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.

Coffee klatsch

creamerDoggone it. Why do my local grocery stores only carry plain-Jane flavors of coffee creamer? Vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, and a few seasonal concoctions are all that grace our shelves. I know from traveling and a few relevant trade shows that there are dozens of flavors we never see–flavors that appeal to me a whole lot more.

So here’s the dilemma. A store might say it is catering to the preferences of its clientele. Customers buy a lot of French vanilla, so they stock French vanilla. But how do customers (or the store) know whether they like cinnamon creme if they don’t even know it exists?

We limit ourselves by serving only current needs and desires. We look at what’s around us rather than looking ahead at what could be. Although we think we are meeting demand today, we’re actually limiting it in the long run. There’s a big difference between serving demand and creating it.

Forget coffee creamer. The point is that we have to think ahead. Where can we go? What can we accomplish? What new solutions can we offer? What can we do that no one has ever thought of? We move forward by looking beyond our current situation and reaching for more.

And lest you think my capitalistic heart has taken over, I’m talking about new ideas, not necessarily new products. Reach for the stars, friends. You might just find a planet.

Balancing act

Balancing actSome time ago, a colleague introduced me to a quote that goes something like this:

Balance, dare I say it, is vastly overrated. In the end, you might want to consider the benefits of imbalance, and the achievements that come with pursuing a passion with a single-minded devotion. –Colin Cowherd

I chewed on it at the time, “getting” it but still somewhat skeptical. After all, single-minded devotion to, well, anything means the rest of the stuff in your life will suffer, right?  It seems to me that there’s a trade-off between being okay–or even pretty good–at a lot of things and being really, really great at just one. I’ve got a family, after all. Single-minded devotion seems like a luxury when there are so many demands on my time.

Then I went to a football game. As usual, my team’s performance was wildly inconsistent. We had a great first drive, then we fell apart for a big chunk of the game. The reason? We’re really good at passing (the focus of the first drive) and struggle a lot at running (subsequent play series). It was pretty frustrating to watch.

My uncle and seatmate is blessed with the ability to always look for the silver lining. When the outcome looked hopeless, he turned to me and said, I’m glad to see we are trying the run. We need a balanced offense.

Without thinking, I shot back, Who cares about balance?! I want to win!

Light bulb moment. I finally got it, skepticism discarded.

Figure out what you do well. Practice it. Hone it. Perfect it. Do it better than anyone else and own it.

There’s another part of that quote that sums it all up: And if that means they sacrifice balance along the way, they don’t care. They’ve found something more important: results.

Thankfully, my team figured that out. We eventually went back to the passing plays that we do best–and staged an amazing comeback to win the game. Results.

More camp notes

jakeididitA couple of weeks ago, I made a return trip to Minnesota to pick up my son from wrestling camp. He made it through 28 days of hard, hard work in a boot camp style atmosphere that improved not only his wrestling skills, but also his dedication, discipline, and sense of responsibility. He came home physically exhausted but knowing he has the will to see any goal through to the end.

How did that happen?! After all, the kid is only fourteen.

The founder of the camp, J Robinson, took a few minutes to talk to the parents after the last practice. Much like when I deposited my teenaged wrestler into his charge four weeks earlier, the words he spoke have stuck with me since.

As J explained the kids’ daily activities, he emphasized that not one had been included thoughtlessly. Each activity, and its placement along the camp timeline, had been chosen intentionally in order to accomplish a specific outcome. All the campers, for example, had to do stadiums (running up and down the stadium steps) at 6:30am for the first three days of camp. They had to do them over and over and over, until there was not a single kid who wasn’t sore the next day. The goal, said J, was that when the alarm went off the next morning, each kid had to make a decision. He had to decide whether to get up and do the next drill, even though it didn’t feel good.

To reach a goal, you can’t be bound by how you feel, J said. You should only be bound by what you want.

Whoa. I’ve been thinking ever since about how many times I haven’t done something that would push me toward the achievement of a goal–simply because of how I felt. How many times I skipped my daily run because I didn’t want to go out in the heat or the cold, because I was tired, or because it was inconvenient. How many times I decided at the last minute not to attend an event that would have strengthened a friendship or furthered an interest because I was too comfortable where I was. How many times I didn’t speak up because I thought I might get embarrassed. I postponed the achievement of my goals–whether they revolved around fitness level, a relationship, my career, or personal fulfillment–because I was bound by how I felt.

I watched my son do something harder than I’ve ever done, and he did it successfully. He got past himself. He set a goal, and he did it.

Don’t be bound by how you feel. Be bound only by what you want. Powerful stuff.

Next time

IMG_0305A local radio station is giving away a vacation package to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, complete with concert tickets and backstage passes to see Michael Buble. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” they say.

Friends and family look at the pictures I share of travels near and far with my kids. “What a great experience! That was a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” they say.

Once in a lifetime.

I’ve begun to hate that phrase.

Granted, the stars will never again align in a way that conjures up exactly the same experience. From that standpoint, pretty much everything happens only once in a lifetime.

But if you’re talking about a trip to Paris or special passes to a performance or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at night, I see no reason those things must be constrained to only one time in someone’s existence. Sure, it might take some planning, saving, creativity, and ingenuity to make things happen, and they might not happen often. But what doesn’t take some ambition? Some deliberate action?

The phrase once in a lifetime has gotten stuck in my craw. It leaves me thinking that people have resigned themselves to whatever their circumstances and that they have (or take) no power to change them. Anything momentous that happens has been bestowed upon them by Kismet, and they have no control over whether it happens again. That makes me really sad.

I’m hungry. I’m always hungry for more. When I experience something I love, I start thinking about how I can make it happen again. And when I do it again, how can I make it better? What will I do next time?

Next time.

I’m always thinking of next time.

When I take my kids somewhere, what I really hope to do is whet their appetites for more. For crying out loud, they’re still in middle school. If all the things we’ve done are truly only once in a lifetime, what’s left? I’d like to think instead that they’ll be intrigued, eager to learn more, curious enough to go back and do it their way, rather than my way. I’d like to think I’m just opening a door to next time.

There are truly experiences that happen just once in a lifetime, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t as many of them as we think. We have power over our lives. Whether we experience something once in a lifetime or there’s a next time is our choice.

I prefer to deal in next times.


Not long ago, I realized something pretty important about myself. If home is where the heart is, then my home is on the road. I’ve felt that way as long as I can remember, but I’ve never been able to categorize it so succintly. I just knew that I was always ready to go. In fact, my ex used to tease me by saying that the perfect gift for me would have been an airline ticket. It didn’t matter where, as long as I got to go.

Even though I always find myself in the throes of planning my next trip, I didn’t think much about my wanderlust itself. During a recent conversation with a colleague, however, I had an epiphany. Many, maybe even most, people feel as if their real selves are the ones who sleep in their own beds and run errands and go to work and make dinner. For them, returning from a trip means getting back to “real” life. Traveling often means leaving their “real” selves at home while they explore, so it makes sense that eventually they’re ready to get back to being real.

Here’s the epiphany: I’m not that girl. The real me comes alive when I’m on the road. When I come home again, I feel as if I have to pack her away. She gets antsy going about her daily routine, biding her time until she embarks on her next journey. Coming home from a trip, with rare exception, feels more like the end of the line or a resumption of duty than returning to myself.

Now that I understand this about myself, I can work with it. It no longer has to be an unseen drag on my line as I cast about; I can work with it, shape it, accommodate it. More importantly, the better I know myself, the better I can relate to others. Understanding our differences is just as important as understanding our similarities.

Walking on sunshine

I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day… Sunshine, on my shoulders makes me happy… Good day, Sunshine!

Last week, Love Life Infinity nominated me for a sunshine award. According to LLI, this reader-forwarded honor is “specially given to those who are earnestly inspire others by their inspirational ‘arts’  in the blogosphere.” Holy cow.

I never aimed for inspirational; I had set my sights on informative, interesting, and hopefully somewhat insightful. To be called inspirational is a bit overwhelming for me. Thanks, LLI!

According to the rules of the award, I must answer 10 questions and similarly nominate 10 blogs. It’s a clever way to turn people on to interesting reading material while helping fellow bloggers increase their exposure and, hopefully, their readership. Count me in.

–Aside: Word of mouth, btw, is one of the most powerful marketing tools out there. Companies are just starting to figure this out. Check out WOMMA if you want to dig in.–

1. Who is your favorite philosopher?

Can’t really say I have one–unless it’s me, of course. 😉

2. What is your favorite number?

3. Or 9. Or 39. As if it matters.

3. What is your favorite animal?

I love dogs, especially big ones. I used to have a bull mastiff who stole my heart.

4. What are your Facebook and Twitter URLs?

Here’s my Facebook URL, but I’m fairly judicious about friend requests. On Twitter, I’m @tampyd. I don’t tweet a lot.

5. What is your favorite time of the day?

I love the dusk hours, when the sky settles into a rich cerulean blue. I see houses come alive with light as people return from the workday and gather at their tables or settle onto their sofas. It sets my imagination whirling, spinning stories of what might be.

6. What was your favorite vacation?

The best vacation EVER was my bicycle trip through Tuscany. My aunt and I celebrated our 100th birthday–her 60th and my 40th–together with my uncle and many new friends we made on the trip. Wonderful company, wonderful food, wonderful scenery, wonderful time. And where else can you get a really good cup of coffee for 90 Euro cents? And in a porcelain cup, no less! The very best souvenir from that trip was a fast friendship with Sally, whom I met on that vacation.

7. What is your favorite physical activity?

Running, when I’m really on my game.

8. What is your favorite non-alcoholic drink?

Water or coffee.

9. What is your favorite flower?

I love the smell of lilacs, the grace of calla lilies, the delicacy of lilies of the valley, the sunshine of daffodils, the elegance of orchids, the jauntiness of tulips, the cheer of Gerber daisies… I think I love them all, especially in big bunches or when they’re delivered unexpectedly to my door.

10. What is your passion?

Words are my passion, in all forms. A witty jibe, a carefully crafted sentence, a clever retort, a double entendre, or a straightforward “I love you.” Spoken or written, mine or someone else’s. (Usually someone else’s!) Grammar, spelling, syntax, reading, and writing all fit in there somewhere, too.

Blogs that inspire ME? In no particular order, each of these has touched me in some way, from tickling my funny bone to soothing my soul. Some are blogs and some are particular posts. You’ll note that I’m somewhat eclectic…

5 things to do today

People, Places, and Bling!

Get Write Down to It / Letters to my Treadmill

New Equus


Daddy Drinks

Armstrong is probably guilty but it is definitely meaningless

Gen Y Girl

MWF Seeking BFF

Things I Have Learned from Running

Zucchini variations


Never too late

I’ve never been enamored by seemingly impossible feats that some people feel compelled to attempt just to prove they can. Walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope? Pointless. Jumping the Snake River Canyon on a motorcycle? Ridiculous. Swimming from Cuba to Florida? Foolish.

This morning when I read about Diana Nyad’s failed fourth–and supposedly final–attempt to swim the 103 miles from Havana to Key West, I reached for my mouse to close the article. Before I could click the X in the corner, one particular quote caught my eye.

Apparently, Ms. Nyad has dreamed of making this swim since she was a child. Now 62, she hasn’t let her age hamper her dream, and she hopes to inspire others:

“When I walk up on that shore in Florida, I want millions of those AARP sisters and brothers to look at me and say, ‘I’m going to go write that novel I thought it was too late to do. I’m going to go work in Africa on that farm that those people need help at. I’m going to adopt a child. It’s not too late, I can still live my dreams,’ ” she had said.

Hmm. That puts things in a different perspective for me. Don’t get me wrong; I still think that swimming 103 miles without a shipwreck to necessitate it is pretty much crazy. After all, Ms. Nyad has been threatened by sharks, stung by jellyfish, buffeted by lightning storms, and exhausted to the point of delirium. But something about her words caught my heart.

“It’s not too late,” she said.

She’s right. It’s never too late to live your dreams, and I would add that it’s never too early. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, start now.

I’m pretty sure that Diana Nyad will never regret that she tried. If she has any regrets about her life, it will be the things she DIDN’T do.

I guess I’d better get started writing that book.

Book learning

Way back in the day, I stumbled across a little secret at my company. Every year at Christmastime, a select group of people received a package from the CEO. It wasn’t filled with candy or fruit or logo-emblazoned business accessories. It contained books.

These weren’t books plucked thoughtlessly from the year’s bestseller lists or some bookstore’s recommendations. These books were hand-picked by the boss, The Big Man, because each one contained some lesson, some observation, some nugget he considered valuable. He was a voracious reader, and he had selected the books from his own literary journey.

There was no particular pattern to the books, which ranged from speeches to biographies to philosophical shifts to business strategies to travelogues, but there was always a letter tucked among them. In that letter, The Big Man gave a brief synopsis of each selection and some insight about his recommendation. This was not some mindless token; the gift was well-thought and meaningful.

Although I certainly appreciated it at the time–the reputational value of being on “the list” notwithstanding–in hindsight I realize that the Christmas boxes were about much more than the content of the books. They reminded people to never stop learning and looking for new ideas. They challenged people to tackle material outside their preferred genres and try something different. They exposed people to conflicting philosophies. They introduced people to parts of the globe otherwise unseen. Together they laid a path that led to the world beyond the horizon as The Big Man saw it unfolding and functioned as a vehicle for his passion. They made people think.

I won’t lie. I didn’t make it through every book that came in those annual boxes. Some were tedious and couldn’t hold my attention. Many others, though, were not just interesting and insightful, but also foresightful. And some I just plain enjoyed. Regardless, over time I’ve realized that the content of the books was unimportant; the thing that mattered most was the passion they brought to my doorstep.

I don’t know how it happened, but I’m grateful my name made it onto that list.

On a mission

In yesterday’s post, I talked about the importance of bringing passion to your job. It’s easy to buy into that theory when the job involves fun stuff like planning a Super Bowl or marketing Apple products or creating ad campaigns. But what about when the job involves selling hearing aids or running a security company or teaching French to semi-interested adults who refuse to do homework? What about running a sanitation crew or fixing potholes or troubleshooting pumps? What about hauling grain or changing bedpans or working on a factory floor? I maintain that passion is essential no matter where you work or what you do. I’ve seen the difference firsthand.

Here’s a case in point. I once attended a sales meeting for a company that makes and sells products that most people wouldn’t consider very exciting. In fact, the average Joe probably doesn’t think about these products at all; they just hum along in the background, taken for granted by everyone.

I didn’t expect to get much from the meeting other than some face time with colleagues I don’t see often. It didn’t take long, however, for me to really tune in during the product presentations. Despite the not-so-glamorous profile of hanging hardware and flexible piping, I found my attention drawn to the front of the room. It wasn’t because of eye-catching graphics on the projection screen; it was the passion in the presenter’s voice that drew me there. It wasn’t just one presenter, either. Each person who stood behind the podium clearly believed in what he did and was eager to share his enthusiasm.

That made all the difference.

I left that conference refreshed. It’s exciting to work with people who are excited about what they do. I want to jump in and be part of it, and when I do a good job with my portion, I know it will be appreciated. That makes me eager to do more; success breeds success breeds success.

I’ve been involved with the flip side, too. When people view their jobs as tedious and boring, assignments become tasks, things to check off a to-do list, one more thing to get done before going home for the day. When effort goes unappreciated and is taken for granted, the incentive to go above and beyond disappears. In the end, a lackluster attitude brings lackluster results.

When you’re passionate about what you do, your job become a mission–and it rubs off. So what if you have a dirty job or a boring product? I’ll bet there’s more to it than that. Consider the examples I offered earlier from a different perspective:

  • The person selling hearing aids is allowing people to hear the voices of the people they love.
  • The person running a security company is helping to provide peace of mind and to keep people safe.
  • The person teaching French is sharing part of another culture.
  • The person hauling grain is helping to feed people and animals.
  • The person changing bedpans is bringing compassion to a sick person, as well as helping to control the spread of germs and bacteria, maintaining sanitary conditions so others don’t get sick.
  • The person troubleshooting pumps is making sure people don’t run out of water to drink.

It’s a lot easier to become passionate about your job–to transform it into a mission–when you take a long view of what you do. Look at the big picture and get excited. After all, you’re on a mission.