The Key to a Great Summer

It’s July.

How did that happen?

I’m a planner and a doer by nature – and between those two, I slightly emphasize planning more than doing. It’s very easy for me to forget there are three components of every experience – anticipating, participating, and remembering.

So often, rather than remembering – or savoring – the experiences that I’ve had, I’m off planning the next experience.

Savor

Reading “Thinking Fast and Slow” in May and June, however, taught me something new.

The Remembering Self is in Control

What does that mean?

Daniel Kahneman tells the story of two groups of subjects who were invited to participate in a research experiment involving submerging their hands in a bowl of ice water for several minutes. (I know, makes you really want to be a research participant… right?) The first group of people experienced the frigid waters for a few minutes. The second group experienced the frigid waters for the same few minutes, but a key difference was the experimenter had the subjects keep their hands in the water an extra 30 seconds or so, but warm water was added to the bowl, which lessened their discomfort. After rating their experience, participants were more likely to choose to repeat the second, but longer, experience because it ended on high note!

There are several conclusions psychologist draw from this and other research.  They note that there are two “selves.”  One self experiences events – the frigid hands in the water.  Another self remembers that event – but through the lens of completion with a higher priority placed on the end of the event.  That warm water suddenly meant the experience wasn’t that bad… right?

The remembering brain shapes our memories, lives, decisions, and what experiences we will choose to repeat in the future.

How can I use this knowledge?

As I was contemplating my whirlwind June I realized – I want to have a GREAT SUMMER!  I don’t want to look back in August and ask “Where did it go?!”

I’ve decided to Spend More Time Savoring this Summer.

I used a framework I learned earlier this year – More Less Same – in order to focus and prioritize activities so that I could actively savor the summer experiences I love so much, like church softball, camping, and just being outdoors.  I needed to decide what I needed to do more of, and what I needed to do less of, and what I could keep the same.

MoreLessSame

Have you made a list like this before?

Using a calendar and flipping through my journal, I noted frustrations and triumphs and then listed several things to do more of – so that I could build in more time to Savor.

I want to do MORE…

Pictures – Especially, taking, posting on facebook, and getting into physical photo album form. Although there is always a danger that taking a lot of photos will destroy your memory of an event (citation) – looking at photographs of good times actually increases your happiness and confidence (citation). I’m only so-so about remembering to take pictures – but I want to be better.

Writing – I keep putting writing on the back burner in favor of reading or friend time – but I’d like to move toward more writing, whether it’s journaling, blogging, or even tweeting.

I want to do LESS…

Reading. I’m reading some great stuff right now (especially enjoying co-reading Kyle Strobel’s “Metamorpha” with my husband, and discovering AS King – recommended by LCarsLibrarian. ) But rather than trying to read a book a week, I’m just reading a few chapters at a time.

Exercise.  I’m still trying to run the North Shore Trail Series (Saturday the 12th, 6 miler!) But I’m focusing on maintaining my fitness levels, rather than increase them.

I want to do the SAME…

Praying – As I recently read and found amusing – praying for 30 minutes or more a day actively changes the way your brain works. This is probably about how long I pray every day – so I’d like to keep that the same. I also find prayer to be an excellent way to remember and savor experiences, as well as consider how to reorient your life to reflect your priorities and focal concerns.

Friendship Building – I love how many fun events we’ve been doing with friends lately – from church softball, to family volleyball, up to last weekend time spent camping.  I definitely want to keep going out a couple times a week in a socializing low-key fashion, but finding time to rest after each of these activities is key as well.

camping walk

So what about “Summer To-Do’s?”

Like other friends, I love making Summer To-Do lists, and have in the past… but I’m not going to this year.  There are a lot of items from my “30 by 30 list” that fall I want to check off – and that fall into the “More” and “Less” category.   I’m hoping to finish a wedding photo album before my 4th anniversary, as well as write some Thank You cards to big influences in my life.

Finally, I want to look ahead to August and plan a peak experience for sometime at the end of the summer – something that I can both anticipate – as well as savor as extra enjoyable.

How about you? What are you doing More, Less, and the Same of this Summer?

As always comment here, or on my facebook page.

 

Single People, I hear you!

Several weeks ago a very brave woman in her mid-thirties stood up in my church and shared her testimony as a single person who wishes she were married.  The audience, as you might expect from a moderately conservative Baptist church, was married couples attempting to keep their offspring from crawling in the rows, with limited success.  (At least one skittered past me that day).  There were few other singles in the church, but those that were, were mainly in the pews filled with college students.

But her words hit me deeply as she talked about the longing to get married, the frustration with the time it was taking to find the right person with which to settle down.

I’m almost as far from single as one could get, barring those few who met in high school or before.  I met my husband when I was 19 and he was 17, and though it most certainly wasn’t love at first sight, by the time I turned 24 there really wasn’t much question that we would be getting married.  This year, though only our 4th anniversary, marks our 10th year of friendship.

How then can I, who’s never made an online dating profile, never been on a blind date relate to anyone who’s single?

Because I, friends, have been unlucky – not in love – but in careers.

I like to say of my resume – great life, terrible paper trail.  I stand by each of my experiences as necessary to growth – but, like a string of exes, they’ve each taught me what I didn’t want.

Like many others who I’ve talked to, both in love and careers, early on I received little advice beyond admonitions to lighten up and it would happen, or to follow what basically amounted to ‘common sense’ in both the job search or in the quest of relationships.

“Get good grades!”
“Only date Christians!”
“College is for everyone”
“You’re still young, you’ll find some[one/thing].”
“Network”
“Just get out and meet a lot of people.”

But these cliches aren’t really that helpful when you’re home at night and start wondering –

What’s wrong with me?
Why haven’t I found my passion yet?
Or – worse – why hasn’t my passion amounted to a job that supports me/ creates wealth?
Am I smart?
What am I doing wrong?
What is wrong with me!?

And you attempt to answer that last sentence with any amount of gleaned wisdom from thoughtful well written blog posts by your peers – who are successful – and have managed to secure positions that they deserve and earned.

Am I just unlucky? Should I have just tried harder?  Did I end up on the wrong path so long ago that there’s no finding my way now?

In those bleak hours, that happen, not every night, but unfortunately every now and again, I must review advice and comfort from what I’ve learned.

1. There is no one right path/ Mr. Right. It’s hard when you’ve tried a string of actions that hasn’t repaid your investment, or when you are surrounded by stories that champion the people who knew when they were 17 what they wanted to be. A culture that celebrates child geniuses and profiles CEOs under 40.   That shows success can be had anywhere and success means money, fame, and power.

Hunt out the other stories, and don’t believe lies that tell you there is only one right way to do things and you’ll know it when you see it. You might not.

2. It is not now or never. If you do not find the perfect job (or date) today that does not mean that you will be forever stuck in your parent’s house, or in a basement for the rest of your life.  It only feels like it.  Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you to banish dichotomous thinking whenever you can – it isn’t all or nothing!

3. You are loved. Really. And as someone who is loved, you should continue to be purposeful.  Vision is important – but, vision, I think, can be continually shifting – constantly being refined by life experience and wisdom from respected others.  If your vision looks different than it did when you were in high school.  That’s fine.  Sure, you may be no Donald Miller, but then, who is? As the late great Kurt Vonnegut said – You wouldn’t have written Beethoven’s  9th Symphony anyway.

HOWEVER – it is possible to live purposefully without a clear, well-defined end vision.  I wrote a little bit about what to do when you feel “in between times” and I stand by my suggestions. Make friends, invest in community, volunteer, support causes, learn.  If you can’t see where you will be in 40 years, that is okay – why don’t we just try for 1 okay?

4.  There is more advice and help out there than cliches.  There are plenty of ways to glean self knowledge and to continue to search for and find ways to express your passion while waiting for vision to blossom. Don’t assume that it will come to you in a dream – and – forgive your parents or guidance counselors who gave you bad/no advice.  You’re a grown up now.

However, sometimes cliches make the best endingsSo get out there and Try Try again.

Or at least eat some discount chocolate.

//

If you liked this post about my career woes you might also like: Career Advice for my Younger Self.

And you should probably share this post with your friends 😉

Tackling To Do Lists

Understanding (your) Self:

In my social psychology class one week we studied the concept of The Self.  Roy Baumeister, author of the popular book Willpower, and editor of the text my class used, proposes that there are three basic roots, or areas of study, when considering selfhood: Self Awareness, Interpersonal Relations (how others perceive us), and Self- Control (how we make and achieve goals).

Since Self-Control is fascinating to me as a person trying to navigate this ‘growing up’ thing, I paid particular attention to that section of the text. I grinned when Baumeister cited some research that confirmed my personal experience that “self awareness is essentially for the sake of self-regulation.” Self regulation is therefore necessary to achieve goals.  My initial impressions of adulthood are that most of it is an exercise in self-control.

Self Control and Adulthood:

Well, in order to achieve anything long term (and in direct contrast to childhood – almost everything necessary to function in adulthood is long term – owning and caring for property, paying bills, contributing meaningfully to society, raising children…etc) you need to have a certain level of knowledge and mastery – which is mostly achieved through self-controlled study or experience.

Which leads to another personal conclusion that to-do lists are a necessary tool of adulthood in a modern world where we’ve got dozens of competing goals we need to decide between prioritizing.  BUT… even though tackling to-do lists will help you get many things done – depending on your level of energy, time, and motivation you might find it impossible to check things off.

This is why I think it is equally important to categorize things to do and then use the right strategy for tackling the To-Do list. I don’t think you can always accomplish tasks in the same way each time, mainly because you become accustomed to that particular approach and then start slacking off.  There’s a similar phenomenon in dieting – people get bored of eating cottage cheese, salads, and chicken every day so they start seeking novelty – and fall off the bandwagon.

Here are 3 of my strategies for tackling to-do lists and achieving focus.

Note: These strategies are particularly for tackling mental work.

3 Things Method

The Three Things Method:

Every 2 weeks I make a list of mental tasks that need to get done – generally things I can’t accomplish with my son around. This allows me to identify what times are useable (nap time, bed time) and what times aren’t (the witching hour 5-7pm). Then depending on the day and amount of time available, I pick 3 things (the most important on the list!) and focus on ONLY those 3 things – nothing else on the master list.  Clearing my mind of the other items makes it easier for me to focus.

Checkbox Method

The Checkbox Method:

I have a weak prospective memory – or in other words – I’m easily distractable. (Doesn’t the first one sound so much better?!).  I might sit down to read a book, then remember I need to answer an email, and find myself reading a newspaper article which prompts me to check my bank account.  It’s easy (for me) to lose an hour of productivity that way. Which is why, when I often start work I take a scrap piece of paper and make a series of boxes.  Each box represents 15 minutes of focus on a task.  If I complete 15 minutes of focus, I check it off.  If I don’t, I X it.  I feel a certain level of shame if I look at more than 2 boxes with an X in them, which prompts me to try harder to focus.  In my experience – focus begets more focus… and I can usually con myself into just fifteen more minutes of work.

Categorize Method

The Balanced Modes Method:

On my master mental tasks lists there are generally three types of tasks: thinking, reading, and writing. Although I sometimes have the energy to tackle 3 reading items… I often don’t. Who can read 100 pages of psychology textbook at once?  Answer: Not me.  So, I try and balance the tasks that I accomplish by switching between two modes.  First I’ll read for a set amount of time or length – then I’ll write for set amount of time or length.

Additionally…

I also like Gretchin Rubin’s 15 Minute “Tackle a  Nagging task” method which I read about in “The Happiness Project” (highly recommend!).  Sometimes tasks are so tedious, or difficult, or simply abhorrent that you can’t do it,  So, you break the task down into 15 minute pieces and you commit to doing 15 minutes (and ONLY 15 minutes) on the task every day until it’s complete.  This works for mental tasks AND other household tasks.

Could you see yourself using any of these strategies?  Do you have other strategies to get yourself through your to-do lists?

Career Advice for my Younger Self

Career Advice WordPress

I’ve been poring over my resume in order to update it with my new (almost completed) degree, as well as recent projects, experiences and high hopes for the future – Oh wait, that last bit just goes in my diary.  So I’ve been considering lessons and career advice I wish I’d known during my first  job… but that I’ve learned along the way since then.

After a series of eclectic high school and summer jobs (orthodontist assistant, library page, soccer referee, camp counselor..) I finally got my first real job – as in only 40 hours a week, with a liveable salary – as a twenty-two year old.  The salary was enough to move into my first real apartment, which I wrote about on Connect Shore last year.

But, as most of us know, first jobs are well… first jobs and the learning curve is steep, and includes more than just the basics of mastering the job description.  Eventually you move on, leaving behind a trail of mistakes, growth, and new references for your resume.

Here are the top 5 pieces of career advice I wish I’d known on my first day of work.

1. Write down what you learn and what you want to learn.  The first two weeks on the job I was an eager beaver writing down all the important things I could – like where the emergency kits were, what my employee ID number was, and how to create the best daily schedule.  But over time I stopped making an effort to write down details. Since then, I’ve become a lot more conscious of holding onto lessons learned.

At the beginning of each semester I take the time to write down a couple goals that range from details:  answer ALL the emails within 6 hours to content: Read at least one supplementary reading the teacher mentions and use it in an assignment.

At the end of the semester I write down what I learned: personally: don’t take three classes at once! and scholastically: I now know about Michael Porter’s Shared Value theory and the importance of reviewing key learnings in training programs.  You could also choose to write down professional learnings, emotional learnings, or simply various observations.

Taking the time to keep a learning journal will help you remember and practice the lessons you’ve learned.

I also try and write down what else I want to learn in the future about the topics I just started exploring through a class: for example I want to learn more about concrete ways businesses are able to integrate sustainability practices into their strategy and bottom line.  This applies equally well to jobs – there are always more things to learn.  This can help you make the most of even an entry level job.

2. Office politics matter. People, and the way they work together, are incredibly important.  Some people have even disagreed with the venerable Abraham Maslow to say that social needs may be as important as physical needs – at least on the job.  It’s worth the effort to learn the strengths and weaknesses of your coworkers, to learn how to manage your boss (as the Harvard Business Review calls it) and your coworkers, along with learning how to manage yourself.  It’s also worth it to know when to get involved in a conflict, when to walk away, and when to ask for help from your boss in a conflict. Yeah, that’s a story for another time.

3. Track how you work and what is involved with big projects. I have a bad habit  of wanting to do half of my week-long to-do list on Monday morning. Then, when 1pm comes around, I’m disheartened that I couldn’t tackle those first 16 hours of work in 4 hours. Be realistic and know how long answering emails, writing reports, and travel time can take. Writing a paper is a project – but there’s a lot more to it than simply “writing” (see my last post).  There are “sweet spots” for working on different types of work, and figure out when and how the pieces of the puzzle (projects and time available) fit together.

4. Reach out to like-minded people AND/OR join a professional group.  I got disheartened after two years of working in my first job because of a dearth of connections.  I liked my coworkers enormously, and office drinks were fun… but other people didn’t seem to view what the work the same way I did.  Some were putting in hours to get paid, others were focused on daily tasks and I wanted to talk the high level view.  I got so frustrated, in fact, that I first began my quest to re-assess my skills, desires, and interests in order to find another field to work in.

Perhaps if I had known to find a professional group, a mentor, or reached out to others in a group for career advice, I might have found a way to use my skills in that field.  Talk about work from a step-back every now and then with other professionals in order to get a fresh look, don’t just whine, moan, and complain about the daily grind.  Reach out to mentors!

5. When the right time to move on is. I wish I’d known the answer to this one then, and I still haven’t had enough experience to be able to answer the questions now – but I really wish I knew!  Some experts say that when you’ve stopped learning anything new, that’s the time. Other say, when you’ve mastered the core responsibilities of the job.  I don’t think these take into account the fact that people aren’t just career-bots and may also need to accommodate rest-of-life circumstances when they consider moving to a new job.  However, if you’re feeling burned out, it’s probably time to move on now!
How about you? What career advice would you have given yourself when you started working?

Advice for the inbetween Times

Advice for the inbetween timesAdvice For The In-between Times.

May is a good time to give advice because people are looking for it:  Life changes happen a lot around this time of year: There are Graduations, Weddings and Babies, Apartment hunting, Job hunting and on and on. We may want to figure out New Years Resolutions on our own – but when things seem a little out of our control – and there are other people involved – we want some advice.

So, a little advice from someone who’s the veteran of quite a few life changes:

Answer the questions you can: When I entered college my major was undeclared, and by the end of the year I had switched it to English.

Why did I make that decision?

Looking back, one of the big reasons was because people didn’t know how to handle the label “Undecided” when they asked “What’s your major?”  Neither did I.  I wanted to be able to answer their questions, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t want to live in no man’s land. Of course, as soon as I switched my major to English, the question became “Oh, what do you want to do with that?”  Which, I also didn’t have an answer for.

People ask questions, and frankly, they’re just trying to make conversation.  It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” If you’re afraid of shocked silence – you could also say “I’m interested in this (job, idea, movement) but I don’t have all the details figured out yet.” Your roles (or non-roles, like being ‘undecided’) shape you – but very few of your defining roles will last your whole life.

Make a contingency plan : Any information you gathered before you made your plan (no matter how exhaustive) is incomplete.  Before I got married, I quit my job to travel with my new husband; little did we know we’d be pregnant in less than two months.  I had made the job-quitting decision based on the best knowledge available.  However, the information I really needed – was a unknown.  Sometimes our best plans, best intentions, most carefully laid schedules are all based on information that can quickly become outdated and foolish.  At that point, cobble together a contingency plan, and go from there.

 Collaborate –I love the process of networking, but I hate the idea that I have to sell myself like a commodity. So often I find myself asking “Wait, what am I really good at again?”  If you’re confused about your skills – Back your friend’s projects.  Support their charity, champion their new business, read their writing.  It might give you ideas, and it will also create a support network for when you do figure out what you have to offer.  As one of my favorite writers, Gretchin Rubin, says, “People Succeed in Groups.”

 Something will always be the problem – No matter what changes in your life, there will always be something else.  My old camp director used to say “There’s always a harder camper waiting in the wings.”  The number one whiner of the week may have been sent home from acute homesickness – but the girl that wets the bed every night is just waiting to drown you.  Whatever your biggest problem right now – even if it’s solved there is another one waiting in the wings to take it’s place.  I find it helpful to, as Ann Vokamp says, Choose Joy.  Others would say to Focus on the Positive, but the idea is the same.

 These are four actions I’ve learned through my own life transitions – what are some things you’ve learned?  Also – who do you turn to for advice?

And, some recent great blog posts on advice I’ve been reading –

When is the best time to form habits?

(The spring 2013 story up until now – grad school up to my earsan attempt to prioritize – which brings us to…)

Habits.

Last week I had the pleasure of listening to Kelly Plosker speak at my local MOPS group.  She is bright, entertaining, hilarious, encouraging, thought-provoking, and authentic.  In short, she’s one of my favorite speakers.

She speaks often at our group – about things like vision, priorities, and how to keep yourself from going insane as the parent of a small child.  I love that.  However, this time, she spent a portion of her time talking about Habits.  I thought I should listen because I’ve been thinking a lot this semester about excellence and priorities, and how to live a good life by choice.  It seems as though, if these important things are to become second nature – the only way to do it will be through habits.

Most of the time I don’t think about my habits.  To be honest, I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.  These are your go-to routines, the bones of your day.  You don’t think about this critical framework…for the most part.

Kelly, she told us, Your habits are built during the easy times, so they will get you through the tough times.

And therein lies why she’s the speaker giving advice, and I’m the one listening and soaking it in.  Because my habits are usually just sort of routines I fell into.  I don’t much think about them, until they aren’t working. 

Because, in an ideal world, I would have done what Kelly suggests and created a habit when things were easy – when there was time, when I felt love and peace for the world at large, when I was getting a consistent 8 hours of sleep maybe, or had energy to spare?

In short – I would have started those habits 30 (or 66?) days ago.

But, mostly I fell into my habits the way people do – by accident.

So that I didn’t realize I had these habits – until they were already BAD habits – fully formed, taken root, and heartily thriving.

via Hannah’s Discovery.

A few of bad habits look like this:

– “checking facebook real quick” – and then spending an hour on rabbit trails down blogs and news stories.

– Of eating a snack after dinner that turns into one long nosh fest up until bed.

– Study interspersed with distractions and “breaks” that truly ruin my work flow, and create unneeded stress.

– Bringing up parenting problems  – as we’re running out the door, already late to events.

– Realizing my son thinks eating a meal means standing up and walking around… just like his mama.

It seems, for me anyway, that unconsidered habits are always bad habits – and I want to form good habits.

So, when is the best time to form correct habits?

The short answer is: Now.

The practical answer is much more complex – a whole blog worth of complex – because forming a habit is hard. Every good habit I have is the result of hard work and grit.  They are habits maintained in against the forces of time and tiredness, and with continual reinforcement.  (That’s a post for another time.)

Meanwhile, I’m going to work Now on those bad habits above – What about you?  Are there habits you have that just aren’t working for you? When do you think the time to work on habits is?  And how do you do it?

Other posts around the internet about Habits I’ve been reading:

Relevant Mag: 5 Things your Habits Say about you

Cracked: 5 Ways your brain tricks you into sticking with Bad Habits.

Storyline Blog:  How to change a Habit.

 

Your Priorities aren’t just another “To Do” list

I bit off more than I could chew and it’s been weighing on my mind for a couple weeks now.

When I calculated how much time I had at the beginning of the semester – there was an ample amount of time to study and balance work.  I only needed about 35 hours total – and there are 168 in the week.

I immediately, of course, threw out the 56, give or take, I spend sleeping, and all the time I spend with E pouring water on the floor, watching buses, fighting to get the coat on, and all the other activities of daily living.  I’m smart about that stuff – I know I can’t read textbook chapters and eat oatmeal with a toddler on my lap (or can I?)

That brought me down to about 42 hours of time per week.  See!  Look!  I’d planned for 7 hours of wiggle room no less!

Haha.  Wiggle room.

Like always – I glossed over the fact that life changes.  That I would have new ideas about the best way to live – and those ideas might involve amounts of internet and book research which also has nothing to do with class – and wouldn’t fit into those left over 7 hours.

I didn’t budget in for feeling overwhelmed and sitting on the couch watching Modern Family, and Once Upon a Time over and over.  I didn’t plan for buying new furniture, or non-routine shopping trips.  I didn’t plan for just not wanting to work some nights – or not being able to figure out what needed to get done the first time around.  I didn’t plan for planning, or questioning my decisions.

Who can plan for that stuff?

Real life takes up time – and even though people say it can be organized – (Even though I’m trying to be organized – and there are purportedly more tools than ever via apps, the internet, and experts – I get the feeling that’s not really helping anyone – it’s just kind of putting off disaster a little further.)

One Problem? These tools aren’t doing what needs to be done – they won’t tell you a single thing about your Priorities.

These tools are trying to tell us we can have it all, if we can just pull together by trying another solution, or working harder, or just smarter.

It doesn’t work like that.   You have to say ‘No’ to some things – and you have Say ‘Yes’ to the Right things.

You have to do your best, forget the rest – and then not try to fit “the rest” in later in the day.

No tool in a magazine, on the internet, in a book, or in a day planner will tell you about your priorities.

You will need to figure out your priorities on your own.

Truth be told, you should probably get help from others too.  Cause if you, and all your little wants, and all your impulses are priority one – you did it wrong.

None of those other tools, the books, planners, and resolutions, will help you when the going gets tough.  For that – you need grace – not another “to do” list.

I’ve been clinging tight to the words of advice from Proverbs 6:6 that Donald Miller reminded me of and simply trying to do one thing at a time lately – and those things that have a lasting impact.  The right things.

Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise.

image via fineartamerica.com

For more of my thoughts on Priorities and Values : Check out my post “This I Believe.”