Further In and Further Up

I have a(nother) decent idea for a creative nonfiction memoir/self-help type book kicking around in my head.  I get those a lot.  Unsurprisingly it pulls together a lot of themes that I’ve blogged about over my 3(ish) years here at All Growing Up: coming of age, navigating the jump to web 2.0 and the idea of digital bilingualism (different from digital natives or digital immigrants), the importance of values, millenials, the frustration of not knowing what to do with your life… and so on.  I’m working slowly on refining the overwhelming amount of material I’d love to include in it.

One crazy thing I like to think about a lot is how deep life can be. My sister came up a couple weeks ago and asked me what life is like at 28.

Paraphrased conversation: Her “So besides take care of E what else do you do?” Me: “Oh you know, go to grad school, work part time, belong to a church community, hang out with my friends, volunteer with SalemRecycles. read a bunch.” Her: “That’s it huh?”

I’m 7 years older than her… which is a significant difference in terms of life experiences in your 20s.  But one thing I kept trying to impress on her is that the deeper you choose to know something, the more avenues it opens up – not fewer.

 

Tardis

(Okay. I know almost nothing about Dr. Who. But even I’ve heard about the TARDIS – where the inside is bigger than the outside).

That was a huge paradox that I didn’t get for a long time.  I’ve always prided myself on having a wide range of interests, being, as St. Paul says “all things to all people.”  I like to know a little bit about a lot of things: farming or philosophy – the Cartesian coordinate system or the digestive system. I think the current way of the world (ie: let me google that for you) is made for people like me. It brings me pain when people bring up a topic and I have nothing to contribute to it – with google, I can make and form an opinion in the space of three articles.

I didn’t want to choose one thing to pursue – because I was afraid that this would somehow limit my options. However, I’m getting older and the truth is, you have to choose. Well, you have to choose if you want to contribute meaningfully.  An introduction to a topic may make for good cocktail conversation – but won’t serve you in making a significant impact.  Perhaps it’s my own subjective growing older experience… but I want to make an impact.

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?

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.

 

Regardless of How You Feel, Make Healthy Choices.

I was sitting in my Theories of Psychotherapy class a couple Mondays ago with a bright group of eager young men and women trying their hardest to figure out what is the best method of teaching people how to change.  Each week we’ve been covering a different school of thought – from Existentialism, to Behaviorism, to Cognitive Therapy.  And although each school of thought thinks different theoretical things; is it our perceptions that create our behavior, or our parents, for example.   It turns out that (this is really true) it doesn’t matter what orientation you pick as a therapist, they all have fairly similar effectiveness.

This particular night we were discussing Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which (among other things) stresses mindfulness, and creating a contract of agreement between therapist and client.  The professor, who practices this particular strain of therapy in his practice, made a statement about how the contract is basically to guarantee that the client will agree:

“Regardless of how you feel, Make Healthy Choices.”

And BAM.   A lightbulb went on over my head. {insert cheesy clipart}

This is one of my big “Secrets Of Adulthood.” (I learned about those from Gretching Rubin – some people call them “life hacks.”) 

I used to tell myself:  “Do what Needs to Get Done” which is sort of a nitty gritty “grin and bear it” type of philosophy.  That is, it doesn’t matter if you stayed up all night reading a book and eating muffins and you’re really tired, you have to go to work, to get paid, to be responsible, to pay the bills.  That thought was mostly based on the idea that there’s one right answer to “what needs to get done.”  But now, I can see that that was a really narrow focus, which dealt with very narrow problems.  (Re: Stayed up late reading YA fiction, too tired for work scenario.)

No, the more important thing to realize was that each person carries around this Ideal in their head of a “Healthy Adult.”  Maybe yours is your mother, a friend, or your third grade teacher.  And when you make choices, you’re striving to mimic and imitate this Healthy Adult.

But the problem is, lots and lots of time you don’t quite feel like making the right choices. And I don’t just mean because you’re tired.  Depression and Stress are two really big culprits that can deter people from making healthy choices.  But so can backing yourself into terrible situations like wrong jobs, wrong relationships, and worse addictions than eating too many muffins. Then there’s this big heaping dose of guilt, on top of the shame of messing u

And besides, you’re an adult, You don’t want to make this choice? Then don’t do it – put it off, see what happens…

Of course, that’s a recipe for snowballing disaster.  But paradoxically, making a healthy choice – even the smallest possible step in the right direction –  like putting on real clothes, eating vegetables, taking a walk, or striking one nagging item of your todo list –  puts you closer to being a healthy adult – not matter how far you still fall from the ideal.  Acting on reason, rather than acting on whims and feelings, to brings you closer to that ideal – not farther.

And therein lies the secret – You don’t have to actually feel like doing the healthy thing in order to actually do it. And surprisingly, your mood will improve if you do make the healthy choice, even though you didn’t feel like it.

So, get on it.

Good Advice from an Older Sister

I blog for a lot of reasons – some of them are covered in this post – but also for the reason that I’ve very much come to see this blog as a reflection of myself turning into an adult.  I’m also starting to see that there is going to be a point where I declare myself a Grown Up or at the very least have attained the Age of Reason like my friend Marta wrote about at Connect Shore. That didn’t seem possible when I first started 3 almost 4 years ago.

With this post I feel like I’ve reached another milestone (beyond it being my 202nd post) because it represents a shift in my thinking and structuring of my day from a pile of details into a coherent plan.

All that said – this post is about Organization and I don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said before and better, by more qualified people, in more specific ways. This isn’t a “how to” article it’s a “how I did” article.

Truly, this post is dedicated to my two sisters, who I love to regale with my newest findings on how to organize better and more seamlessly – and why they should be doing it too.

Becca and Rachel, let’s pretend like I am the lecturer giving a slide show presentation and you are my captive audience.  You may take notes, or text on your phones, as students are wont to do.

My basic premise for this project was –

Basically, like Gretchin Rubin says in her Happiness Project book and blog (paraphrased for this circumstance) I’m not disorganized, I’m just not as organized as I’d like to be.  These were some of the reasons I was feeling disorganized –

See Also – Eating a lot of cakes and muffins agitatedly when I am stressed out like this scene in The Importance of Being Earnest.

“When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed, when I am in really great trouble, as any one who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink”

So, as you both know, whenever I embark on a new project I like to read a lot of things about that topic.  I read a book by organizational guru Julie Morgenstern, an interpretation of Maria Montessori’s teaching methods which are largely founded on the idea of order (I blogged about that here), and dozen of blogs of which I HeartOrganizing is pretty representational.  This is what I learned from all of that.

Yes, it’s kind of time consuming just to come up with a system.  After all my reading I managed to couple together a system that works for me that is pretty low tech.

Yes, its just a plain old notebook, nothing fancy here.

It involves dividing my weekly to-do list into a way that reflects the four primary spheres of my life and filling them with only the amount of items that will fit in that box.  That means I’ve automatically pared down the list to include the most important things – and I know I won’t even finish those ones.  My different areas are:

  1. Home/Family
  2. Friends/Church/Ministry
  3. Self/Blogs
  4. Work/School

Daily dividing my day into four different parts (4 hours each between 7am and 11pm).

And doing what I need to do during those time chunks – and not getting carried away if I get really into writing a blog post for 2 hours – EVEN –  if I’m being “productive”- see slide 4

Letting it go means if the craft project I really want to do doesn’t get done, I forget about it, not perseverate on it – I want to make a baby scrapbook, but it isn’t happening right now.

Finally – my system is working for me, but I still learned some other theoretical things about organizing.
Even though I still don’t have time to do everything I want, paradoxically, I do find that I at least want to do what I’m doing (minus scrubbing the toilet). And even though it doesn’t make me a nicer person, it does cut down on blaming others for my own feelings of stress. Also, I’m now getting 85% of what I want to get done and feeling pretty calm.

The End.
Love, your big sister Beth.

*PS. As usual, I made up 99% of the statistics in this presentation.

The Easiest Way to Walk in Someone else’s Shoes

I’ve learned that most of my sins are sins of excess and passion.


If I’m upset, I’m quick to blame, and quick to rage, and quick to storm.

The ever-attractive temper tantrum – Not.

Luckily I’m pretty quick to forgive as well… after I’ve launched my fifteen minute lecture of why I’m in the right.


Which is why on my road to growing up I’ve realized it’s invaluable to try and get into someone else’s shoes pretty fast.  And…The fastest way to dissipate anger is to try and see things from someone else’s perspective.  Of course, you’ve got to remember to do that when your emotions are running high.

Which is why I try to make my first reaction – “That Poor…”

“That poor driver, they’re probably late to an appointment.”
“That poor mom, her kids look like they are driving her crazy.”

People aren’t their best when they are tired, busy, stressed, hungry … or any host of other things.  And lets face it… People (you, me, your husband, your kid, your best friend, the cashier in the grocery store) are ALWAYS up against some obstacle.

This method of relating doesn’t absolve others from their responsibility, but it does save me from looking like the asshole that lost her lid because someone else had a good reason for being late.  It gives *me* a few minutes to pull it together and look at all the other colors of what I think is a black and white picture.  And that’s what being an adult is all about.

A Balanced Diet of Friends

After reviewing my New Years Resolutions in July I realized that I was having a hard time with my goal to “Be a Good Friend.”   I was certain that if I just sat down and thought about this topic for an hour or so, I would be able to pinpoint the trouble and fix this goal.  These are some of my thoughts on friendship in adulthood.

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Good Friends I’ve Had:

I follow along with the blog MWF seeking BFF and the premise of the blog and the honest writing style really resonate with me.  A recent post of hers linked to an article from Self Magazine that reassures me that a shrinking friend circle is normal for you as you grow older.  It also highlights some of the benefits of having many friends to fit different roles in your life.

I’ve really enjoyed having athletic friends to run races with, creative friends to see life in a new way, reading friends to talk about books… and plenty of others.  But one thing that I’ve noticed over the last two years is that I’ve tried to cut back on how many “niche” friends I’ve had and just went with the “well rounded” type of friends.  It’s hard to hang out with people individually (especially with a family) and it makes more sense to multitask by hanging out with groups of people or hanging out with one or two friends that fit a lot of categories.  So I need to focus on being a good friend to these few people.

Two pieces of Good Advice on Friendship:

I also remembered two really good pieces of advice I was given about five years ago about friendship that can help you redefine your ideas of what friendship might mean.

1) You can’t always have meaningful conversations – A relationship can get pretty strained if you want to have soul baring vulnerable conversations about your innermost thoughts and feelings every time you get together.   You’ve got to balance out those deep conversations with stuff at least sometimes.

2) It’s hard to be friends if you’re always catching up – You need to have friends that you see or talk to a lot: that is, you aren’t always filling them in on the last three months of your life, or why exactly you chose to take the new job offer.  They’ve been along with you for the whole angsty period of your current job slowly souring on you, or your increasing dissatisfaction with the tasks, or your new passion for another field.  But you don’t need to be attached at the hip anymore as an adult, to still be friends with someone.

What my Nutritionist Taught me About Friendship

It’s important to have a balanced diet of friends.  Work friends, Church friends, Mom friends, Old College Friends…etc.  But just like any balanced diet there are actually a few powerhouse foods that we count on day in and day out.  Most days you’ll find me eating wheat bread, cheese, tomato (in some form), eggs, and coffee.  And, actually, most people who are successful with their diets don’t vary their foods up too much – that creates uncertainty and uncertainty makes people uncomfortable and stressed, which, well, leads to eating more.  So, even though I agree that I need a balanced diet of friends, I think it’s probably find for me to pull on the same few people over and over again and not create stress running after a dozen different friends.

My nutritionist also told me, If you’re okay with what you’re doing, it’s okay to keep doing it.  Just because the latest research might say that you should live carb free, only eat dessert on alternate Sundays and give up diet soda – you don’t have to.  If you’re living a moderately healthy lifestyle and you have only a “few” bad habits, you don’t have to change them now.  Maybe you will in the future.

As for how this relates to friendship –  as long as I continue to keep in contact with the friends I do have and enjoy, and make new ones occasionally – it’s okay if I don’t have women who I do “girls night out” with, and it’s okay if I don’t have people to go on vacation with to summer houses in the Poconoes.  Even if really really envy other people who do that.

So, what does friendship look like for me as an adult

So, it turned out I was using an old definition of friendship from my pre-baby, pre-marriage, pre-adulthood days.  This definition went something like – if I’m going to have friends I need to see them at least five days a week, talk on the phone,  and pour my heart out to them at least monthly.  (Hello College Roommate!) No wonder I was getting cognitive dissonance about how well I was doing on my goal.

oh wait… plus my husband is my friend too,
and I see him every day.

I think a Good Friend:
Knows what her friends need – coffee, a meal, an idea, a pat on the back, a hug, advice, space.
Organizes parties
Provides a listening ear
Keeps in contact through social media like blogs and facebook

And a good rule of thumb for me:
I need to see women friends at least 4 out of 7 days a week, or I’ll go crazy.

There’s still a lot more I want to discover about friendship, but I think this is a good place to start for now.