Embrace the Loss of Control

You’re proud of your work. You do it well. And, you do it your way.

Then, one day, someone walks into your office, or into your space, and says, “From now on, we want you to do it this way because…”

Because whatever blah blah blah, you weren’t really listening for a few seconds because what the hell?!?! You’re bristling inside. You’re trying to keep your face under control as you refocus on the conversation.

Control. Ah, that’s the rub, isn’t it? You just lost control. Now you have to do it his or her way. There’s no question about it, they’re the boss.

Confession time.

Ugh, I hate losing control. There, I said it. Thankfully, one of the things I love about working for myself is I’m usually in control of my work, my income, my direction. So when I do lose a bit of control, it’s not such a big deal anymore because I have plenty of control in other areas of my life. Now, I can look at the situation in a more rational way unlike the old days when it would really work me up into a quiet tizzy.

I noticed this change in my reactions recently when a client gave me a list of topics to write about. In the past, I had come up with topics based on what I knew about their audience. I must admit, my first reaction to this list was mixed. I was relieved to see they had this list, but I was also a bit vexed because they weren’t my ideas. Oh my, someone still has control issues.

And I thought I was so evolved.

So I turned it around. This is the new reality. Now I have the opportunity to use my creativity to do something with these topics–some of which are a bit, let’s say, dry. I’ll embrace the restrictions and create something despite them. Or because of them. It’s time to exercise that muscle.

Like the chefs on Chopped who must create a dish using the items in their basket, I’ll take the ingredients handed to me and make them shine. My loss of control has now become my creativity exercise.

<After writing this I was thinking about the chefs on Chopped. Some of them look in the basket and start griping about the ingredients. But some of them just get to work. I wonder which ones go home first?>

Where do you feel restricted? What don’t you control that really gets to you? Rethink your normal reaction. Consider it a creativity exercise—embrace the restrictions, embrace that loss of control, get over yourself and your ego, and produce something that makes you proud despite the loss of control and because of it.

Can you imagine this approach working for you?


Reading and Writing

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!!!!

Lifelong Learning is a Requirement, not an Option

“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)

Changing My Little Worlds in 2012

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.”

Personal Creativity Tips from Disney

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)

My At-Home Retreat Week

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.”


(This post includes Amazon affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you click on a link and purchase the product.)

Fear of Being Stupid and Missing Out

Have you noticed a lot of talk lately about the fear of missing out or the fear of missing, well, everything?

Linda Holmes at NPR’s Monkeysee blog wrote about “the sad, beautiful fact that we’re all going to miss almost everything.” We won’t be as well-read as we wish. We won’t read every blog post in our Reader. We won’t see all the major critics’ top ten films of the year. We won’t get to every art museum or art-filled church on our bucket list. It just won’t happen. Can we cope?

I once had that acquisitive consuming desire to read all the classics. It was an ever expanding list fueled by books about reading that each had their own list. Even though I had a great education, I thought I had too many gaping holes in the classical period, so I embarked on my own education program. Yes, if it’s a Greek or Roman classic, I’ve likely read it. But I petered out on that plan after extending it into the medieval age. Looking back I’m glad I did it but it might explain why I was single for so long.

And then there was my presidential biography period. Inspired by C-SPAN2’s Book TV series (oh be quiet, I hear your snickering), I started with George and made it all the way to Millard before losing interest. Honestly, I’d do that one again, but in a more leisurely random manner. And, since I know you’re dying to ask me, George (#1) is my favorite president.

I’m sure I had other reading binges, but I’ve blocked them from my short-term memory, thankfully. I no longer have manias like these, even though I still have that itch to learn, I’m just not as obsessive about it.

Another aspect of this syndrome was described last month by Caterina Fake. She wrote about the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) she saw in the tweets of those at SXSW: what if I’m in the wrong place and missing a good party, session or cool person? “Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on.” How true that is! Yes, we can read the hashtag archive, but that only makes us hungrier to go next year, and what if we can’t? Oh, cursed fates.

Caterina added this fascinating bit, fascinating to me because I practice yoga and we think about these kind of woowoo things: “To be always filled with craving and desire (also called defilement, affliction) is one of the Three Poisons of Buddhism, called kilesa, and it makes you a slave.” Ouch. I read this and thought about Julie of the Julie/Julia project who cooked her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. When I read Julie’s book, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, (how freaking obsessive is that?) I kept thinking, is that really (still) enjoyable?

People who are new to Twitter are often overwhelmed and turned off by its fire hose of information. I say, dip into the stream for a bit, float around, chat, share some stories and get out. Come back later in the day if you want another dip. Yeah, treasures and trash floated down the river while you were elsewhere. Relax, or as we say in yoga, chillax, there’s plenty more of it upstream. Enjoy your float.

Hanging Out with the Other Side

Think about the people you sit with at lunch, meet for a beer, or see at smaller meet-ups. Are they like you? Do you feel more comfortable around people who think like you? Or do you welcome the opportunity to be around those who think differently?

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read a Newsweek article about Washington wives of yore. It’s both interesting and sad.

Do you remember the video of Sen. Orrin Hatch (Rep.) speaking at the funeral of his “Irish friend” Ted Kennedy (Dem.)? After you dry your eyes, think about those on the Hill today. What are the chances now that a Republican and a Democrat will have a friendship like this?

Back when their relationship started, Senators and Representatives lived in DC with their families. They spent time hanging out with guys from both sides of the aisle.

“If you live across the street from your political opponent, if you know his kids, if you’ve been to dinner at his house, it’s impossible to go up on the floor of the Senate or in the media and blast him the next day.”

I’m not calling for a return to the “good old days” because they weren’t all good. Permanent residence in DC can lead to a syndrome I detest — the Beltway bubble that insulates some of our politicians from what it’s like to sign or earn a paycheck. I do think it’s important for them to come home and get a sense for what their constituents need, but something was lost along the way.

“Real legislating—the compromises and dealmaking that distinguish politics from posturing—happens only among people who know and respect each other.”

That’s what we lost. Camaraderie and collaboration were lost. People become symbols of their party platform. Static ideology takes precedence over reason and relationships.

Nowadays as soon as they’re elected, the fundraising cycle begins again for the next campaign. Wouldn’t it be better if our policy-makers focused on leading, thinking, collaborating, innovating and legislating while in office, not raising funds and running for the next election? Ah, what a dreamer I am.

It’s easy to demonize the other when you don’t choose to know or understand them. This is the root of racism, religious hatred, homophobia and a host of other evils. That’s the extreme version.

What’s the light version? Think about yourself, or think about the leadership of your company or organization. Do you (or your leadership) surround yourself with those who think like you? Who have the same beliefs or philosophies? Who are the same age, gender, religion, ethnicity or race? Who have the same economic, educational or professional background? Who do or see things the way you do?

What’s missing? Exposure to other perspectives and stories. Serendipity. Don’t knock serendipity. It’s the root of much creativity and innovation in the world.

It’s easy for any of us to get trapped in a bubble. Fortunately, because of social media, it’s also easier now to tap into voices and perspectives outside our bubble. I’m not sure how we’ll change Washington but we can pop our own bubbles.

leadership diversity perspective association organizational
flickr photo by missbossy
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