Category Archives: innovation

Sunday haiku

Ah, Brussels airport.

Nice quiet haven for me.

Introverts unite.

introvert chair Brussels airport

Taken by mexi minnesotana in Brussels airport May 19, 2018

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

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Hours fall off the clock

I may need to reinforce some limits around my writing time, allowing myself just an hour each day. At least while I am still working full time in clinical research. I can lose literally hours off the clock when I am researching or writing on a topic that interests me, and I get to play with words, ideas and stories.

This week I am at a regional work meeting in Belgium and I am called upon social with my colleagues. I enjoy the opportunity to meet 1:1 or in small groups and have face-to-face conversations with those I usually interact with via phone or email. However all of the initial small-talk required when meeting so many new people drains my energy.

It occurs to me that maybe my soul is asking for a more minimalist approach to work networking and people-time, and this is another reason I am bringing this current phase of work to a close by September.

melting clocks

One of my favorite Salvador Dali pieces – photo credit link

I feel at my best when I am doing “deep work” which involves thinking, reading, writing and synthesizing research. I still intend to make time for teaching, offering workshops and facilitating small group meetings. But my best ideas and most productive periods seem to emerge after periods of luxurious solitude and reflection.

This summer I am planning for 4-6 weeks off starting in August/September, if I can make it work between work “ventures.” Let’s see if I can honor that and keep the personal and family budget discipline it will require to make this break happen without undue stress.

I know if I declare this intention in writing, there is a higher likelihood I can make it happen. I am not as good at having accountability to others (it can sometimes cause me to rebel), but I tend to be better at honoring my word to myself.

What makes you lose hours off the clock? Do you have a creative practice or hobby that, when you start working on it, causes you to lose all track of time? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

The power of sassy hair

In the last couple of weeks, I have had the desire to cut my hair much shorter. This weekend it started to feel unbearable to have the burden of long hair. And yesterday I did it – I went to the salon and asked them to chop off 4-5 inches, so my hair is only about an inch below the ears. While it is not a super dramatic change, it makes me feel lighter and I think it looks a little sassy.

sassy hair

This is not me, or my haircut, but it is one I think is super cute and may try now that the length has been cut off… (photo credit link)

As it turns out, I was invited for an informational interview on Thursday (today) for one of the positions I recently applied for – it was the one that made me excited but also a little scared because it is a big challenge, and requires the creation of new process and pilots.

I guess my cover letter submission was a successful one, since the hiring manager opted to set something up right away. I realize in some ways it is a “stretch” job for me, but I know I can learn what I need in order to demonstrate I’m capable.

I am filled with excitement but also a little dread. Interviews are a little nerve-wracking for me. But I will focus on being myself and asking good questions. Having completed a hiring process in my department recently, I realize that what I look for are people who are open-minded, willing to learn and have positive energy. Experience is important, but attitude is more important. Knowledge is important, but contacts and networks are also important.

There is a sort of “meta” skill when it comes to interviewing for a job in which there will be a lot of latitude for creation. You must know yourself well, be comfortable with ambiguity, cope well with set-backs, and realize that you may try certain things and fail. You need to recover well when that happens, and not beat yourself up. All jobs that do not have a predetermined procedure, where something new will be created, or some big systems-thinking project will be designed, require flexibility. I have definitely learned that throughout my career.

My sassy new haircut feels like an asset going into this interview process. It takes a bit of courage to make such a leap, chop off a bunch of hair that’s been growing out for some time. But it lightened my mood and my spirit, and that’s how I plan to approach the interview.

Wish me luck!! 

 

Open 25 hours

There is a store I encountered as I walked Saturday in Buenos Aires, a pharmacy that is open all the time. Usually we see an “open 24 hours” sign. But what is the meaning of 25 hours?

It got my attention attention right away. I only have 24 hours in a day, how can they give us 25?

open25hs.jpg

Chain of drugstores in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I started contemplating time, and that fact that we only have 24 hours in a day. What if we could manufacture another hour, and we had an extra hour? Those of us who cope with twice annual time changes, may experience this once a year, when we gain that extra hour in the fall. But we trade that hour in the Spring, when we lose it, and mess up our circadian rhythms… They don’t do that shit here. Enlightened, perhaps. Not sure, I am biased on that one.

So why 25 hours? I think the underlying message is: we strive to go beyond. We strive to give you more than your “share” of what you expect. Or at least that is how I choose to interpret it.

I love this beautiful ambition of the Argentinian people, a quintessential American trait, to dare to try for more. They want to go beyond, and they push the boundaries of what is possible right now, they want to achieve more than your expectations. There is a sense of ambition, creativity and magic that I feel when I visit South America. I also feel this in Mexico, but it is distinctly different, I realize. Perhaps because Mexico sits in the shadow of the United States, and many people aspire to go to “el norte” there is a different sense of expectation of one’s lot in life.

cafe and croissant

Cafe con leche y medialuna – brunch on Saturday.

Y’all know that I have an ongoing romance with Mexico. She is part of me, that nation. But I feel similar love for the people of Argentina as well. Sure, they can be a little snobby about their wine, their steak and their coffee. They are not wrong! They are delicious!

A colleague/physician and his wife took me out for dinner on Friday. I’m embarrassed to admit I am never this generous with my personal time on “date night” with work-related guests. That’s a part of the Latino culture, generous hospitality, and I am deeply grateful to have been “embedded” here since I started traveling for work ~9 years ago. We had a marvelous time, and despite my introvert self sometimes balking at these sorts of invitations, I am so glad I accepted.

Maybe it was a “hail mary” pass to me, since I have already confessed to that colleague that I plan to leave the team in 3-6 months. Or maybe it was a joy to invite me into his “family,” since we have known each other for over 10 years. He and his wife had their first grandchild almost a year ago, and they recently reunited after a 6-year separation. He has always treated me as a daughter figure. Even though he has made decisions that resulted in bad consequences for our team at times, I know he meant no harm.

olympics obelisk

Isn’t it funny how many cities have their phallic symbols? This obelisk was taken near the symbol of the Youth Olympic Games which will take place here in October 2018.

His team is sometimes afraid to say no to him, or to tell the whole truth of a situation. They may fear the consequence of standing up for themselves, or maybe since he is a physician, there is extra deference. I get it. This takes courage! A lot of courage, especially when it is your boss who doesn’t get it. I practice this myself also.

We may try to manufacture an extra hour to get something done, but the optimism is not enough. It is at best a valiant attempt to meet the challenge, do our best under the circumstances. At worst, it is a cover for what is lacking in our skills, intentions or capacity. Then the best thing to do is surrender to the truth of the situation, and find a way out.

It is not easy, to stop meeting those demands, striving for more. But we must wake up to the reality that human beings have limits, and that striving must be balanced with rest. Yang (active) energy requires yin (restful) energy to regenerate.

There are only 24 hours in a day. A third of them I will sleep, and the rest I will spend on what is important to me, including time to recharge and reflect. 25 hours is a nice fantasy, but we have enough hours every day to do what is necessary. If we stay present to our life, we have exactly what we need.

 

 

 

The packing list

Hi All,

I am leaving on a trip to Buenos Aires and Brasilia for the next week. It has been nearly 3 years since I have been to Argentina. It is one of the four main countries supported by my clinical research team, and we have quite a lot of studies and sites there. The journey is long and Delta only offers overnight flights, probably because it is easier to “manage” a plane full of people for 9 hours if they are mostly sleeping.

I am not so fond of traveling overnight. Typically I get about 3 hours of sleep on the 9 hour flight from ATL to EZE (if that) and I arrive tired and wired. But this trip is important. It is overdue. I have some atoning to do for neglecting the operational issues we have encountered over the past 2 years.

Sometimes doing more with less is impossible. We have to do LESS with less. We have to make decisions about which projects to cut, instead of pretending we can do it all, and then doing it very badly, instead of with high quality attention. Those decisions are difficult, but I believe they should involve an honest evaluation of our strengths and weaknesses, and a team-based approach to maximizing our contribution.

I may not agree with what the organization has decided to fund (or not fund). But I do have a responsibility to follow through, and make difficult decisions when the time comes. Limping along and pretending everything is okay does not win supporters or champions in the organization.

packing-list-e1521632105803.jpg

In preparation for this trip (and most trips) I use a packing list to be sure I have not forgotten anything.

This particular list is nice because it is pretty all-inclusive. I like to highlight all the items that I will need and then cross them off as they are put into the suitcase.

For a person who struggles with a.d.d., lists are essential. I think for most people, lists are helpful, especially for overseas trips.

But what is not on the list and what I intend to also “pack” with me as I mindfully begin this 7 day trip:

  1. Patience
  2. Openness to other cultural norms and experiences
  3. My Spanish skills for Argentina, and Portuñol skills for Brasil (when I try to speak Portuguese, somehow the works morph in my mouth to more of a combination of languages.)
  4. Patience
  5. Confidence in my intuition about travel
  6. Focus on what is important; letting go of what is unimportant
  7. Sense of adventure
  8. Acknowledgement that I cope pretty well with sleep-deprivation, even if I don’t like it much.
  9. Gratitude to be able to see some colleagues I have not seen since last year.
  10. Patience
  11. Gratitude for the delicious food I may eat – Argentina is like Europe when it comes to food. They love it, they do it well, and it is delicious.
  12. Well-established daily meditation practice
  13. Patience
  14. Strength and endurance – The trip home will be especially long, with 2 stops from Brasilia to home and another overnight flight on the way back.
  15. Did I mention patience?

My husband reminds me that I get to be in a warm climate, while we are still in the cold in MN, and that a lot of people would really love to have the opportunity to travel as much as I do. I do enjoy it (most of the time) and I am looking forward to the trip, with just a hint of trepidation about all I need to complete during the journey. Mostly it is about connecting, and having honest and open conversations.

I still plan to post every day, and hopefully will grab some good photos on the journey. There is definitely always food for thought when we travel, so we will see what comes up. Hasta luego, amigos!

Focus vs exploring options

I am preparing for a session with my coach this morning and slept in an hour more than usual. Sometimes when my body needs it, I just allow it to rest. After last week’s travel, and disrupted sleep schedule, it has been lovely to have 4 nights in a row of 8-10 hours of sleep.

But of course, my writing time is a little cut short for the morning, so I sit, brainstorming what I most care to say. I went back and read a bunch of previous posts, scanning the “data” for trends, themes. Then I considered my worries about the upcoming coaching session. I turned in my homework only 5 minutes before the deadline this time, not a half day in advance like last time.

I wondered about all the resistance, and the fact that committing dreams or goals to paper makes me feel some pressure about it. I asked my husband last night about what he wanted to be when he grew up (at age 5-6) and he wanted to be a farmer like his grandfather. But then his family moved, and the farming industry changed. I reflected on my own memories of being asked that question.

I typically had a long list of all the things I wanted to do someday. But I remember being disappointed with someone who laughed at me kindly and told me I could not do ALL of those things. I would have to pick one, maybe two. What?!? I was sad that I would have to choose and I wanted to keep all doors open.

Back in the day, in our parents era, that was the norm: to choose one main career goal and to stick to that choice for 30+ years. Pension plans were built on that principle. To move around too much was flaky, seen as irresponsible and perhaps self-indulgent.

I had an active imagination and knew that everyone in my family were teachers, and that I also considered that a possibility, but did not want to limit myself. Fortunately the world has changed, and people seldom have just one career. The possibilities now seem limitless, but that does not mean we can have all our choices all at once.

Now that I am getting older, I recognize the value of making a career choice for one particular period of time (say, a decade) and fully embracing that choice, allowing ourselves to go deep into that field of endeavor, really to learn it well. Any area where we practice extensively and develop a body of knowledge is a place we can make a contribution.

But then there comes a time when some of us (and maybe this is my a.d.d. talking, or just my curiosity about other fields and the roads not taken) long for a transition to something new. I had hoped to get into the “Entrepreneurs in Residence” program at my company but found out yesterday that I will not advance to the interview round. I was a bit disappointed, but strangely felt relieved as well.

Working for a very large corporation for nearly 11 years, this era is coming to a close for me. I long for more freedom and less bureaucracy than this setting can deliver. I long for more innovation and less forms to fill out in order to get work accomplished. But that specific direction has yet to solidify for me.

Perhaps it has been a long time since I worked toward a particular dream or goal. I did dream of becoming a manager, and I achieved that dream. I dreamed of travel and work where I would get to do that much more often, and I achieved that dream as well. So in a sense, I have accomplished some of the goals that I had for myself, definitely not along the path I had expected.

I believe in staying open to opportunities, and saying yes to experiences where I might grow and learn. But now that I have achieved a certain level of success, I return to the question of where I want to focus. I long to figure out what contributions I most want to make, where I can provide the most value in the world.

This is a road we all travel, I realize. Perhaps making those choices and sticking to those decisions has been more challenging for me, or maybe I am operating on an old belief system that needs upgrading. In any case, I would love to hear from others that have made big career changes in their lives. What were your fears? How did you discover what you truly wanted? Were there ever times when you doubted your new direction?

Creating vs. consuming

Happy Friday, everyone! Also, happy Groundhog Day for those of you who pay attention to that sort of thing. When I woke up this morning, it was -10F without windchill. Brrrr! No matter what that groundhog says, we in Minnesota know it’s going to be MORE than 6 weeks of winter…

groundhogs

The most adorable groundhogs ever! Or at least I thought so. Photo credit link

So I crawled back into bed with my coffee, expressed gratitude to the universe that I can work from home this morning since I do not have in-person meetings today. I also gave thanks for the web and for remote teleconference meetings, which allow my work to be mobile and flexible.

Then I proceeded to get “lost” in some podcasts for a while before I meditated. When I finally did get myself out of bed and to my computer, I read a bunch of blogs, and really had myself a jolly old time. It reminded me of when I used to read Facebook and email from bed when I started the day, taking in a bunch of incoming stimuli before I’d had a chance to even wake up.

It was not a healthy way to live, and I would find myself in “reactive” mode by starting that way. I was subject to the whims of whatever was tossed at me by the social media “feeds” and whoever had sent emails to me. I have written before about my need to limit media consumption and to limit the noise of outside stimulation.

All of a sudden while reading and commenting on blogs, taking it easy, I realized it was 8am! That is the time I typically start work, even when I work from home. On a typical day, I am up around 5:45. I like to meditate and write before I have had a chance to get carried away by the incoming distractions of other stimuli. My goal is usually to have my post done by 7 or 7:15 so I can then switch gears and get on with the rest of my day.

Writing gives me energy and feeds me in a way I did not realize was possible until my recent commitment to daily blogging. By engaging in some creativity in the morning, my mind feels fresh and rejuvenated. Even when inspiration strikes me the afternoon or evening before, I like to spend a little time editing and re-working a piece before publishing.

Today’s altered routine got me thinking about creativity versus consumption. We live in a culture of constant consumption, and nearly constant invitations to buy things, or acquire more. Sometimes we fool ourselves into believing these things will make us happy, and that they are important. I can even be tricked into thinking acquiring more and more knowledge will make me happy.

To some extent, acquiring new knowledge does make me happy. The human brain is programmed to seek novelty and avoid pain. We get a dopamine hit when we learn new things and encounter new stimuli. But that constant rush of new information sometimes causes a plateau of that feeling. We need a break from it, and it can feel a little like that uncomfortable feeling after eating too much Thanksgiving dinner…

Ugh.

Another impulse we have as humans is to create. Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown have some great reflections on this highly inefficient and yet joyful part of our existence. Human beings are capable of creating things purely for the joy of it, for the satisfaction of making something new.

Music, art, fiction, poetry. These are not critical to our survival on a day to day basis, like food, water and air to breathe. And yet: they are critical to our survival as a species, as a united consciousness of humanity. They are ways we express meaning in our lives, and communicate to others, connect to people and the world around us.

Brene Brown says that creativity is not optional. I am paraphrasing here but she explains that “unexpressed creativity metastasizes.” (This is from her Magic Lessons podcast with Liz Gilbert). Brown has studied the habits and practices of “wholeheartedness” and people who live fulfilling lives. In order to live healthy and full lives, we must engage creatively in some way. We must go beyond working, consuming and working and consuming.

So I ask you on this Friday: how will you engage creatively today? What will you do to express this amazing and wonderful gift of being human? If your work allows and encourages creativity, fabulous! If not, consider how to create something instead of just consuming today. Whether it is a meal made for a loved one, a silly little rhyme made up for a child or a short story you have been dying to put on paper, indulge your creative spirit. Just for the joy of it. I dare you.

Exercising my writing muscles

There are benefits to exercising our writing muscles!

On Friday I worked on a first draft of a 2-page case study proposal for an application to the “Entrepreneur-in-Residence” program in my company’s business incubator division. I am totally jazzed about the opportunity, 2-3 positions open for this 12-18 month commitment. It is a chance to work with teams using human-centered design in order to solve health care problems in under-served and under-resourced areas of the world.

This gig is designed as a program manager role that will eventually continue with a project at the end of the period if it has potential for commercial development, or move onto another leadership role within the company upon completion. With the networks and contacts I would have following such an opportunity, even though there are no guarantees, I am all in!

When opportunities like this have come along in the past, I typically read the materials and then spent weeks agonizing about what to write, putting it off until only a few days before the due date. This time around, I took a couple of hours without distractions and just banged out a first draft of my thoughts. Yep, I put down some “B minus work” to get my initial thoughts out of my head.

I am sure when I go back in a couple of days to look at it, I will have different insight. I will likely revise quite a bit of the first draft. Plus I started in the afternoon and I am sharper in the morning, so I know I can rework and possibly re-organize the writing. Since I was not familiar with the disease state or the country where the issue was identified, I had to do some initial research on the web. Once I have a chance to fully explore the questions that I footnoted for myself, I am sure I will enhance the draft.

I am proud of myself, since I stepped outside my usual habit of obsession and worry, and just got down to work right away. I am sure there will be SOME obsessing and worrying as I complete the first application (I cannot simply be someone ELSE). But it is progress to me that I started early this time, so there is plenty of time to polish and reconsider in the next couple of weeks. I plan to turn this one in at least a week in advance and to ask a peer to read through the draft.

So this daily blog “exercise” is proving to help me in an unexpected way. I am getting used to getting the words down on paper first, so I can have adequate time also to “marinate” my thoughts while my subconscious goes to work in the background on creative approaches to the problem presented. Writing can always be revised. Indeed, for professional writing that is probably a good idea. Given past habits of procrastination on writing projects, this is good progress for me.

To me, that is worth celebrating. Hope you take action today on a project that has meaning for you! Cheers!