Inspired interruptions

Fry-lightbulb-on-forehead1I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a brilliant idea–absolutely, positively the best one ever.

And then *poof* it was gone. Disappeared into the ether. A faint contrail in my cerebral atmosphere. The footprint of a memory.

Too often, when thoughts flit through my consciousness, I swat them away instead of grabbing them. Usually it’s because I’m busy. I need to finish writing a brief, make dinner, wrap up an email. I think, Ooh, you’re a good one! Hold on a sec while I finish this up. I’ll get right back to you.

The trouble is, I don’t always get back to it and that germination of an idea dries up and blows away for lack of nurturing.

Or when I do jot it down, it finds its home in the margins of a notebook used for something else, on a post-it note that loses its grip and flutters to the floor, or on the back of a grocery list that gets crumpled in the bottom of my purse.

How many ideas have I missed because I let the good ones go?

How many problems have gone unsolved?

How many times have I settled for less?

We all have good ideas, big ones and small. It’s not about not having the inspiration; it’s about being willing to embrace it when it comes.

Inspiration rarely descends upon us when it is convenient. Don’t resist the interruption.

***On another note, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to RLK, my BFF and rock in all storms!***

Dancing with elephants

Elephant_dance_at_galleryfullWe’ve all done it. We’ve tiptoed and twirled and tap danced around an elephant. You know the one I mean; she’s the behemoth who sits in the middle of the room and won’t budge. Sometimes it’s hard to see her, but you can feel her presence. If you let her, she’ll suck the life out of the party.

And we do let her.

We cater to her. She feeds off our awkwardness and carefully chosen words and avoidance. She gets bigger and bigger as she gorges on morsels of our discomfort. And we keep dancing around her.

The thing is, she’s a cooperative soul–and a polite one, too. She’ll leave in a heartbeat; all you have to do is ask. That happened to me the other day in such an unexpected, direct way that I was awed by its simplicity.

A friend came to visit and carefully stepped over my elephant. Then he turned to me and said, “Can we get something out of the way?”

Just like that, my pervasive pachyderm disappeared. She left without a whimper, and our real conversation got started.

If we don’t want to dance around an elephant, all we have to do is confront it. Who knew it was that easy?

Take five

A couple of weeks ago, I read a book that came well recommended. I hated it. Even so, it was fairly short and an easy read, so I gutted it out to the end. I dutifully entered my rating on goodreads.com (1 star out of 5) and moved on.

Now I find myself thinking about that book.

Without giving too much away, most of the book takes place over the course of just a few hours. A difficult situation turns into an argument which then escalates well past the point that either party intended, mostly (IMHO) because neither can figure out how to stop. The long-term consequences are, well, long-term.

I didn’t find it tragic, just stupid.

Then I got into a real-life argument of my own.

A simple infraction escalated. There were heated words and the digging of heels into position. It built momentum and kept going.

It went on so long that the disagreement moved into peripheral areas, ostensibly for no other reason than to keep it going. I tired of the discussion, but I didn’t know how to end it. So we forged ahead, our words pricking and poking in ways that would force the healing process from simple first aid to rehabilitation.

Just like the book, it was stupid and senseless.

I wonder how many of the turns we take in life are the result of not having an exit strategy, how many times we plunder on because we don’t know what else to do, how often we end up somewhere we never intended yet could have prevented. Those usually aren’t happy places.

The simplest strategy in cases like these is to take a break. Pipe up with, Let’s take a few minutes to collect our thoughts and then revisit this. That’s it. No one faces defeat, no one has to concede. Just take five. Better yet, take ten. The issue at hand won’t have gone away by the time you reconvene, but the heat will have dissipated. Chances are, you’ll only need a few minutes after that to find some common ground.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather choose where I land than end up there by accident. When my journey doesn’t go as planned, I need to find an exit strategy–even if that strategy is as simple as taking five.

P.S. For those of you who are wondering, the book I mentioned is On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. After thinking more about it, I might be willing to give it 2 stars out of 5.

Love your inbox

unsubscribeI love email. I love its flexibility, its instant gratification, its geographic indifference. I love that it doesn’t hold a grudge against me for writing only a single sentence the same way a physical piece of paper accuses me with its very blankness. Fill me! screams the paper, regardless of whether I have anything meaningful left to say. I love the way email lends itself to conversations rather than reports and updates. I love the speed and agility it gives me to get things done.

And I hate it. I hate the barrage of unsolicited messages that assaults my inbox every day, every hour. I hate sifting through the junk to find the one important message I need to answer RIGHT NOW. I hate the way people or companies I don’t know invade my space when whatever they’re trying to sell has no relevance to my daily routine. Make. It. Stop.

Wait.

I can make it stop, or most of it anyway. Companies aren’t allowed to keep people on their email lists who don’t want to be there. It’s against the law. Violations can carry hefty fines, so the legit businesses are good about following the rules. They have to provide a way to unsubscribe in every one of those commercial emails they send.

That means that I have the power to stop them. Then why, oh why, have I let this keep happening? Even after reading a post from a fellow blogger about clearing her electronic clutter, I still didn’t take action for weeks. Quite simply, it was easier to simply hit delete every time I received an unwanted email than to open it, scroll to the bottom, and click unsubscribe. Well, easier in the moment, but not in the long run.

For the last few days, I’ve been on a campaign to rationalize my inbox. Although there may be some perverted sense of self-importance to being able to say (with a sigh), Ugh, I had to sift through over 200 emails today, it’s not worth the time wasted on the junk. Besides that, everyone knows that 85% of those 200 emails are junk anyway.

Even though it takes a (tiny) bit more time to do the unsubscribe dance, let me tell you, it’s worth it. Several dozen (a hundred?) unsubscribes later, I find myself less distracted by junk and better able to focus on the stuff that matters. I can go back to loving email. Has it really been that simple all along?

The power is yours; use it wisely. *She said with a wink.*

Reflex

standing deskI hurt my back. I don’t know how I did it, but a couple of days ago, I felt the mushy disk that I usually keep under control break free. It slid out of its designated spot between two vertebrae (I can name them, if you’re interested) and settle comfortably on a nerve. Well, comfortably for the disk anyway.

For the rest of the night and half of the next day, I babied it. I cut my run short and hobbled gingerly about my business. At work, I slouched to accommodate the sore spot. I tried not to do much that involved lifting or movement. Sitting was uncomfortable, so I rigged up a tall workspace and stood for the rest of the day.

That’s when I remembered.

Instead of curling up like a threatened pill bug, I needed to stretch out. I needed to stand tall and straight. I even needed to do a few exercises that pulled against the sore place. My (terrific) physical therapist taught me this a few years ago when I faced this malady the first time, but I had forgotten.

Of course, I had forgotten because those things don’t feel normal. It’s not intuitive to move into the pain; my primal brain tells me to Flee! Flee! Flee! Move AWAY from the pain, and fast! Naturally, that’s what I did. And naturally, it didn’t help.

When rational thought started to seep through the cracks of my discomfort, I heard the voice of my PT in my head. I pushed through the hobble and pulled myself straighter when I walked. Amazingly, it eased the pain. The more I hunched over, the more I hurt. The straighter I stood, the less I hurt. Make way for sanity, Tammy.

So often, the solution to a problem lies in taking the action that is the least natural. (If it were that easy, it wouldn’t be a problem, right?) If your back hurts, resist the urge to curl into a ball. If you start sliding on the ice, steer into the skid. If your argument isn’t working, change your approach, not your volume. If you feel threatened in your job, open up and add value, don’t protect your turf. When change is on the horizon, forge ahead, don’t circle the wagons.

If solutions were simply reflexive, we’d have no worries. We wouldn’t have to do anything but react from that primal node of our brains. For better or for worse, life is more complex than that. More often than not, the solution that works best is the one that feels the least natural. The next time you’re in a tough spot, resist the reflex and reflect.

Oh yeah–once I started following my own advice, my back started feeling better. Funny how that works.

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.

Ducks and horses

The Backstory:

Yesterday a friend and I were discussing the recent NYU-Replyallcalypse and he got stuck on one of the goofy Reply-All messages sent to the giant list of recipients. (Really, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click the link I provided.) To poke him a little, I whipped off an email response in blog post format. Although it was intended to be a wry attempt at humor, I wondered if it might have real merit when I re-read it this morning. You can decide for yourself.

My Wry-Attempt-At-Humor-But-Hey-Wait-It-Might-Have-Legs Response:

Would you rather fight a 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? You’re probably laughing at the absurdity of this question, but I’ll bet you find yourself revisiting it throughout the day, however unwillingly. After a while, you’ll realize that you are taking up precious brain power pondering a what-if that has about a zero percent chance of becoming reality.

Even if you don’t think about mutant ducks and horses all day long, I’ll bet you tie up your brain waves pondering scenarios that probably won’t come true. All of us do it—and it’s probably a healthy exercise if we can keep it in check—but when we’re thinking of stuff like that, what AREN’T we thinking of?

When you’re worrying about ducks and horses [insert your favorite diversion here], chances are you’re NOT thinking about your customers and how to help them make their lives better. Or your business and how to do what you do more effectively. Or how to nurture your kids’ talents. Or what to make for dinner. Or, or, or.

Personally, one of my favorite diversions is what-if-I-had-done-this-differently-way-back-when. I ruminate about how my life might look today if I had just answered that one question differently, or chosen a different major in college, or taken a different job. While I’m sure there’s something to be learned in hindsight, I’m sure I spend way too much time on the what-ifs I can’t recapture rather than the ones I can actually make happen today.

The next time you find yourself thinking about ducks and horses, use them to propel yourself into productivity.