray that no one is injured in a car crash and am thankful my car is running. If I am late, I am late. Dr. Santos encourages making a gratitude journal of all the things you are grateful for. I have been writing a gratitude journal for at least a decade and it’s made a tremendous change in my outlook. Dr. Santos recommends something I had never heard of before. She calls it negative visualization. So imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have a roof over your head, or your pet passed away, or you lost a parent. Seems counter intuitive but it makes sense as you now have a new appreciation for what you have in your life. It’s easy to take what is in front of us for granted. You have clean water coming out of your faucet, as well as heat and a device that you are reading this on. Isn’t life just grand?

I work with many clients that have small children, intense travel schedules and financial difficulties. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind. Take stock, challenge yourself, and be grateful. Happiness is here.

Tenacity and Grit: Lessons from my Son.

My son Benson has always been a gifted athlete. Although I don’t like that term, because gifted implies that it’s all in his DNA. As if the DNA fairy godmother waved a magic wand and suddenly he was running in the North Carolina State Championship Track Meet with little to no effort. There has been a lot of effort. Hard work. Hours and years of hard work. Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps and Lebron James all have worked hard. Sure, there were Tiger’s hard driving parents and his commitment to golf, Michael Phelps’ abnormally wide wing span (and his mother cheering him on) and Lebron’s height. Those are all part of the package. But at the core of it all is tenacity and grit. It takes tenacity to show up every day, regardless of the circumstances and work; as well as the grit to overcome adversity in order to continue forward. My son has both of these qualities in spades.

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I am writing this after a roller coaster weekend of watching my son compete at the University and U25 National Weightlifting Championships in Ogden, Utah. I am not exactly sure when Benson first started lifting weights. There are plenty of sports that he excelled at, most which had weightlifting as a part of the regime. He was an outstanding football player in high school and an all-state champion in Track and Wrestling. These sports usually have some sort of weightlifting as a part of the preparation. The first time he decided to compete in what is termed Olympic Weightlifting (as opposed to Powerlifting or Body Building), had to be sometime during his freshman year of college at the University of Miami. It requires technical aptitude, strength, grace and resilience.

This is what I have learned from my son:

Show up. Benson always shows up. Two years ago, we were in Northern California for Benson’s twentieth birthday. He is a native Californian and it was his first trip back to the West Coast in over a decade. It did not matter. He was at the gym practically every day. Random gyms. Unknown gyms. He was scouting places to work out and he worked out. There are no excuses for Benson. It’s a rainy day. I was up late last night. I have a ton of work to do. My friends are going to the beach. I’m on vacation. He shows up and does the work. If you want something? Show up.

Support. Regardless of the sport, Benson always has a team supporting him. It might be a coach, team mates, family or friends. As the saying goes, it takes a village. I’m proud to say I am a part of that village. While he does all the work, he has a crowd of folks in his corner cheering him on. It amazes me that I attend at least three competitions a year on the national scale and there are rarely parents in the audience. I’ve seen competitors without even a coach. Support is more that just cheering. It’s knowing that what you do matters to more than just you. Someone is invested in your failure or success. It’s the emotional buoy to get you through. Have support.

Grit. During the U25 National competition, Benson missed all three of his Snatches. I was disheartened. I wanted to go back into the training area and give him a hug. There was no way he could be the overall winner without successfully making at least one Snatch. His forte in competition has been the Snatch and now he only had the Clean and Jerk left. How in the world do you come back from that? I saw several other athletes bomb out on all three attempts. It was a war of attrition. He came back to successfully complete two clean lifts in the Clean and Jerk. That is grit. The ability to rally back. To not slide into the abyss of defeat and wallow there. I’m prouder of the fact that he rallied back than for his eventual Gold Medal. Find your grit.

Focus. Benson is single-minded. When I arrived at the competition, I sat next to him in the audience of the preceding weight class. We did not speak. He with his hood and headphones, me with my smart phone. We went out to dinner the evening before and I asked about his plans. He said, “I don’t know. I’m not looking past tomorrow.” This is a lesson for me. Focus on the immediate goal. The project that is due. The exam. Your workout. Month end. The drive home. Know what you want and focus on it. As for me, for the last ten months, it’s been sobriety. As a friend told me, “Just don’t have a damn drink.” For Benson, it is the competition at hand. Not the one next month. Not reliving the two bronze medals from last year. It’s about this competition right now.

I am amazed that Benson could rally back from the extreme low of failing completely in his first three lifts to come back and get the gold medal. That grit. That tenacity to succeed after failure. That is what I am most proud of. So even if you do fail, dust yourself off and stick with it. Success is around the corner.

Being an Essentialist

I just finished Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. It’s an eye-opening book in times of digital overwhelm and multi-tasking. There is this unrelenting pressure to take on more. One more book placed on top of the tottering stack. One more appointment edged into a jam-packed day. One more load of laundry before going to bed. This is especially difficult for me as my top strength from StrengthsFinder is Maximiser. I am constantly searching for ways to make things even better. Essentialism seems to contradict that.

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Becoming an essentialist is understanding your true north; understanding yourself and what is REALLY important rather than what is important to everyone else. It entails not focusing on other’s expectations but what is truly important to you. From there, you just need to align your actions and thoughts with your passion. Easy? Heck no. Important? Yes.

Thoughts on becoming an essentialist:

Mindset.  “We are facing an unholy alliance between social media, smart phones, and consumerism. It’s not all bad, but certain forces that have come together are producing an unintended result for all of us,” Greg writes. “Our whole society has become consumed by the undisciplined pursuit of more. The only way to overcome this problem is to change the way we think—adopt the mindset of only doing the things that are essential—and do it now.” It’s a mindset of discernment. Selectivity. Culling out the clutter and focusing on engaging what matters most to us. It isn’t flipping a switch. It’s that discernment everyday with everything. It’s a mindset.

Trade-offsFor everything you say “yes” to, you are saying “no” to something else. If you say yes to a business trip during spring break, you are saying no to time off with your kids. If you say yes to finishing that project tonight, it’s a no to dinner with your friend. If you take the job that keeps you home instead of traveling on a monthly basis, it may be a yes to being with family more and a no to making more money or a promotion. It’s time to wake up and realize that you can not have it all. There is always a trade-off. Make sure you trade for what’s truly important to you.

Delay yes.  This hearkens back to the wisdom of my dear friend Janine: “Don’t make a decision until you need to make a decision.” Greg writes, “It’s a good idea to recognize the value of contemplation versus impulse.” This is incredibly hard for someone as impatient as I. I want everything finished…yesterday. All the presents wrapped and under the tree on Thanksgiving. Press pause. Take a breath. Go inside your body and wait. This has paid off immensely for me personally over the last year. I kept trying to push a rope for months. When I leaned back and sat in patience and waited, and waited, and waited. The reward was life changing. Delay yes.

Less. Greg posits, “We’ve been oversold the value of more and undersold the value of less.” The fear of missing out can affect your decisions in your career, entrepreneurial pursuits and your relationships. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no. If it’s a maybe, it’s a no. I love Alton Brown and his show Good Eats. He would never have a kitchen utensil that was a “uni-tasker”. He figured out ways to use a garbage can lid and aluminum foil to smoke a turkey rather than buying a turkey smoker. Less can be more.

Endowment effect.  As Lawton Ursrey wrote in Forbes, “The Endowment Effect is the idea that we value objects and also opportunities higher if we own them versus if we don’t.” As Greg writes, “This is a classic heuristic trick—it’s a myth. The idea that you must own something to find value is not true. Not having something or letting go of something has real and sometimes the most value.” I faced this head on over the last nine months as I de-cluttered my life. I only retain what I truly love, truly use and what truly fits. There are the sentimental mementos like a Lego airplane my son made some fifteen years ago and a pillow my daughter made in kindergarten. I cherish these. I’ve dropped some four dress sizes in the last few years. The only thing in my closet are items I love and that fit. If you spent $200 on that pair of shoes ten years ago and they don’t feel comfortable on your feet, they are of no value to you.

Moment.  Our time is the most important commodity. Don’t let Facebook, Instagram or your inbox take you away from the current moment. As Greg writes, “Our phones for example have great utility but there is a downside. As a result, we need to put in place seatbelts—ways to limit the downside. One seatbelt is just turning it off.” I have made a more conscious effort to leave my phone charging on the kitchen counter after I am home for the evening. Limiting my check ins to several times a day. This is not easy as it is an addiction. Leave it behind, turn it off and shut down notifications. You are alright, right now. Wouldn’t you rather experience what’s going on? Be here right now.

I am a work in progress. I don’t need to be perfect at this today or tomorrow. I am just working on it. I left a meeting last week because the value had dropped – it had morphed into a gab session. It was uncomfortable, but I had better use for my time. Lean in and get essential.

Shutting Down Station KFKD

“Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open, and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is.

Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything one touches turns to s#it, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.”

This is Anne Lamott’s metaphor from her brilliant book on writing called Bird by Bird. Radio station Kf**ked is basically in constant stereo in your head.

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This is not just for writers. This is for any project you might have standing in front of you. From the closet stuffed to the gills with unwearable clothing, the enormous realignment project at work, and that trip to Peru you haven’t really planned out yet. To get it done. Heck, to even get it started. It is imperative you shut down Station KFKD.

Here are some ideas:

Ritual.  When I write; when I start a project, I have a ritual. Actually, this is my daily ritual: write in my gratitude journal, affirmations, meditation, brain teasers and then learning a second language. I do this everyday without fail. I won’t start anything until I have finished my daily ritual. I do this everyday even if I am not writing or working on a project. It sets me up for success. It’s like putting on a cozy robe and soft slippers. It’s familiar. I feel warm, relaxed, and ready to launch. You don’t need this ritual, but it’s nice to have a ritual so the loose ends are tied up before starting your best new work.

Frog.  Eat That Frog. This is a book by Brian Tracy. He espouses that you should start your day with the biggest gnarliest item. So eat that frog. Write that post you have delayed for the last few days. Sign into that online platform you are not familiar with. Buy the damn plane tickets to Peru. Clear out the floor of your closet. When you get that frog; that hurdle out of the way early in your day, the rest of the day is downhill. It’s time to coast because you already ate the frog. The rest of the day is nothing but cherries and whip cream.

Flow.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asks, “What makes a life worth living?” Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of “flow.” Flow happens when you shut down Station KFKD and tap into your creative flow. You aren’t worried about impressing your boss or what that critic will say. It’s all about letting the words, art or lyrics spill out. It’s like opening the dam. Let it spill out without any regulation. Getting into flow shuts out KFKD.

Breathe.  No duh, Cathy, we all have to breathe. The issue is that we frequently don’t pay attention to our bodies. Breathing brings us back into our bodies, out of our heads, and far away from station KFKD. How is your big toe right now? Can you feel the breath through your nostrils? Are you present? It sounds counter intuitive to get back into your body and out of your head when you want to produce your best work. The problem is that your mind is full of land mines and illusions. Listen to your body and breathe.

Wandering.  Thoughts may wander off. You may start thinking about what lunch will be and when you need to head out for that appointment later. Gently. Ever so gently, bring it back to the work at hand. No need to scold or beat yourself up. Sometimes wandering brings you to a wonderful place and magical ideas. Going off the trail can take you places you never thought of going. Embrace the wandering.

I write first thing in the morning for the most part. I feel at my best. I am a lark. I got up this morning at 4 AM and started writing at 6 AM. This may not be for you. I have found my zone for keeping Station KFKD turned down. When do you do your best work?

You Are Good Enough

Have you been waiting to hear those words since say…kindergarten? I have. I generally have stayed uber-focused on my penmanship (horrible), my height (too tall) and my value as a human being (a work-in-progress). This happens to the distraction of my more valuable traits like writing, coaching and being present. I am more worried about the illusive atta-boy (-girl) from my sixth-grade math teacher or my mother finally being happy with the career I have chosen.

Unfortunately, if you go looking for someone to say: “Cathy, you are good enough”, you will be waiting a long time. Your value is not determined by those outside of ourselves. It’s an inside job. It’s between your ears. You need to decide you are good enough. No one is going to do it for you. Decide today. You are worthy. You are good enough. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here.

These might be the reasons holding you back from being enough:

The yardstick of perfection. Anne Lamott wrote brilliantly in Bird by Bird, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life… I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” It’s OK if my handwriting isn’t that legible. It’s OK if I am taller than the rest. It’s OK if I have honestly wasted half a Saturday getting over vertigo and not writing. I just spent part of the morning criticizing myself for not going to the gym first thing or writing a post. Really? Like the exercise gods and blog gods (or Mothers) are sitting around judging me for recovering from half a day spent getting to the bottom of my vertigo? So what? As Lamott says, you will die anyway. Spending time trying to be perfect is empty and completely unrewarding. You are good enough right now.

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A gold medal won’t change a thing. Lamott famously quotes a 400 pound hasbeen coach, “If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.” Interesting. If you are not enough before you lose 30 pounds, you won’t be enough after. If you are not enough before the big promotion, you won’t be after. If you are not enough before the divorce, you won’t be after. Worthiness is not a line in the sand.  It’s not a point in time. It’s not after the big achievement or disappointment. You are worthy right now. And now. And now. Sit in that. Let it sink in. A gold medal will not make a difference.

You are uniquely you. The mold is busted and there is only one of you and your individual view of life. As Dr. Seuss famously said, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Even you and your identical twin will have different shortcuts on your desktop. One of you was picked last or first on the soccer team. It has made all the difference. You now fight for the down trodden or represent soccer player’s rights. Neither is better or worse. Just unique. Be you. Own it. Embody it. Be the unique you that you are.

Comparison is futile. Lamott said, “Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.” You have no idea what your neighbor is going through or your coworker or your dog for that matter. You may be jealous of that new car but don’t realize they had to take over payments for their daughter. Your coworker is battling stage 4 colon cancer. Your dog has been barking at that neighbor dog for the last ten years and has yet to get the last word. We really have no idea what is going on for someone else and comparing it to your current situation is a recipe for disaster. Comparing does not make you feel worthy or enough. So stop comparing.

What other people think of me is none of my business. This is a Wayne Dyer quote that stops me cold. You have absolutely no control over what other people think of you. Let it go. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not. We’ve spent so much time on worrying about what others think. I remember having 11 different pairs of colored corduroy Levis in high school. It did not increase the number of friends I had. AND I was probably the only one who noticed. If you cannot move the needle on it, don’t bother worrying about it. Besides, you are perfectly good enough right now.

I was the last pick a lot in elementary school. My mother was upset with how I held a pencil in my hand. I didn’t have a ton of friends in high school. It’s OK. Let the past go and move on. It has no impact on my worthiness right now. Let go of the judgments from the past and be enough. You are good enough. And so am I.

How to Start a S#!tty First Draft

I’ve heard this concept for a while and I finally read what I believe is the first reference to a S#!tty First Draft (SFD) in Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Of course, I got stuck on a blank page in Word and was trying to figure out how to start a SFD. Blank white space is intimidating. The last two posts I published, one on my dog and one on creating your reality, have received a bunch of great feedback. I get caught up in the, “How am I going to follow that one up?” When you see hundreds of people across the world have read your post, it can either be emboldening or utterly intimidating. I can be haunted by thoughts like, “How dare I think I can follow that up.”

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So here we go. The how’s and why’s of the SFD:

Percolate.  I think of the old, dust-covered Hamilton Beach Percolator my mother would drag out and clean for bridge club in the mid 1960’s. Even if the end product is unpalatable and bitter, the process of filtering through and rethinking and mulling over is important. I started thinking about the SFD when I read Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong some four months ago. Yesterday, I read about it in Bird by Bird. I made notes. I took a shower. I washed my hair. I digested. I realize that, in retrospect, I do this with most of the topics I write about. Something piques my interest and then I let it sit and percolate. I need a little reflection to put the pieces together. So before you start your SFD, percolate a bit.

Start.  The problem with percolating is that it cannot stop there. Percolating can become ruminating. Obsessing. Procrastination. So sit down, whether it’s 6 AM or, as I sit here on the West Coast, my laptop reads: 9:07 AM PST/12:07 PM EST. Start. Open up a blank document. Start. Spill. Type. Don’t worry about another cup of coffee or if you are at your favorite desk with your fuzzy slippers on. Just start. If you wait for the perfect moment to arrive, it will remain elusive.

Sloppy.  I think we all have a bit of perfectionism inside of us. Some of us more overtly than others. I don’t iron my underwear but I do like a clear counter-top and I have a certain way I like the pillows on my couch. As Jason Lengstorf writes, “But there’s hesitation. What if it’s not exactly right? What if people judge your work too harshly? What if this idea isn’t as good as you thought? Small worries like these can lead to procrastination and unnecessary stress.” We get caught up in perfectionism. It won’t be perfect. It can never be perfect. So go for sloppy. Embrace the wabi-sabi.

Data.  Brene wrote in Rising Strong, “In the absence of data, you’ll make up a story.” Isn’t that the truth? I typically search a few terms like “SFD” or “letting go of perfectionism” to see what other data is out there. Who else has written about this? What are their thoughts? What other insights are out there? When searching SFD, I found a bunch of things on actual writing but this all can be applied to more than just writing. Gather the data on the project you want to start. Gather the data on the new knife set you want to buy. I’m not suggesting you turn this into the dreaded analysis paralysis but gather some data for your SFD.

Look.  Keep an eye out for Quantum Flirts.  I learned about Quantum Flirts at the ORSC training by CRR Global. Is the Universe winking at you? Are they sending an almost imperceptible or more overt “sign” that you need to take in? I have been mulling over starting a book for months…er…. years…maybe a decade. I saw Frances McDormand on the Oscars, when she asked every woman to stand up who was nominated and she said, “We all have stories to tell.” For me, this was a sign. I have a story to tell. Some fifty plus years in the making. I need to start telling that story. The Universe was giving me a sign that I need to start writing my book. I need to tell my story. Thank you, Frances.

End.  As Anne Lamott wrote, you need to have the end in mind before you start. How do you know where you are going unless you know the destination? My destination for this piece is for you, my reader, to get started. Whatever getting started means for you. Get out your sneakers and run for 30 seconds. Take one pile of papers off the end of the dining room table. Start that gnarly project you have been sitting on for months…perhaps years. Think about what the end-result will be, whether it’s feeling in better shape, finally decluttering your home or getting that project complete. It doesn’t have to be perfect or reasonable or perspiration-free. Start…with the end in mind.

I am really fortunate to have an excellent editor that makes my posts come together. Most of my posts are SFD’s with misspellings, grammatical errors and references that are incorrect. I dump on a page and hope my editor can make sense of it. This makes writing a SFD a lot easier because I know that Susan has my back and will fix my mistakes. Just start. Listen to Frances. What story do you want to tell? I know you have one.

Returning to Sonoma County After the Fire

I recently returned to Sonoma County, California about six months after wildfires ravaged some 5,500 buildings and homes. I was apprehensive. Sonoma County was home for my young children and me for ten years. My son was born at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa and my kids went to elementary school at San Miguel in Larkfield. I owned a business for several years, just a stone’s throw from Coffey Park, a neighborhood flattened by the fire. My friends lived in a spectacular home on a hillside in Fountain Grove that was completely destroyed by the fire. To say I was apprehensive is an understatement.

I expected that once I hit the Sonoma County line that all signs of life would be gone. But many towns, from Petaluma to Rohnert Park, were just fine. It’s almost as if nothing had really happened. The scars from the fire aren’t readily apparent for the most part. You must seek out the damage or listen to the stories.

This is what I found:

Displaced.  With the loss of 5,500 structures, there were a bunch of families temporarily or permanently displaced. As a real estate friend reported, there was very little real estate inventory available. Anything that was for sale at the time was either rented out or sold. The loss of thousands of homes caused thousands of families to be in limbo. Many have left. There are those there temporarily to help remove debris and rebuild homes, living in trailers at the county fairground or RVs at local campgrounds. It feels like 20% of the folks are temporary. In transit. Either here for a bit, moved to temporary housing or just given up and left. It was mind boggling to consider the repercussions from that perspective. Just a couple of examples of some of the fallout are teachers given pink slips due to the lack of enrollments as families move on and countless folks untethered from their homes.

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Disoriented.  My friend Heidi took me for a drive through the decimated Fountain Grove neighborhood. She pointed to the area where a favorite restaurant once stood called “Sweet T’s”. It’s strange to have that visceral memory when nothing is there. Outside of a house or two and stop signs and street signs, I had absolutely no idea where I was. A beautiful home on a manicured lawn randomly unscathed by the fire surrounded by hundreds of homes lost. One random survivor. There were no reference points. I could not have found my way. Heidi and several friends reported that they were lost the first few times they drove through. Here once stood a lovely neighborhood with folks walking their dogs and riding their bikes. Now it was completely absent of any reference points. All gone in a matter of hours.

Debris.  There is not much that survives a fire. Heidi told me that a pizza stone was found in her home, along with a metal cross and cast-iron skillet or two.  I figured she could at least use the pizza stone. Not so fast. The amount of chemicals and byproducts that are melted or coated on, or dispersed into the atmosphere, are incalculable. So even if you find something as sturdy as a pizza stone, it’s still debris. There were countless trucks hauling off debris everywhere. All day. Carting off what is now unusable. Most things are unrecognizable. No resemblance to their former glory. I looked down on the pad that once had a hot tub; there was nothing left but slate and concrete.

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Disassembled.  My displaced friends are now in a beautiful rental home some 15 miles from their vanished home. Most everything in their home is there from a rental company. Furniture, sheets, cups and knickknacks. The personal touches of who they were are no longer represented in the same way. All their belongings, gone up in smoke. All their photos on the hard drive of the computer left behind as they fled the fire. Friends have sent pictures of bygone days; something to bring back the memories of what once was. New paintings of pets now hang in the kitchen. This is quite the opposite of my digging through hundreds of items from my recent empty nest and return from the rebuilding post-Hurricane Matthew. All the items, all the memories from a saxophone, to old paint cans and my parent’s video tapes. At least I have something to sort through. I had a choice in what I wanted to discard. They didn’t.

Detached. There is a freedom in detachment. You realize that you don’t need to stay where you are. Especially now that it’s all gone. Why not move on? I remember seeing the first lot for sale on my friend’s block. Wow, I thought. They are giving up. But are they really? Perhaps they are just detaching from the expectation that they must rebuild. They must return. They are set free to move on even if they felt as if they didn’t have a choice. I cannot sit here and judge someone else’s difficult decision. I can see that moving on has a tremendous upside. This thought has stuck with me: Don’t wait for a fire to help you detach from what you’re holding onto and the subsequent beliefs.

The collateral damage from the fire has been enormous. People having to put their pets down who were irreparably traumatized from the experience. Lives lost as they slept through the fire. Jobs lost as victims leave the county. Undrinkable water from plastic pipes melted. Landmarks like the Round Barn burned to ash. In spite of and perhaps because of the displacement, disorientation, and detachment the residents of Sonoma County have faced, the end result was relationships strengthened, appreciation for lives saved, cherished memories and the hope of what is to come.