Going buggy

state insectI am officially a curmudgeon.

A week or so ago, I heard a story on the radio about a second grade class that was working to make the firefly Indiana’s state insect. The kids conducted a postcard campaign to their state senator and representatives to introduce a bill and put it up for vote.

Great, you say. How better for the kids to learn about government, you say.

While I can’t disagree with that logic, I can disagree with the entire premise. While those (incredibly resourceful, passionate, precocious) children are learning how our legislature operates, our legislators get bogged down with one more unnecessary measure. Aren’t we paying them to take care of things like schools and roads and safety and general welfare and oh, you know, important stuff?

Look, I love kids and I’m all about making learning fun and meaningful. Really and truly. I want teachers to find as many ways as possible to engage their students. But not this one.

I mean, look. Indiana legislators have enough to do as they try to fix the mess (they made) with standardized testing, the integrity of the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and religious freedom. Bills routinely die on the vine because there’s not enough time in a legislative session to move them all through the process anyway. Basically, they’ve got a lot to do, so I’d like them to focus on the things that matter.

Apparently, this isn’t the first time this issue has come up. A similar bill was introduced in the 1990s, but it failed to advance because one senator refused to hear it. One. In my book, he’s the only one who stood up and said, Hey! This isn’t what you’re paying me to do! Forty-nine other senators forgot that.

How about this: the second grade teacher could organize a mock legislature and the kids could prepare, introduce, and debate the bill themselves. They could follow it through the process to understand what it takes not only for a bill to become law, but also how an issue even gets to the bill stage. Heck, they could even have their legislators come in and be part of the fun–once the General Assembly has adjourned, of course. Lawmaking not a quick or even a simple process (check out the rules HERE), but I’m pretty sure they’d learn a lot more about making things happen if they did it themselves–and they’d appreciate it a whole lot more, too.

I don’t want to be mean. I just want to keep our government on track. Unless our lawmakers are trying to figure out how to pay for mosquito spraying to ward off West Nile virus or malaria or something, insects shouldn’t even be on their radar.

Like I said, I’m a curmudgeon.

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Tying the knot

Nœud_d'huit

“Always do what you’re afraid to do,” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s visionary Aunt Mary advised him. We tie ourselves in knots to sabotage the energy that might be unleashed if we move resolutely ahead. The risks of making changes are great. . . especially great changes. — Gail Sher, One Continuous Mistake

I found this passage while poking around some writing prompts, and it struck me between the eyes. The second sentence, in particular, stopped me cold; knots sabotage our energy, and we tie them ourselves!

I remember one time when I had to make a particularly difficult HR decision. Actually, the decision itself was pretty straightforward, but delivering the message had me tied up in, well, knots. I agonized over it for a week. It consumed my daytime thoughts and kept me awake at night. My productivity level plummeted.

When the big day came, the message I had to deliver went without a hitch. Not only that, but the recipient also received it in an incredibly gracious manner. All that worry for nothing.

Of course, even if there had been hitches, I still had to do what I had to do. And it still would have been over the next morning. Life would have gone on regardless.

Yet I tied myself in knots for a whole week beforehand. I added layer upon layer, spending so much time securing that metaphorical shoe that I never actually used it to get anywhere. That’s some object lesson, huh?

It’s okay to feel bad. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to worry about others. We just can’t let those things keep us from moving forward.

Be kind. Be considerate. Be gracious. But do what you gotta do.

Don’t let the knots trip you up.

Breakfast blues

IMG_5767I had to take my eight-month-old puppy to the vet for a surgical procedure recently (nothing serious, you know the one). And while I knew it would all work out in the end, the most difficult part was not being able to feed him breakfast–or anything else, for that matter.

Just as with people, dogs have to fast before surgery. No food or treats after 8pm–water only. No come-upstairs-with-me-it’s-time-to-go-to-bed treats. No 6am bowl of kibble. No get-in-the-kennel-while-I-take-the-kids-to-school treats. He was as confused as I was heartbroken for him, softie that I am.

What really struck me in all this is what Wallace did about it. Normally when we get up in the morning, I let Wallace outside to drain. He takes care of the minimal amount of business he can get away with, then comes back inside to chow down. As soon as he’s finished eating, he swipes his paw at the door, signaling that he’s ready to go back outside and finish his business.

Except this time when I let him back inside after the first round, I didn’t feed him. We played instead, but his attention span was short and he kept looking toward the container where I store his food.

I’m pretty sure he thought I was off my rocker and just forgot. So Mr. K9 Smartypants decided to take me through the motions again, hoping I’d remember. He headed back to the door. As soon as I let him out, he squirted a tree then turned around and came back. He went straight from the door to the food container, where he got nothing but an “I’m sorry, buddy” from me.

So back to the door he went. This time when I let him out, he took a few steps onto the patio, all the while looking back over his shoulder at me. “Pay attention, Mom. This is how it’s supposed to go.” He didn’t even bother to squeeze out a dribble; he just made a loop back to the door, maintaining eye contact with me the whole time.

I felt so bad for my furry baby.

Wallace thought that if he just kept following the steps that had always worked for him before, they would work for him again. He didn’t realize that something had changed and the old routine wouldn’t help him anymore. (At least not on surgery day.)

Then I wondered how many times I’ve done that very same thing. How many times have I gone through the same motions, plugged the same numbers, reacted the same way, expecting something to change? If I just keep doing this, eventually it will work. Um, probably not, TD. If it didn’t work the first 600 times, chances are that it’s not going to magically kick in on attempt #601–at least not without changing something.

Wallace is pretty teachable. After a couple more failed attempts to convince me to feed him, he found his favorite chew toy and curled up for a little self-soothing. Too bad we humans don’t learn as fast.

Little bites

I know a guy who is really, really good at what he does. He maintains a terrific big picture view while still understanding the details which can make or break the success of his projects. He’s a deep thinker, and when I ask him a question about his realm of influence, I know I’m going to get a thorough and thoughtful answer. Everyone needs a guy like this on her team.

Sometimes, though, this guy becomes his own biggest obstacle. When he has an idea, his mind is off and running. He has gone through steps J, K, and L before most people get beyond A, B, and C. He’s busy solving problems that haven’t yet occurred and probably won’t occur until somewhere down the timeline–by which point a lot of variables could change. He often hesitates to pull the trigger on a project until he can work out the answers to those problems.

Many times, that’s exactly the right approach–but many times it’s not.

Not every project is an all-or-nothing proposition. We don’t have to go from A to Z in a single step. We can launch our project or product and service before we get to Z if

  • The new solution is better than what came before it, i.e. it makes people happy.
  • Each step is a (fairly) natural progression, not a complete rework of the one before it.
  • Showing continued improvements or making updates signals progress/activity/forward motion.

Think of a website, for example. Little improvements over time can actually be a positive thing. It keeps your audience feeling as though your work is fresh, the content is dynamic, and there’s always a new reason to visit. That’s not a place where you want to publish a TA-DA! product and sit back. Yeah, I know, building the infrastructure requires a fairly specific vision for the future, but once the infrastructure is in place, you can always make improvements along the way. The trick is understanding when to forge ahead and when to wait.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Failure to thrive

A friend of mine struggling with her current circumstances tells me she doesn’t like change. She’s holding herself in limbo, moving neither forward nor back. As I thought about her situation, it occurred to me that the change she so fears has already happened. She’s not keeping it from happening by ignoring it, because it has already taken place. She’s just living in limbo until she can accept it.

Within 3.62 seconds of my smug epiphany on her behalf, I started hearing voices in my head. Well, one voice. A small but persistent one. It got louder and louder until I could no longer ignore it, despite my best efforts. By the time I acknowledged it, it was screaming at me:

WHAT ABOUT YOU, TAMMY? YOU ARE DOING THE SAME THING!

It’s true. There’s one particular situation I’ve been juggling for a while, trying to stave off the inevitable. The trouble is, the inevitable has already happened. I’m just spinning my wheels trying to pretend it hasn’t happened. The only thing I’m accomplishing is keeping myself from moving forward. While living in limbo may feel like a safe place to be, its false sense of security really translates into a failure to thrive.

That reminds me of the plant in my kitchen that has lived in the same small pot for more than three years. It may be growing, but it’s a whole lot smaller than it would be if I would give it a new, bigger home. Its sparse and spindly self might be lush and full if I only gave it a chance. Instead, I’ve taken the easy way out and kept it in its original container. Limbo has not helped that plant.

I hate to think how twisted its roots look.

Living in now

When new people came to visit, I’d give them a quick tour of the house so that they’d know where to find things. It didn’t matter where I lived–the tiny, fairy tale brick house that was the first to carry my name on a deed, the sprawling ranch hybrid that was intended to be the cornerstone of my growing family, or the two-story colonial that marked a new direction–the tour narrative always followed an eerily similar script.

And in this room, I’m going to…

Here’s where I want to put the…

Eventually, I’d like to make this into…

At some point, I realized that the tours I gave were for some house other than the one right in front of me. I had a vision for how I wanted it to look and gave the tour based on walls unseen, rooms remodeled, and accoutrements unpurchased. The trouble was, I (almost) never took a step toward making that vision a reality. I’ve left two houses virtually unchanged from the day I moved into them, discarding my dreams for the next occupant to consider. I never made them into what I wanted them to be.

I’ve occupied my current abode for almost five years. For the first three of those years, I conducted tours in much the same way. My only saving grace was that I had bought this house much closer to my idea of “finished” than the first two had been. Even so, I’ve slowly come to realize that it doesn’t make sense to live in Someday or Could Be. I need to live in Now, and if Now doesn’t live up to my expectations, I need to change it.

And that goes for my house, too.

Thanks, Gen Y Girl, for reminding me that I’m not a tree.