One lucky girl

tvdThe best career advice I can give anyone is this: figure out what you love to do, then go after it. I firmly believe that there’s a job out there for everyone that will make her say, “I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this!”

When I wrote my first article for publication, I danced on cloud nine. Not only did someone believe in my writing enough to put it in print, but it also came with a check–with my name on it. Even though that check wouldn’t have bought dinner, drinks, and dessert for a party of two, I didn’t care. Someone was paying me to do something I loved. It was the best feeling in the world. (Or at least one of the best two or three.)

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to figure out what that “thing” is that you love. It takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness and generally a healthy dose of trial-and-error, as well. I’ve often thought it completely unfair that we have to make choices at young ages that determine the direction of our entire lives. I wish I had known myself at 18 the way I do now that I’m, er, 40-something. I wouldn’t have taken so long to get here.

After 4 years of college and 22 years of a career with 3 years of grad school sprinkled on top, I finally know what gets me charged up and passionate. Heck, you probably do, too, since those are the things I write about. Making connections. Finding the meaning. Getting the details right. Learning lessons to make things better. Helping other people do it, too.

Now I get to do it and get paid for it. Officially.

On July 8, I’m starting a new adventure. After 18 years with the same company, changing jobs is kind of a big deal. I know the drill where I sit today. In fact, I know pretty much all the drills. There’s a certain comfort in that–but not enough to keep me from this new thrill.

I am so excited! I can’t believe they’re going to pay me to go to work there every day, to do what I love.

It makes no difference if you want to coach wrestling, crunch numbers, create video games, care for people, or call baseball games. If you love it, do it. Live your passion and find a way to make a living from it. Life’s too short to do anything else.

One Lucky Guitar, here I come. I am one lucky girl.

Light it up

mirrorYesterday I saw someone I’ve known for a very long time, and I hardly recognized her. I see her a lot, so it wasn’t as if she had undergone some major physical transformation–hair, weight, etc.–that took me by surprise. Her face was just different.

After a few seconds, I realized what had changed her so. It was her smile. Of course, I’ve seen her smile thousands of times, but something made this one stand out. It was deep. It was genuine. It was transforming.

It struck me then that a smile–a true, soul-driven smile–can make anyone beautiful. Or handsome, as the case may be. When it goes that deep, no one can see anything else. It reminded me to smile more, to seek things that fill me with joy. To share the joy with others. That girl has some good things going on, and everyone can feel the energy.

Even someone looking in the mirror.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Awhile back, someone very close to me told me that he doesn’t think I respect him. That knocked me on my you-know-what because, of course, I respect him very much. Indignantly, I started pointing out all the signs that conveyed my respect. Clearly, he didn’t see things the same way.

As my list grew, I saw his eyes glaze over and realized that nothing I said mattered one whit. The things on that list may have been important to me, but they weren’t important to him. Hitting him over the head with them wouldn’t make him appreciate them any more. I might have well been speaking Chinese to a German; I wasn’t speaking his language.

I realized once again the importance of making a connection. Even though his perception didn’t accurately reflect my depth of feeling, it was his reality. Until I understood that, we were destined to miss forever in this area.

It never hurts to be reminded that perception is reality. Even if that perception is flawed, that doesn’t make it less real to the person taking it in. To change his reality, I have to change his perception, and that means learning to speak his language.

Now that I know that different things are important to my friend, I can be more *ahem* respectful of his pinch points. Hopefully I will be better able to demonstrate the level of respect I have for him in a way that will resonate with him (not me).

Someday I’ll finally get it.

Guiding light

guiding lightI don’t know whether it’s the pomp and circumstance of graduation season, some sort of viral illness, or just too much time alone, but I currently find myself in a heightened state of self-assessment. I’ve been trying to identify the principles that guide me, particularly at work.

After much thought, I finally came up with I list I think captures my core values. Though I really wish someone had given me this advice as I prepared for my career, I think they developed pretty naturally.

Drum roll, please…

  1. Project confidence.
  2. Give credit to others. Generously.
  3. Take responsibility.
  4. Admit mistakes.
  5. Make decisions.
  6. Look for the lesson in everything.
  7. Keep learning.

I may not execute all of them perfectly all the time, but I reach for them always. What’s on your list?

No words

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In the last weeks, we’ve seen bombs. We’ve seen explosions. We’ve seen natural disasters. We’re overwhelmed. Some say there are no words.

But there are, and we have to find them.

Those of us looking from the outside in, feeling the shock and pain of people we don’t even know, owe it to those wracked by the damage. We have to find words that will arrange shelter and organize supplies and rebuild lives. Words like How can I help? What do you need? I’m coming with food. You can stay at my place. I’m coming to clean and rebuild. Here’s my donation. 

We have to offer words of comfort. I’m sorry. I’m praying for you. Let me hold you for a minute. I care.

More importantly, we have to back up those words with meaning and with action.

In times of crisis, words matter more than ever. Whether on the news or in someone’s heart, on a large scale or an individual basis, we can all reach out and make a difference. If you think there are no words, dig deeper.

Great teachers

Teacher-writing-on-blackboard564At the end of every course in graduate school, my classmates and I were handed a course evaluation. Mostly it had to do with the professor, and the results were particularly important to the untenured. Good evals helped them along; bad evals put their positions at risk.

While filling out one of these forms for a particularly dry and uninspiring professor, I realized that the survey was all wrong. It presented questions such as Was s/he prepared? Did s/he know the material? Did s/he give clear instructions? Well, yeah, he did all of that stuff–but I still didn’t like him. He may have known his stuff, but he didn’t do anything to make me want to know it. He didn’t draw me in, he wasn’t very good at actually teaching it, and he was kind of a jerk. Yet according to the scores on my evaluation, he was perfect.

Unless the university was evaluating the guy’s preparedness, the survey was flawed.

Of course, that got me thinking.

I’ve already written about the importance of asking the right questions, so I won’t belabor that point. The other thing I’ve been chewing on since I recalled this experience is what does make a great teacher? It certainly isn’t knowledge alone. The world is full of really smart people who can’t teach a thing.

Thinking about my all-time fave, a language arts teacher from high school who taught me creative writing and English lit, none of the questions on that flawed evaluation would have captured her magic for me. What still keeps her present in my mind is the connection she fostered.

Sure, she was a smart lady who knew her subject matter and was prepared every day. What made her a teacher–and a great one–was her ability to get me engaged. I certainly didn’t like every book or every assignment, but I did like her. And she knew what buttons to push to keep me interested.

After all these years, I don’t remember a lot about what I read in her class or what assignments I wrote. I do remember HER, though, fondly and vividly. And I’m pretty sure she had something to do with the fact that I’m a writer now.

That’s what makes a great teacher.

Do what you can

booksI just read a remarkable book. Packed to its binding with a broad range of insights, one in particular has my attention right now. The book, a memoir of a son’s relationship with his mother and an homage to the books they shared, revives my long-standing question of whether I am really doing enough to make the world around me a better place. The son had the same question for his mother:

“I just feel guilty that I’m not doing more in the world,” I said. “I mean, it’s so easy to read Suite Francaise and think, ‘Why didn’t people in America know more and do more?’ But here I am, and there are things going on all over–child soldiers and genocide and human trafficking–and I’m hardly doing anything.”–Will Schwalbe, The End of Your Life Book Club

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about people in a faraway country or people at my local soup kitchen, there’s work to be done. The topic could be education, literacy, health, crime, safety, community development, or general quality of life. The questions are the same: What am I doing to make the world a better place? Am I doing enough?

Many days I don’t feel as if I have a moment to spare. I have a demanding full-time job and kids, for crying out loud. We’ve got practices and games and performances and check-ups and middle-school social activities and info sessions and…whew. Plus I’m training for a half marathon, I volunteer on some local committees and boards, I do some freelance writing, and I have a pipe dream of carving out some kind of social life. What else am I supposed to do?

And yet, something deep inside me tells me that we all should be working to make the world a better place. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale, but some way, somehow, we should touch a life in a positive way. A changing way.

Oh, the guilt.

I loved the answer Will’s mother gave him, not only because it assuaged my guilt a bit, but also because I believe she’s right:

Of course you could do more–you can always do more, and you should do more–but still, the important thing is to do what you can, whenever you can. You just do your best, and that’s all you can do. Too many people use the excuse that they don’t think they can do enough, so they decide they don’t have to do anything–even if it’s just to sign something, or send a small contribution, or invite a newly settled refugee family over for Thanksgiving. –Mary Anne Schwalbe in The End of Your Life Book Club

She later added:

It’s fine to give yourself treats, if you can afford it, but no one needs to eat like that every night. It should be special. [Here’s my favorite part.] If you are fortunate enough to have these questions, it means that you have an extra responsibility to make sure you’re doing something. … People should use their talents.

I understand the feeling of being overwhelmed. There’s so much to do everywhere; will my little contribution of time, talent, or treasure really make a difference? I have to believe that it all adds up. I may not be able to do a lot, but I still have to do what I can. I’m holding on to that.

P.S. If you’re interested in the book, I highly recommend it–especially if you have a passion for books themselves. It’s called The End of Your Life Book Club, written by Will Schwalbe. Loved it.

Make a difference

For most of the week, my posts have conveyed stories about things that didn’t work. Although they’ve taught some valuable lessons, I don’t want brooding clouds of negativity to gather into an overcast outlook; the sun is going to break through in this post–just like the real one outside on this gorgeous Friday.

Today’s sunshine is named Stacy.

Stacy works for my daughter’s foot doctor, managing the office, the patients, and (I’m pretty sure) the doctor himself. Stacy makes things happen, and she does it in a way that exudes a rare combination competence and cheerfulness. She’s the kind of person you search for reasons to talk to. She’s the kind of person who keeps you coming back.

Even on my very first phone call to set up an appointment, I was impressed. I had never even met Stacy, but I hung up the phone feeling relieved and comforted that someone had listened. And understood. Since then, she has solved every administrative issue we never got a chance to have because she preempted it. She’s one of those people who can do ten things at once and still make you feel as if you are the center of her universe. She looks for ways to help.

Here’s a story that tells it all:

On my daughter’s first follow-up visit to the doctor after surgery, the door to the office suite swung open just as she hobbled up to it. At first I thought someone was coming out, so I started to tell my daughter to make sure there was room to pass. Before the first words passed my lips, however, there was Stacy with a huge smile, saying, “I can hear crutches a mile away. Come on in!” Even without considering that the desk she left was two doors and a corner away from the door she had opened–not an uncomplicated maneuver–she put a huge smile on my face. Really, who does that stuff anymore? Who jumps up to help?

We need more Stacys in the world. Stacys make a difference.