Life


Have you missed my Reads of the Week posts? I’m sorry I haven’t been sharing good reads with you here, but I’m still sharing them on my Twitter account. I take reading and sharing quite seriously. 

It’s been a busy spring of conferences, a hiking vacation in southern Utah (see below), weekends away and lots of work for clients. Clients come first, otherwise there wouldn’t be any conferences, vacations and weekends away! 

Luckily, I have another platform to share my thoughts and ideas about association management — my weekly post on the Avectra blog. Tomorrow, my post is about the advice given to a national association by its members. In recent weeks, I’ve written about leading from the cubicle, spending a day in the life of members and new membership models.

I’m always looking for ideas, practices and programs to share with the association community, so if your association is doing something innovative, please let me know.

Proudest personal accomplishment: facing my fears and climbing to the top of Angels Landing, Zion National Park. This photo is taken from 2 miles up the trail at Scout Lookout. The last half mile is up that crazy fin to the narrow summit. I DID IT!!!!

Proudest personal accomplishment: facing my fears and hiking to the top of Angels Landing, Zion National Park. This photo is taken from 2 miles up the trail at Scout Lookout. The last half mile is up that crazy fin to the narrow summit.
I DID IT!!!!

“It’s a tragic fact that most of us know only how to be taught; we haven’t learned how to learn.”

Jeff Cobb, self-described “lifelong learning fanatic” and founder of Tagoras and Mission to Learn, introduced me to that quote from Malcolm Knowles, the adult education expert of the late 20th century. In a recent webinar about his book, 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner, Jeff talked about why it’s so critical, especially now, to be a lifelong learner:

  • Because of the speed and complexity of our world, we are at risk of information overload. We have to develop techniques to navigate this flow, absorb it, and develop knowledge from it.
  • Learning doesn’t stop at graduation. In “the other 50 years” we need to keep developing. Learning is a process, not an outcome.
  • We live in a learning economy, or as Jeff calls it, “a figure-it-out-on-a-daily-basis economy.” To thrive, we must keep acquiring new knowledge and skills.

According to Jeff, lifelong learning is no longer optional, it’s required. When he talks about learning, he means self-directed learning as well as formal learning (courses and classes). He defines learning as “a lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors and attitudes.”

In 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner, which you can also download as an eBook for a very inexpensive price, Jeff advises starting with one or two of the Ways. Focus first on them and make them part of your life before trying any others. At his website, he provides resources to help you explore each one. Here are a few to consider.

Read the rest of Lifelong Learning is a Requirement, not an Option at the Avectra blog.

lifelong learning

Photo by integerpoet (Flickr)

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Like Christmas, the advertising industry and its collaborators have sucked the life out of it. Couples buy schlocky cards and last-minute sweetheart gifts, and go out for the obligatory romantic dinner in herds of two. Baaaa. It’s what’s expected, what’s done.

But are these efforts really from the heart? Wouldn’t a handwritten note or homemade meal be a more meaningful gift of the heart?

Katya Andresen, Chief Strategy Officer of Network for Good, blogged about a better way to celebrate gifts of the heart – Generosity Day.

Make tomorrow Generosity Day! The Cause page explains how.

“We’re rebooting Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day: one day of sharing love with everyone, of being generous to everyone, to see how it feels and to practice saying “Yes.” Let’s make the day about love, action and human connection.”

That sounds so much better, doesn’t it? Katya says: “Say YES on February 14th to every opportunity to be nice, help out, or delight with generosity.”

Yes!

You know me, I can’t help thinking: How could associations and their members celebrate Generosity Day?

  • Open up your member wall, if you still have one. Let everyone get a taste of your members-only benefits.
  • Make it a day of community service.
  • Spend time with students and young professionals – answer questions, give tours, invite them to work alongside you, provide guidance and mentoring.
  • Spend a day with elderly retired members who perhaps feel a bit forgotten.
  • Invite members to share how they’re celebrating the day. Everyone who submits a story gets a special promo code.
  • Buy your staff breakfast, lunch, afternoon treats or happy hour drinks.
  • Ask staff to submit anonymous notes about how they appreciate their colleagues, for example, “I appreciate Ralph because he always cleans the kitchen counter even when it’s not his mess.” Read one note about every person on staff. Remember those poor kids in elementary school who only got one Valentine’s Day card when all the other kids got 30? Don’t let that happen, make sure you have a note to read about everyone, even if you have to write it yourself.

Now, make a note to yourself about next year’s Generosity Day. Plan ahead and give your members a chance to spread love and happiness.

Generosity Day for Associations

Big Heart of Art by QThomas Bower (Flickr)

Here I am, running to catch up to the Change the World in 2012 meme that every other association blogger has jumped on already. Two weeks ago I was tagged by Aaron Wolowiec and Elizabeth Engel to give my take on Maddie Grant’s original post, a wildly popular one.

So where have I been? I’ve been thinking! I didn’t make resolutions this year. Instead, I took my own advice: I’m slowly changing my habits. I’m living the life that the better me would live: committing to daily exercise or yoga, eating more nutritious foods, using my time more effectively (meaning: be more focused), flossing regularly, going offline more frequently, and spending time with friends more often.

Now it’s out there. Accountability. It’s only been three weeks but I’m doing okay. Slow and steady.

What’s this have to do with changing the world? I’m not setting out to change the world, but I’d like to make a difference in the little worlds I live in. A better me can do that, a lesser me would think she’s too busy.

I never aspired to be famous or rich, or even leave a legacy, but I want my life to matter. I want to be a positive presence in the lives of others by being a better me and a better girlfriend, friend, sister, daughter, cousin, aunt, colleague and acquaintance.

How will I make a difference in my little worlds?

1.  Be grounded, curious, grateful, conscientious and accepting. In short, be everything yoga books, podcasts and teachers prescribe. I’m inspired by how others live their lives, so I hope to be a positive influence for those in my little worlds, whether they’re close to me or far away, in person or online. We’re all works in progress, writing our own story, a story that can change direction when another character enters the room.

2.  Share what I know, learn and think if I believe it will help others. I’m approaching this from two angles.

  • Practical: I like being a resource, so this is easy. I really should have been a librarian, but I like to talk too much. What I really want to do is spark excitement, energy and hope in others. I try to do that with my professional writing, especially for the association community. I want to help people see things from a different perspective, come up with a new idea, solve a problem or improve their professional lives. I’m doing that as a newly trained volunteer docent for kids at the North Carolina Museum of History, shifting their perspective and sparking their curiosity about life here in NC in the past centuries.
  • Woo woo: We teach what we need to learn. We’re not very good students because we keep having to learn the same things year after year: choosing our reactions, really listening to others, living in the present, and not judging a whole character based on one trait.

3.  Connect people who would benefit from each others’ company — a very satisfying thing to do if you keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. Of course, it’s easier if you’re out there meeting people and, more importantly, learning about them instead of talking about yourself (note to self). I can do this professionally as well: my writing helps companies connect with their audiences, so they can live happily ever after together.

Thanks Maddie, Aaron and Elizabeth for writing your posts and inspiring me to put this out there. Thanks to all my other friends and colleagues in the association community for sharing your intentions for 2012. When we all live our better lives together, we’re an awesome and inspiring bunch.

Changing the world in 2012

Dig by Incubus: “Dig me up from under what is covering the better part of me.”

I used to silently wish I was creative. I assumed I wasn’t. Creative was for other people, not me. Silly girl. Where was Walt Disney when I needed him?

Gert Garman, Global Creative Development Manager for Disney, visited my local Triangle chapter of the American Marketing Association last week to share Disney’s secrets to innovation. At Disney the prevailing philosophy is “everyone’s creative.” They believe their ability to tap into that creativity is their competitive advantage.

It took me a long time to come to the same conclusion, but I finally wised up. Yes, I’m creative. Heck, I make my living as a writer; I’m at least somewhat creative. But if you had asked me whether I’d be writing for a living five years ago, I’d say, oh no, that’s not practical, I’m not that creative. Here’s the truth: we’re all creative; some people just tap into and leverage their creativity better than others. I’m still working on that.

I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot because it’s ASAE’s Innovation Talks Week in the association management world. I’ve written two blog posts recently for one of my clients, Avectra, about Innovation Week and Disney’s secrets to a creative and innovative culture. Enough with organizations, now it’s time to delve into personal creativity.

Shall we play a game?

Most of us were conditioned by our education, parents or society to tone down our creative bent. Art and music, although recognized as important for our development, weren’t serious subjects. You had to do things “just so” or “according to procedure.” You tried to fit in and, sadly, not fly your freak flag. Maybe that’s why I became a restaurant manager after college. Although I had to comply with budgets, corporate procedures and regulations, I could also express my whole self more than I probably could have in other environments.

Play, games and exercise help get the mind’s juices flowing. Someone recently told me they have a dartboard in their office; when they’re stuck, they start playing and soon their mind is churning. No wonder start-up companies make a big deal about game rooms and exercise facilities – it works! When will the rest of America figure that out?

Creative space

Gert also suggested we create an area to brainstorm and capture our ideas. Many of my friends swear by their whiteboards. Several ASAE staff painted their walls with IdeaPaint.

Did you ever notice that the offices and cubicles of graphic designers are always full of personal, beautiful and interesting items? My offices at work were always spartan. Now I surround myself with things I like to look at that make me feel good, including a dog and cat for playtime.

Don’t forget music. I like listening to a mix of music, familiar but mostly unfamiliar, so I usually tune into the local college station or listen to the jazz or classical stations if the college station isn’t doing it for me.

Disney tips to creativity

Here’s a list of tips from Gert that will help release your inner Creative.

  • Dedicated idea notebook

Capture ideas as they occur. Keep notepads on your desk, in your purse, next to your bed and in your car. Use the recorder on your cell phone. Gert even writes on shower walls with an erasable marker.

  • Thinking that makes sense

Our senses wake up our brain, so go out and literally smell the roses. Listen, really listen to the sounds around you. Look at textures. Touch stuff. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, tells her readers to go on Artist Dates, weekly solo field trips where for a few hours you explore and feed your senses.

  • Take risks

Fail forward so you can learn and grow. Stretch your comfort zone. Don’t listen to nay-sayers. Disney was told many times he’d fail.

  • Reward yourself

Finish the draft, have a beer or a piece of expensive cheese, whatever rocks you. And if you manage others, recognize and reward their creative efforts too.

  • Ha Ha to A-Ha!

Play, laugh, be silly and let go.

  • Ask questions

Gert’s favorite is to ask “why” three times. I can imagine doing this in an office where “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” is the knee-jerk answer. The first and second answers to “Why?” are usually the lame party line. By the third you’ll start getting to the real truth.

  • Bend the rules

Ask for forgiveness later. I’ve always liked the stealth approach to innovation. Good luck with that!

  • Network and collaborate

This might be my favorite. Surround yourself with a diverse selection of people who have different perspectives and lives than you. Become more interesting because of the people around you. The more diversity around you, the richer your life will be.

I’d add one more: read widely. Look for random interesting well-written blogs to add to your Reader, or smart people from different professions to add to your Twitter follows. If you want to learn more about “fully owning our innate creative spirit again,” then you must read Patti Digh’s Creative is a Verb: If You’re Alive You’re Creative. It’s a beautifully illustrated book full of thoughtful prose, poems, quotes and exercises.

Now go on out there and dance this mess around!

personal creativity disney innovation

Photo by Pixel Addict (Flickr)

Today is my birthday. Permit me a little self-indulgence here. I’m taking a few days off to reflect, relax and celebrate because it’s a BIG birthday. I’m not unplugging completely, oh no. Twitter and Facebook are fun intellectual and conversational playgrounds for me so I’ll hang out there, maybe more than I usually do. I’ll read, cook, eat, drink, do a little yoga, celebrate with friends and prepare for hurricane Irene’s visit.

And I’ll think about the past, present and future. I usually try to live in the moment but it’s impossible for me to not plan and imagine and wonder. Agatha Christie said, upon reaching my age, “suddenly you find….that a whole new life has opened before you.” She’s right, and it’s very exciting.

I’m sorry if this next sentiment seems cliché to you, but it’s from my heart: I feel more alive, stimulated, brave, grateful, inspired, wise and powerful than I have ever felt in my life. Maybe that’s age, maybe that’s my particular life experience. I hope when you get here, you feel the same way.

Yesterday a friend (thank you, Jeffrey) shared a link on Twitter to a video that made my day, Wisdom. It’s a trailer for a book now residing on my wish list. I came here to my blog today only because I want to share this video with you.

Now I’m off to be queen for the day, or the long weekend if I can get away with it. Enjoy Wisdom. Share Wisdom.

raleigh freelance writer

When I first decided to have an at-home retreat week, I had in mind the relaxed yet energizing experience of my stays at Red Mountain Spa. But how would I replicate that experience without morning hikes in southern Utah’s glorious red rock landscape, frequent massages, fitness and wellness classes and a dining room serving delicious and healthy food?

I’d have to dial back my expectations. I decided to focus on my writing business, specifically planning, marketing and learning. Yet I also wanted to include retreat-like activities and lots of reading. On Monday morning, the first day of my retreat, I put together a schedule that would keep me on that productive track. It was ambitious.

  • Morning walks in good weather
  • Daily yoga and meditation
  • Read four excellent books – details below
  • Set goals for the rest of the year
  • Develop a marketing plan
  • Work on a few other business planning, educational and organizational projects
  • Create a visionboard illustrating the life I want to create for myself
  • Read dozens of RSS feeds and other resources about marketing, writing and other freelancer concerns.

Things don’t always go as planned.

After making my schedule I went shopping for the week’s groceries so I could truly retreat from the world. And then, a fantastic massage from Shannon at Spa Neo in Clayton, NC. It was a retreat, after all!

When I got home, feeling very juicy, that’s yoga talk, I enjoyed a delicious dinner with a few glasses of wine. Enlightenment came down upon me. “I haven’t had any lengthy time off this year and I won’t until August. What do I really want this week to be? What do I need for me?”

I started crossing items off the schedule.

Instead of doing what I should do, keeping up with my usual professional reading and all those other habitual activities, I decided to:

Let. It. All. Go.

I unplugged — no emails, no Twitter. I focused on reading my books, writing in my journal — most of it prompted by what I was reading, working on my visionboard — which involved lots of flipping through old cooking and fashion magazines and cutting out pictures, walking, yoga, meditating and just plain thinking.

blogger writer raleigh freelance copywriting writing

photo by Eryn Vorn

On Tuesday I worked on my goals for the year because that’s a whole life activity, not strictly professional. I adapted the method that Sherman Hu shared on Sarah Robinson’s Escaping Mediocrity blog.

But habits are tough to break.

Unfortunately it took me until late Wednesday to break my RSS habit — translation: reading dozens of blog subscriptions in Google Reader. I rationalized it by only reading from my writing and growth folders but I kept clicking on other posts, things I NEEDED TO KNOW.

I made the decision to stop being busy. I sought stillness. I let go my compulsion to keep up and be in the know. I didn’t watch the news and hardly read the paper. Since Jim and his daughter were away for the week, I was alone in my house. I was a bit like a monk on a silent retreat, except this monk talks to herself, the cat and the dog. And you know what? I loved it. I wasn’t lonely at all. I felt very fulfilled by what I was doing.

Here are some considerations if you’re thinking about an at-home retreat.

Do you like to cook? Do you want to? You may not, even if you usually love cooking like me. Plan ahead by having leftovers or easy-to-prepare meals and snacks in the frig or freezer. Don’t forget about snacks; remember, at the spa the dining room is always open.

Music? Silence? I enjoyed both. When my house is quiet, I’m lucky enough to be serenaded by birds, frogs and other woodland creatures. On Thursday I discovered some “spa” stations on Pandora that contributed to my relaxed attitude.

15-20 minute naps are sooo good and rejuvenating, take them whenever your energy lulls a bit. With my work lifestyle I suppose I could nap every afternoon but I’m still brainwashed by decades in the “real world.” I took a nap today; it did wonders for my late afternoon energy level.

writing blogging copywriting freelance writer blogger Raleigh case studies

Red Mountain Spa & Resort

Your reading selection will set the tone for your retreat so choose wisely. My four books echoed each other throughout the week. I found myself gasping at the synchronicities. Maybe it’s not so surprising since they’re all essentially about authenticity, joy, growth and creativity.

My friend Kiki wrote recently about finding “whitespace.” When we live our lives the way most people do, the acceptable way, the normal way, it’s difficult to claim the whitespace we need to reflect, play and grow. Because I have complete control over my life now (wait, haven’t I always?), I can make the time to do something like this.

But to do it, I had to plan well ahead. I had to make sure all my work was done, in its absolutely final state, and delivered to clients ahead of time. I kept my fingers crossed that no last-minute work would come my way that I would be tempted to take. I took the week off from my blogs. I kept my calendar clear. I was ready.

I’m doing it again if I can manage it work-wise, even if it’s only for a few days, hopefully in six months or so, maybe the next time Jim leaves town for a conference. Next time I’ll be able to slip into real retreat mode much more quickly.

Even though I didn’t do any “professional” activities during my week, I came out of it with new approaches to my day and lots of ideas. Plus I feel incredibly refreshed and relaxed. I’m reading books more now than I had before my retreat. I’m practicing yoga and meditating almost daily. It’s like I went to a spa!

This quote from Proust in Meditations from the Mat speaks to me now: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

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