Life


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.

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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.

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

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.

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.

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flickr photo by missbossy

Merry Christmas to all, see you in January!

photo source: New York Public Library Digital Gallery

Earlier this month I read a post in the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan’s blog at The Atlantic, about a megachurch pastor in Georgia, Jim Swilley, who decided to publicly come out of the closet. He felt compelled to do so after hearing too many stories about gay teens committing suicide after harassment by bullies.

“As a father, thinking about your 16-, 17-year-old killing themselves, I thought somebody needed to say something,” he told WSB TV in Atlanta. “I know all the hateful stuff that’s being written about me online, whatever. To think about saving a teenager, yeah, I’ll risk my reputation for that.”

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click to view video on YouTube

This man is a hero. I can’t imagine the courage it must take for anyone to come out when those around them don’t approve of their lifestyle. A lifestyle, Swilley reminds us, that is not a choice. But imagine doing that when you’re the pastor of a conservative church and your career and livelihood is on the line.

It made me think about what I would risk to do the right thing. Would I be brave enough to risk my reputation and career? I won’t know until I’m in that position. I can only hope that I’m as strong as he is. I’m not assuming I will be although I think I have a strong metaphorical spine. I think about whistleblowers who don’t even know Sarbanes-Oxley protection exists, yet put their jobs on the line to do the right thing, as Jim Swilley did by blowing the whistle on irrational hatred.

How much would your organization put on the line to do the right thing? How many people (members or even board members) are you willing to piss off? How many opportunities do you miss to be a hero because you worry about the risk to your brand or about the risk of failure?

“As you sit down with your loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, what is one thing you’ll be especially thankful for?”

Only one thing? But there are so many things I’m thankful for. As I think about that I lean back into my chair and glance around the room. My eyes settle on the red, orange and yellow leaves of the trees outside the window. It’s so pretty this time of year. I’m thankful for that, no, I can only pick one thing, it’s not going to be the foliage.

The house is quiet, except for the cat purring on the couch in my office, next to a few books I’m in the midst of reading. The music plays softly on the radio. The dog is dreaming. Asleep on the rug between my desk and the couch, his paws are running in place.

I love having this room. It’s an extra room, formerly a bedroom, now my office. My books surround me. A TV’s on a dresser in case I get the urge for a cooking show. I can curl up on the couch with a cup of tea or coffee and read, or I can sit at my desk and write. The strong wireless signal connects me to news and information, but more importantly to friends and not-yet-friends, or, channeling Fritz Maytag here, friends in fermentation.

thankful gratitude thanksgiving

photo by flickr: lecates (Andrew)

I’m thankful for a room of my own. Virginia Woolf would be pleased. This room is my office, my study, my lounge, my yoga studio (if I’m practicing) and my sanctuary. It grounds me and brings me peace. It’s the symbol, or evidence, of the things in my life that I’m really thankful for – the reasons I’m able to have a room of my own.

  • My guy, the reason I’m here in North Carolina and the reason I glow
  • My wonderful life here in NC and the people who are part of it — my NC family and friends
  • My family’s love and support for whatever I do, however far away I am
  • My Georgetown education that started me on a path of learning and success and introduced me to lifelong friends
  • My career path and the dear friends and interesting experiences it gave me along the way
  • My last job and the savings it provided that helped me transition into this new freelance life
  • My online and real life communities who inspire me and make me laugh
  • My work that allows me to do what I love, teaches me something every day and pays the bills
  • My freedom to live the way I do, to have this room of my own. I know I am blessed.

I’m thankful for many other things, especially that I woke up this morning, happy to face another day. That’s the easiest one to take for granted.

I recently read about making a list each night of five things you’re thankful for. I wish I remembered where I read this – was it your blog or book? It’s an easy thing to do and I bet it’d help us have sweeter dreams too.

What are you thankful for today? Share some gratitude. Let’s make the world spin happily around.

“Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others.”  ~Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Tomorrow I’m spending the morning at TEDx Raleigh, an independently organized TED event. TED’s annual conferences in California and Oxford UK are “riveting talks by remarkable people” with “ideas worth spreading.” TEDx Raleigh runs all day but I’m leaving at lunch to go camping at the beach – unfortunate timing but it’s no fun to set up camp in the dark.

Last spring I attended TEDxRTP. I was intellectually stimulated all day long and left with lots of ideas — some found their way into blog posts and presentations, some are still simmering away in my brain. It was a fantastic experience so I look forward to tomorrow.

I’m tempted to compare TEDx to a French 17th century salon but I bet TEDx is better. In Mme. de Rambouillet’s salon, you would be surrounded by other rich coddled sophisticates with perhaps a struggling handsome young poet thrown in for exotic appeal. At TEDx you hear from people outside your normal bubble about ideas and projects you might not normally read or think about. Diversity in thought and perspective is such a rich valuable experience, yet we don’t often have a chance to enjoy it up close and personal, except on Twitter of course.

I was looking through my notes from the TEDxRTP and found some that still tickle my brain.

Tribes & organizations

The future is malleable. Think about what the future should look like and draw up a plan to make it a reality — a good board exercise.

Tribes can change our world. Find something worth changing and assemble your tribe.

Transformational organizations are those with high over-arching missions that promote and inspire selfless service. They have the methodology to give people what they want – transformation. Trappist monasteries, the Marines and Alcoholics Anonymous are examples of transformational organizations. Associations can be a vehicle for transformation, giving members the opportunity to grow, get passionate, learn and contribute.

The building of Europe’s great cathedrals required centuries of sustained civic and spiritual determination. Innovative engineering, architectural and construction techniques — like pointed arches, ribbed vaulting and flying buttresses (ah, memories of art history!) — were used. The cathedrals inspired civic pride and transmitted a legacy of spiritual knowledge. Except for the master architect, we don’t know the names of the men who helped build them, but we marvel at what they accomplished. At a time when famine and disease were rampant, these impoverished people committed to building something they would never see completed in their lifetime. In an attention-deficit I-want-it-now culture with an eye on the next quarterly report, are we still capable of achievements like that?

Personal growth

We should all have a personal board of directors that acts as a trusted support system, providing different perspectives and truthful feedback. It’s unfortunate that many real boards don’t offer that to their organizations.

Jot down your ideas all the time. Carry a notebook. Keep one by the bed on your desk and in your car. Pay attention to your ideas; write them all down, even the wacky ones. Creativity is like a muscle that needs exercising or it will atrophy. If you don’t capture your ideas, you’ll stop recognizing the good ones. I made a note to start mind-mapping, but I must confess that I haven’t yet.

Shift your fear of failure to fear of regret. That’s one to live by.

What’s appealing about many movies? They’re a story of someone’s transformation. We watch vicariously; we want the transformational experience.

Make a daily habit of being still; renewing yourself. I’ve written about meditation on my other blog. It amazes me how five minutes of being still and present can make a positive difference in my day.

 

Outside my bubble

Online games can be incubators of collaboration and leadership as players practice real life skills.

Do you know about the astronaut overview effect? I didn’t and it blew my mind. Apparently the Earth doesn’t look like the photos that are sent from space. When astronauts see the Earth from space, the experience has a huge lasting emotional effect, one that is studied by NASA and others. It’s not space euphoria, but a shift in perspective. The astronauts believe that if everyone had the opportunity to see Earth as they have — a whole planet — it would give us a more unified global perspective.

We also heard about Indian healthcare, real food, homelessness and relationships, missing fathers, benefit corporations and more.

Have you ever done the wave at a conference? We did. How about watching an improv performance or hearing a classically trained new music trio? We did. If TEDx comes to a town near you, take a day off and go.

Have you been to TED or a TEDx event? I’d love to hear about your experience.

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