Flying blind

A couple of nights ago, something started thump-whumping on my back door. I didn’t think anything of it at first; my house often makes creepy noises that flare up and then disappear. This one kept happening, though.

It’s August, a little late for the giant Junebugs that don’t realize a giant pane of glass stands between them and the light. Anyway, the sound was lower-pitched than that, like something bigger and maybe furry.

I started having visions of a raccoon trying to nudge the door open, but when I turned on the light and looked outside, I saw nothing. No ringed eyes looking up at me, no tiny black paws scrabbling to grab hold, nothing. I turned off the light and went back to the sofa.

Thump-whump! Thump-whump!

The sound came again, and again I turned on the light and looked through the glass door. Again nothing. This time I convinced myself the sound had come from a bat launching its small, furry body toward my kitchen, stopped only by the glass door. That had to be why I couldn’t see anything, right? It had flown away. Definitely creepy.

Back to my seat I went, mentally preparing for how I would remove the creepy flying mammal when it finally sneaked into my kitchen. I don’t have a net, but I might be able to locate a tennis racquet somewhere in the house. Oh please, oh please, don’t let it come to that.

Thump-whump! Thump-whump!

When the noise started again, I grabbed a flashlight. Instead of going directly to the door and scaring off the critter by turning on the outside light, I went to a window where I could see the door from a different angle. I shined the flashlight across the door to try to catch a glimpse of the offender. Still nothing. What the heck?

My boyfriend came up behind me and peered over my shoulder. He scanned the area with his eyes and somehow landed on a tiny flicker of movement on the ground. “Shine your light there,” he said.

I did. I could see something moving, but I couldn’t get a good visual. I adjusted the flashlight’s beam to be less diffuse, and I finally saw it. A giant locust. Seriously? That was the thing that had been creeping me out all evening?

Subsequent thumps that evening no longer bothered me. In fact, I even gave a little chuckle when I heard the sound again, amused and a little sheepish at how I had fallen victim to my assumptions.

There was no bat trying to get into my house to terrorize me. All it took was a little investigation to disprove my theory. Once I got more information, even the continued thumping no longer set my mind racing.

What a good reminder to look for more information before drawing conclusions and to be open to what we learn, whether it proves or dispels.

Shine your light. Look from a different angle. Be ready to find something you don’t expect.

Identity crisis

I love food.

For most of my life, creating it has been part of my identity. As an adolescent, I baked. When, as a newly minted adult, I called myself a good cook, my dad countered and said I was a good baker–he didn’t really know whether I could cook. So I rose to the challenge and dove into new recipes, embracing new techniques. Now I bake AND cook.

I love to read recipes and experiment with complicated cooking methods. I buy unusual ingredients when I find them at the grocery store just to see what I can do with them. Just yesterday I picked up a box of Cape gooseberries to see where they might lead me. I can’t stand to clean my house, but I’ll happily cook all day.

Of course, eating comes with the territory. Discovering a new restaurant, an unusual flavor combination, or just pure deliciousness is an enduring quest for me. Although I have a few favorites, I rarely order the same thing twice at a restaurant for fear I’ll miss out on some other epicurean delight. And I try really hard to avoid ordering the same thing as someone else at my table. After all, I might be able to snag a bite of something different.

So what’s the problem?

In my (seemingly constant) effort to maintain my weight and improve my overall health, food represents a key component of that formula. I’ve made lots of lifestyle improvements over the years, but the hardest thing has been–and still is–separating myself from food. It’s like tearing away a piece of my soul.

Look, I make mostly healthy-ish choices. I’ve shifted my cooking style. I’ve learned to embrace and love vegetables (except the orange ones). I work out hard. But walk me past a new coffee shop or bakery, suggest we try a new restaurant, or tempt me with a fancy technique and I’m all in.

I’m trying to set boundaries and find alternative pleasures. I’m striving for moderation, to embrace all the sensory pleasures of food–the visual stimulation of a carefully composed dish, the smell that envelops me, the sound of the sizzle, the feel of working the dough–so that taste becomes less important and I find satisfaction in a single bite.

But this is my SOUL we’re talking about.

I’m not asking for advice here. Finding the right balance with food in all its aspects in my life is hard, but I’m trying. It isn’t the food I need to figure out so much as myself.

I see this as a journey in self-awareness. Twenty years ago, maybe even ten or five, I wouldn’t have recognized these things. Somewhere along the way I realized that food has become integral to my identity (admiring, creating, eating, sharing), so of course making lifestyle changes that revolve around it will be hard. In this case, I think the key is to finally recognize that I can’t just quit the thing that matters so much to me. I can’t even work around it, really. Instead, I need to work with it in a way that allows me to embrace my identity and still achieve my goals.

All this time, I’ve been trying to figure out food, when I should have been trying to figure out myself.

Dragon slaying

I’m struggling again with writing, as you may have surmised from my absent blog posts this week. I’ve started second guessing my ideas: Who would want to read that? I’m worried about my tone: Sheesh! You sound like Pollyanna, always turning things into glib sunshine and rainbows. I lose my grasp on fleeting ideas: I just can’t think of anything interesting to write about. This old insecurities (explained in I am not a-mused) have flared up again.

I can’t let that happen.

So here I am, writing about the insecurities themselves. By giving them voice and then countering with the truth, I intend to put them to rest. I know I’ll likely have to do this many times and they may never be permanently defeated. Hopefully, though, each time will get easier and the process of cutting them down will become second nature.

It just takes practice, and to show I’m serious about slaying my dragons, I’m going to do it publicly.

  1. Who would want to read that? C’mon, T. You’ve said since Day One that you’re not writing for anyone else. Remember how you said that writing every day jumpstarted your creativity and helped you organize your thoughts? Yeah, you really said that. Why don’t you own it now? Write like you mean it.
  2. Sheesh! You sound like Pollyanna, always turning things into glib sunshine and rainbows. Life isn’t sunshine and rainbows, but there’s nothing wrong with trying to find the nuggets of wisdom in everyday situations. It doesn’t mean your life is perfect, T. Actually, you need to find those nuggets for yourself. (See item 1 in case you forgot your audience.) There are days when you feel like buckling under the weight of all that’s going on; it’s perfectly normal to look for ways to make sense of it. In fact, this exercise is vastly healthier than wallowing (at which you’re also quite accomplished).
  3. I just can’t think of anything interesting to write about. Jeez, T, you’ve always prided yourself on being able to make something out of nothing. How many times have you told people that’s what your blog posts reflect? After all, you just wrote a whole post on how you couldn’t write. Talk about turning nothing into something!

I doubt that I’ve slain the dragon of self-doubt, but hopefully I’ve beaten him back for a while so my body of work–my armaments–can grow.

So friends, here’s my formula for dealing with fear/self-doubt/whatever is holding you back: bring it into the light. Call it out; share it with someone else. Then present your counterarguments. If it helps, do it in third person. Pretend you’re counseling a friend or your daughter or someone important to you. Write them down, point by point, so you can SEE them. Then go do the thing that scares you. Your legs may be wobbly, but they’ll get stronger as you go. I promise.

Cut to the chase

Stilfehler / CC BY-SA

When I visited my hairdresser the other day, I went armed with an idea. Mind you, for nearly twenty years I’ve told her, Do whatever you want. Once in a while I tell her to leave the length, thin it a bit, get it out of my face, but the execution–if not the entire style–is usually up to her. I’m just not very good at this stuff, so why not leave it to someone who is?

Well, after thirteen-ish years of the same hairstyle with only small variations in its length, I thought I needed a change. I’ve been psyching myself up for it for months, but I’ve never quite been able to make it happen. After all, the only place to go was short, and I wouldn’t be able to change my mind once I heard the snip of the scissors. I’m not afraid of short hair; I’ve worn it that way for close to half my adult life. I just…wasn’t sure.

I used the week before my appointment to find some photos of styles I liked and thought would work with my thick, coarse, wavy hair. I sent a few to my fashion consultant (my daughter), who gave me the thumbs up. All systems go, right?

I texted a heads-up to my hairdresser a couple of days before my appointment: This is your fair warning. I’m thinking about going short. I knew she’d have to digest it, and saying it out loud (via text) forced me to make a decision. It was no longer just an idea.

When I arrived at the salon, I nervously showed my hairdresser the photos I liked. I still wasn’t 100% sure and I wanted her opinion. Her initial refusal to make the cut galvanized me.

What?! It’s my hair! What’s wrong with these styles? Short in the back, longer in the front; isn’t that what we’ve been doing, just on a wayyyyyyy different scale? I want my hair short!

She ended up cutting my hair, and I love it–so does she.

What I find particularly interesting about this encounter is that my doubt vanished when my hairdresser pushed back. I realized I was ready and dadgummit, we needed to make it happen. As I laid out all the reasons whey I wanted this and why it was time, my position solidified. Although I can be pretty stubborn and often contrary, I’m fairly certain I would have backed off if I hadn’t been ready to make the change.

When we bounce our ideas, thoughts, beliefs, questions, whatever off others, it helps us hone and understand them for ourselves. We often need to get out of our own heads and test our positions in the real world. Sometimes we’ll end up doubling down, and sometimes we’ll end up rethinking them. Either way, we’re better for it.

Certainly this example is pretty simplified, but there’s truth in it. Aren’t we all better when we’re willing to learn how our ideas stand up to opposition? I challenge you to sit down with someone who doesn’t agree with you on an issue and have a (civil!) conversation about it.

I look like a total dork in pics, but here’s the new cut!

Side note: I DID listen to my hairdresser’s concerns on this, by they way. It turns out that she wasn’t opposed the short style I wanted. She has just been burned by being held to a particular photo when the person’s hair doesn’t behave exactly like the model’s. Once I removed the photo from the equation and told her what I wanted to accomplish, she agreed, as long as she could do it according to her vision. She’s been cutting my hair for nineteen years, so I trusted her to do that. We make a good team, especially when I let her be the expert.

En-titled

As a side gig, I write articles for a local magazine. As much as I enjoy it, it’s like exercise: the hardest part is getting started. I’ll sometimes spend hours–yes, hours–agonizing over the title. The computer screen never looks blanker than when I stare at it waiting for inspiration.

It isn’t that I don’t know what the article will be about. By the time I sit down to write, I’ve already done my research, interviewed the subject, and loosely outlined the content. Piece of cake, right?

Wrong-o, at least in my case.

Even if I know all the pieces and roughly how they’ll fit together, I still need a hook. I need to nail the title and the subhead because that’s what sets up everything else for me. When I serve up a wimpy title, the article that follows fights hard for its rightful place in mediocrity. But when I create a strong lead, it becomes my jumping off point for what comes next. That’s why I’ll spend hours looking at a blank screen while I turn over possibilities in my mind. I have to start strong.

Life’s like that. I need to pick a direction, set a goal so I can take off. I need to know where to go so I can get there. For a long time, I simply followed “the” formula: go to college, get a job, work hard, get married, start a family, keep working hard, hopefully get somewhere. But where? It isn’t enough to just work; you need to work toward something. If you don’t pick your own goal, you’ll just follow the tide of your circumstances. You’ll likely end up somewhere far from where you had imagined yourself or simply adrift.

As I write, occasionally I find that the title I’ve chosen has taken me in the wrong direction. Maybe I’ve uncovered information and nuances along the way that I hadn’t considered. Maybe I stumble on a better story. Maybe I didn’t fully understand my subject at first. Maybe I just got it wrong. 

You know what I do then? I change the title and set off on a new path. It’s never too late.

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.

Yogi Berra

Heavy lifting

Yesterday at the gym I had to do floor presses. Essentially, that means lying on my back and extending my arms perpendicular to the floor, holding dumbbells. Then I bring the dumbbells back toward my face, one at a time. I’m not big on weight lifting, but I do what my trainer tells me and I actually don’t mind this one.

The only thing I find a little awkward about the exercise is picking up the dumbbells. I either have to do it before I get on the floor, which means maneuvering my way down with a bulky weight in each hand, or while I’m half prone, which means I have little leverage. I find the latter slightly more doable, so that’s the approach I took yesterday.

Everything went fine until round three. I came back to the floor press station from the preceding exercise, sat on the floor, and picked up one of the weights–no problem. When I tried to pick up the second weight (one-handed and with less agility, as I already had the first weight in the other hand), I couldn’t do it. I mean, I just could not get that thing off the floor.

What the what?

I had just done this twice before with no issues, but try as I might, this time I couldn’t make it happen. No matter from what angle I approached it, the dumbbell would not come off the ground. It baffled me, and I felt silly.

My trainer saw what was happening and offered to help. Of course, I refused. I knew I could do it. The dumbbell wasn’t that heavy, and I had already done it twice before. Besides, I HATE to ask for help. Or accept it. Or even admit I need it.

Still, try as I might, I couldn’t separate the weight from the floor. Thankfully, my trainer didn’t ask a second time. He jogged to my side and lifted the dumbbell into position. The rest of the exercise went off without a hitch.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since. Why was I suddenly unable to do something I had been able to do only minutes before? And why did I stubbornly refuse help?

According to my trainer, this was a perfectly normal situation. My muscles were fatigued, predictably. He stood at the ready to help (that’s what spotters are for, right?), but I was determined to handle the situation myself. That turned out to be futile.

Sometimes we get tired and we need a boost from those around us. Most of the time they don’t think a thing about it and gladly lend a hand. In fact, like my trainer, they feel needed and valuable when they can jump in. It saves time (ref: my repeated unsuccessful attempts to lift that dadgum weight) and gets the job done more efficiently. And when you’re on the other side of it, sometimes you have to just jump in despite the refusals.

Thanks, Bryce.

Silver linings

I’ve written about some heavy stuff lately, and I need a breather. The past few months have been rough for almost everyone. Still, I can find bright spots and I’m grateful for them.

Today I’ve decided to share some of the silver linings I’ve discovered in my quarantine world. I don’t always see them unless I take the time to look for them, and today I feel the need to flesh them out. I’ll be honest; I have no idea how this list will look, but here goes.

  1. Writing letters. I went old school a few months ago and started writing real pen-and-paper letters to people with whom I’d lost touch or wanted to get to know better. And they’ve responded! I love finding these treats in my mailbox, and the process of organizing my thoughts without the benefit of the backspace key has been wildly helpful to my mental processing ability.
  2. Patience and kindness. Even though I’ve run into some short fuses, I’ve more often experienced people exercising more patience for others these days. I know I have, anyway (mostly). When I’m putting six feet of distance between me and the next person, I become less focused on getting ahead. I’m learning to wait, which doesn’t come naturally to me. I also see people volunteering to help others: offering to pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor, sharing books, running errands, providing a meal. One day a friend dropped off a big bag of cheesy popcorn on my front stoop. It was totally random, totally unnecessary, and totally appreciated.
  3. My dog! Those of you non-pet owners may not understand this, but I’ve been able to enjoy the benefits of his companionship 24/7. He’s a faithful friend who loves me unconditionally (and even more when I have treats), senses my moods, offers comfort when I need it, and always acts happy to see me. Who wouldn’t love that?
  4. Having a job. As I watch so many people around me struggle with not having enough, I become ever more grateful that I not only have a job in these trying times, but also one that is flexible enough to let me work from home. I am more conscious of what I have and try to share as much as I can.
  5. Bonus time with my adult-ish kids. Living together as adults hasn’t always been easy–and if you know me personally you know how fully I embrace empty nesting–but this has been a time of growth for us as a family. We’re not perfect, but I’m glad we have each other. They’ve now gone back to their academic domains, and I’m thankful for that, too.
  6. Slowing down. I’m learning a lot about myself and have a long way to go, but reducing the noise around me certainly helps my focus. I don’t always like what I see, but now I can recognize it and work on the things that need to change.
  7. Noticing the small stuff. Slowing down helps me notice the small stuff, too. Enough said.
  8. Going for walks. For a while, it seemed as if the whole world was out walking, and I loved it. I know I’ve strapped on my tennies to walk more times in the last week than I did all of last year, maybe even the last couple of years. I’ve loved exploring the neighborhoods around me and connecting in a much more sensory way than a drive-by offers.
  9. Watching the world get creative. This might be my very favorite thing. I love, Love, LOVE seeing people find creative ways to navigate this new normal. Some of my faves include a Facebook group to identify which restaurants offer delivery/are open/need help (2GoFW), cottage businesses popping up as people search for new sources of income and finally have time to pursue their passions (Tameka’s Cakes–so fun and delicious), and companies that shift their resources to help make PPE (e.g. Design Collaborative, a local architecture firm, used its 3D printer to make face shields). My kids have tackled some challenging recipes to hone their cooking skills (48-hour sous vide short ribs, turmeric cauliflower steaks, homemade hamburger buns? yes please!). Families who barely used smart phones now enjoy regular video visits. For a time, my brother and I even shared virtual cocktail hour each week. We’re all getting better at this.

Hey! That’s not a bad list. Sometimes I surprise myself.

Finding the silver linings helps me remember that obstacles can also be used as stepping stones. I’d love for you to share some of yours in the comments.

Altered reality

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–mostly because it is a lesson I have to keep learning myself. Perception is reality.

A couple weeks ago I attended an event that included a panel discussion with people presenting differing viewpoints. One woman came from an under-served neighborhood and felt abandoned by the city. She offered impassioned pleas for more civic interaction, including police presence that involved more than responding to crime. She wanted active integration into the community that included patrols, meet-and-greets, and regular (positive) interactions.

The police representative on the panel responded with a litany of statistics, showering them like raindrops, hoping to fill the other woman’s vessel and quench her thirst.

That didn’t happen.

When the policewoman cited the number of patrols in that quadrant of the city, the woman responded that she had never, ever seen one in her neighborhood. When the PW talked about police interactions at the Boys and Girls Club, the woman reminded her that the Boys and Girls Club was miles from her home, too far for kids to walk. That was great, she said, but it didn’t help the kids around her.

As I watched and listened, I thought, Why can’t the PW see that statistics aren’t reaching this woman? Those facts and figures don’t seem to be affecting her actual life. Even though they might be true, this woman isn’t seeing the benefit of the work being done. The PW just isn’t hearing the NEED. She’s too focused on her response that she’s not hearing the woman.

I had it all figured out. I would never do such a thing, of course. I understand communication!

A few days later, I was talking to one of my kids. He was telling me something really important to him, and he kept saying I wasn’t listening. That I didn’t hear him. That THIS was the way he felt but I just didn’t get it.

I countered with a list of the things I had done and said to prove him wrong. Of course I get it. Didn’t I do this and this and this? Didn’t I tell you that? What about that one time?

Slowly (way too slowly), it dawned on me that throwing “statistics” at him to prove him wrong–did you catch that? TO PROVE HIM WRONG–only widened our gap. He was right; I didn’t get it.

Just like the PW, even if I was “right,” it didn’t matter. My kid still felt disenfranchised. All those things I did? They clearly hadn’t been effective. I needed to take a different tack so I thought I would try to…

Wait a minute.

What I actually needed to do was stop and listen, not figure out my next move. I needed to really listen, not just to his words, but to his feelings and experiences. I needed to try to understand his reality so I could meet him there. My solutions to the problem I thought he had would always miss the mark if our perceptions didn’t align.

Reality is fluid; it depends on through whose lenses it viewed. We need to understand that it differs with each person’s perception.

So let’s stop talking past each other. Let’s stop trying to prove each other wrong and ourselves right. Let’s stop forming a response before the other person is finished speaking.

Instead, let’s start listening. Let’s put on someone else’s glasses and try to see the world from his view. Let’s learn each other’s language so we can communicate better. Let’s put ourselves in uncomfortable situations to get out of our proverbial boxes. Instead of trying to “help,” let’s find ways to work together.

For me, it starts at home.

I am not a-mused

I used to blog every day, or at least Monday through Friday. It was how I started my day, and the hours that followed were better for it. That creative jumpstart made me sharper, more expressive, and more aware for the rest of the day. I thrived on it and I didn’t care who read my words. The exercise was for me.

Then I lost my muse.

Well, that’s what I used to say. The truth is, I gave her up. I relinquished my outlet to forces I thought were beyond my control. I’m hoping that writing about it will be cathartic, that my muse will see I’m ready to take her back.

You see, I entered into a relationship that ultimately proved to be unhealthy for me. It felt wonderful at first, all sun and stars and rainbows and all that. I dove in headfirst, hungry for attention and desperate to love someone. It didn’t take long for cracks to appear, though I initially brushed them off as something we could fix later. No relationship is perfect right?

I started to feel watched. Everything I said and did was analyzed for hidden meaning, and this included my writing. Even though I often change the details of situations I recount so I won’t betray a confidence or hurt someone close to me—after all, this blog is mostly about finding meaning in the everyday situations around us, not the situations themselves—I underwent a level of scrutiny about who-what-when-where-why that eventually made me cower. My blog posts were only the start.

Instead of standing up for myself, I backed off. I thought it would make my life easier, but it didn’t, of course. It fanned the flame of presumption, like an implicit admission of guilt. It gave power to him and set a precedent of behavior: push me, make me unhappy, and I’ll back off to ease the pressure. Standing up for myself became too much work; it was easier to give in. I lost touch with friends, I performed poorly at work, I stopped being present. I became focused on keeping my day-to-day situation on an even keel, at the expense of everything else. Is it any surprise I couldn’t make the words flow anymore?

I almost—ALMOST—let someone take away the most important parts of my psyche just so I could fit into his idea of what I was supposed to be. I almost gave away my identity.

Thankfully, I realized I had to remain true to myself. I didn’t need or want to change who I am, so I left the relationship. (In case you’re wondering if he ever hurt me physically, the answer is a resounding NO.) As I look back, I realize I’ve learned some important lessons.

First and foremost, it’s way too easy to judge women who find/put themselves in situations in which YOU think they should leave but they don’t. Look, I had means (house, car, job, savings account), a supportive family and group of friends, and a strong will—and I still stayed. I consider myself enlightened and independent—and I still stayed. I would call BS on my friends or my daughter if they were in the same situation—and I still stayed. So many women don’t have all these things going for them, and we judge them. I would never stand for that, we say. Who knows? Maybe you would. I did—for a while. You don’t know what it’s like until you’re in it.

Second, I GAVE parts of myself away, thinking I would appease. I guess I assumed I’d reclaim them at some point, but that’s not how it works. I’ve learned which pieces are fundamental to my being; these are my SOUL. Now I guard them fiercely. The right person will cherish them, too.

Finally, I keep learning the lesson of forgiveness. For him, certainly, but also for me. I’m learning to let go of the choices I made and to accept responsibility for my part. I’m learning to adopt a live-and-learn posture and embrace the lessons that come with it.

I’m desperate to write again regularly. I have a log jam of words in my head and I need the relief of letting them flow. I want my blog back. I want to turn the threads of books I’ve hastily scrawled into the Notes app on my phone into actual chapters. I want to reclaim this part of myself.

This post, this long overdue admission, serves as a formal invitation for my muse to return:

Please come back. You are finally welcome here again.

For better or for worse

its in the way that you use itA few years ago I joined two different Facebook groups that serve as a forum for parents of college kids (or soon-to-be college kids). One is a general group, and the other is specific to my kid’s school. I find one particularly helpful and the other, well, not so much.

You wouldn’t believe how many perfect kids are in the one group, how many secrets are shared  under the guise of privacy (in this growing group of more than one hundred thousand members), and how much judgement erupts on any side of an issue when the poster describes a situation or–heaven help us–asks for advice. I rarely participate, but neither can I seem to disconnect from it. Very occasionally have I gleaned useful information, but even then it was about an issue unrelated to the central focus of the group. Mostly I turn away from my screen shaking my head; I don’t want to add my two cents because it just adds to the confusion.

Posts in the other group typically revolve around logistics questions, advice, and useful information. How does the move-in process work? Where can I order a birthday cake to be delivered to my kid? What’s the best service to use for summer shipping/storage? I’ll be on campus next weekend for a visit–does anyone want to connect?  It’s not ALL business, but neither is it weighed down by too much “other stuff.” It’s useful, and I’m happy to contribute when I have information I think others could use.

So what’s the difference? We’re using the same social media tool for both, but one group is much better than the other. (Note: I’ll admit that LOTS of people seem to love the group I find less useful. When I say one is better than the other, that is completely MY opinion. It’s better for ME.)

The answer is simple: it’s in the way that you use it. [Cue Eric Clapton.] One group is so big that it arguably loses the value of specificity. Comments on a single post often run in the thousands; how do you find the nugget of critical info in that? Who has the time, especially when there are hundreds if not thousands of posts per day? The parameters for this group are pretty broad, too. If you can make a general connection to the purpose, any topic is fair game. e.g. I’m the mom of a college kid and I have a bunion. What should I do about it? Oh, you have a college kid? Go ahead and ask that question here, no matter that it doesn’t have one whit to do with your kid or college! The group is too big and amorphous. It’s losing sight of its original purpose.

The other group is limited to parents with kids in this particular institution, so all our questions and posts revolve around a specific, common interest. There is certainly a broad range of topics within it, but the lines back to the original purpose remain pretty clear. People stay on track, and we all appreciate the camaraderie. I think you’ve already surmised that I find this group infinitely more valuable than the other.

The broader lesson here? Define your purpose and stick to it. You dilute your usefulness when you let yourself get pulled in too many directions. Any tool just serves as a medium. How you use it defines its value. 

PS–I finally ditched the less useful group about a year ago. Stay tuned for a future post about the reason.