You must ask the Right Question.
And All will be Well.
You must ask the Right Question.
And All will be Well.
Do you ever have a sense of marvelous ease in your day? A sense that you are in a “flow state” and things are proceeding exactly as they should. You just ride along as the current carries you.
You look up hours later and realize you have been so engaged in a task that you have lost awareness of time, and maybe it’s already dark out. Or you suddenly realize you are hungry, but you were absorbed in something so deeply that you did not notice at the time. It is kind of a beautiful experience for someone like me (or maybe you?) who struggle with distractions.
But how often to we achieve this state? How often do we give ourselves the opportunity to do uninterrupted work? How often do we single-task, instead of spreading out our focus?
According to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, we do not do this nearly enough. When I first read the book summary, presented by my “GetAbstract” subscription at work, I felt immediate resonance with the concept. Then I heard an interview with him on the Hidden Brain podcast last July, and I knew I would need to figure out how to do more deep work in my career.
In the age of social media, overflowing email boxes and communications technologies like WhatsApp and Jabber (my company’s instant messaging platform), it is a challenge indeed. But I like a challenge. And I think the ability to focus deeply and intentionally on things we care about is worth it. Some may argue that this is what makes a happy life.
So how do we make that more possible? For me, it has involved cutting WAY back on my daily consumption of social media. I used to turn on my phone in bed in the morning, read facebook posts and the news from the coziness of my bed (it was -12F when I got up this morning -26F with windchill – ugh). Then I would usually open up the email, first personal and then work to see if there were any urgent items.
This would put me into “reactive” mode, taking in all of this information before even giving myself a chance to truly wake up. Not the best way to start the day. That practice shifted to consuming podcasts rather than FB and news about a year ago. I decided my emotional state was not equipped to consume news in the same way I used to devour it daily. I really love public radio, and I still listen sometimes in the car on the way to or from work.
We all have choices about what we do, and how we engage with the world. It is pretty mind-blowing to realize we have more control over our thoughts and emotions once we learn to separate them out from circumstances. Learning this has helped me understand when my “anger” button has been activated, or in neuroscience terms, the amygdala. Anger can be a useful emotion, when we are fighting injustice, but rage tends to be destructive. Fear can be a useful emotion, when we are outrunning a predator or facing a potentially dangerous situation, but panic is rarely helpful.
So I choose to cut back. I need to keep flowing, keep working toward things I believe in. I work toward more peace, more justice, more access to the rights and freedoms I enjoy for more people. Overflowing with inputs, distractions, material possessions, entertainment, and other “over” indulgences does not serve me. So I make deliberate choices about how to spend my time.
Distractions may always be a factor for me. My mind runs and plays like a puppy, roaming around, picking up random scents and running down those trails. But that is also conditioned behavior, following the urge of distraction. And it can be unlearned with practice, thankfully. My meditation and yoga practices are teaching me that.
May you be clear-headed and focused today. May you engage in whatever deep and important work you are doing right now, with full mind and heart. Thank you for reading, and now go get back to your creative effort. Namaste.
To those of you who are waiting for your blogs to be perfect to publish them, here is some advice I got originally from Brooke Castillo of the Life Coach School podcast. Do B minus work, but get it started ahead of time. It echoes advice I have received from other authors like Anne Lamott and Brene Brown: settle for shitty first drafts the first time out (SFD’s – aka stormy first drafts).
This is great advice for those of us who suffer from perfectionism. Often we procrastinate because we worry about our idea not being good enough or our final product not being polished enough. This is especially true for women, it seems, so we delay holding up our hand when we already know the answer.
We may need to practice greater confidence when it comes to starting things. Just getting started, and getting it out, we overcome the “activation energy” it takes to get the momentum moving. For me as a writer, I seldom struggle for a topic. Give me a topic and I can rattle on all day about it if you want.
But when it comes to telling a story or constructing an argument effectively, I know it takes me more time to get it right. Even if the words flow out, and they typically do when I give myself uninterrupted time to write, the final product is not complete.
It is best when I allow the words to flow and not worry too much about structure or ultimate form of a piece. When it comes to blogging, it is inherently a shorter form, but I struggle with not going on for TOO long, so I often write a first version during half an hour in the afternoon and then return to edit in the morning when I am fresh.
At that point, I typically add graphics, correct grammar, perhaps cut out sections or paragraphs or sentences that wander and make sure the idea makes sense. Occasionally I do not have the time for that, due to my travel schedule. I just set myself a timer and get to work on a quick post, writing it in the morning before a shower and then editing afterward.
Not worrying too much about the reception of an idea is another way to get the work out there quickly. We can only know what is in our own minds, not what will resonate with others. So it is best not to worry and obsess about what they want, and focus instead of what we want to say.
What I realize now is that my blog has become a place where I can try out ideas, play around with stories I find interesting, or concepts I am trying out in my life. I have nothing specific to “sell” out here, and sometimes I have gotten useful feedback on my ideas.
I plan to keep writing every day, and putting short pieces here, at least through next June. The practice of sitting down once or twice a day and getting those ideas onto the screen has helped me clarify some of the questions I ask myself. Over time, the answers get refined, and the focus gets clarified.
If I do not start with B minus work, there is no opportunity to shape and polish it to become “A” work. But one of the great secrets to adulthood is that there are no grades anymore. We do not have to rely on others’ evaluations of us to be successful.
Every day we can decide how we want to assess our own success, and the quality of our days. That is probably the best news ever. If we can be kind to ourselves and acknowledge that we did the best we could for that day, it is always enough.
I am in Mexico City today to conduct three interviews for our clinical research specialist opening in the local office here. I also get to visit with a colleague who is no longer in my group but is one of my favorite people in my company. I am grateful for this opportunity to connect with her, and she agreed to help with the interviews.
It will be a busy Tuesday but I wanted to check in and say: if you have never been to a big city that is constantly alive and awake, come to Mexico City. You think New York City has options? Pshaw! It has nothing on this city. I’m serious! I am in Colonia Napoles which is a nice part of the city, near where my office is located, and the neighborhood of Frida Kahlo, apparently.
I started reflecting on the fact that having a U.S. passport is a privilege I should not take for granted. Then I started thinking of all the potential leadership development projects I could undertake with various Mexicanas and other Latinas I know. I got really excited thinking about this possibility and a little chill down my spine.
Oh, I have to pay attention to those signs. And I do. It is good right now that I have a job that affords me the luxury of traveling down here. I do not take that for granted. I’m starting to re-frame what I am doing and think about other ways I can execute my personal life goals in a way that is meaningful to me.
Cheers & have a great week. If you love Mexico as much as I do, check out my previous post on this topic which has better pics. Adios, amigos/as!
next time i watch a man give birth
i’ll try to picture the creator as a dude with a beard
’cause right now i gotta say it’s seemin’ kind of weird
When we make a meal for our families, it is work. But it is also creation. It is making something out of other raw materials. It is a sacred and ordinary act. And yet, it is de-valued, and trivialized as “women’s work” so often.
What if we saw each act of caring for another human being as an act of creation? What if we considered our interactions with other people as a way to “create” an experience? How might this change our view of being a Creator?
What if we play with the notion that to create is human? To clean one’s space and arrange one’s home is to create an experience for oneself and one’s living companions.
I am not a fan of cleaning. I dislike it, actually. Right now I pay for the privilege of cleaning help once a month. Usually what happens before each cleaning is that I scramble about our rented townhome and spend time de-cluttering and putting things away, sorting and organizing.
I always saw home-caring as an unsavory burden, something that recalls times when my Mom asked me to clean my room. Usually I would go upstairs, begin the process, and then find a book that had been buried in a pile, and start reading.
Hours later, Mom would check on my progress. I had often finished the book and totally forgotten about cleaning my room. Dear Mother: thank you for your patience in raising me. I have been truly blessed.
When I consider that cooking and cleaning are acts of love for ourselves, and for the people who live with us, it creates less resistance for me. I used to joke that I refuse to conform to a “Latina stereotype” and therefore I calmly refuse to clean up after others. I have been in long-term relationships (one was an 8-year marriage) with men who loved to cook for a reason: I had no intention of carrying that load.
These days I am attempting to clean and organize my space because I would like to set up a true “office” at home. Right now my dear husband has ceded the dining room to my home office. But someday I would like to use it as a dining room again.
This means that I will spend time clearing out the spare room and fully cleaning and de-cluttering it. The job is intimidating to me, I admit. I have an interest in minimalism, and I completely cleaned out the closet in my spare room in the Spring of 2017.
Then Summer in Minnesota arrived, and with it, the desire to spend far more time outside, as is appropriate and necessary for a cold-weather people. No regrets on this, none whatsoever. But I am far from achieving a more minimalist ideal.
Now that winter has arrived, with it a bit of snow, and a desire for warm drinks and inside time, I will recommit to the KonMari effort I started back in the Spring. I am letting go again, and clearing space in my home and in my consciousness for the next “big thing.”
Returning to the original theme of this post: think of all the ways in your life that women are creators. For me, I realize I am the creator of my own life, and of my own experience. If I do not like where it is going, I have the power to change it. I can choose different actions, and create different results.
Women have always been Creators, giving birth not only to babies but to new ideas, to different ways of working in the world. Given that so many have been responsible for the care of our families, with or without mates to share the load, we are by nature creative and innovative.
When we fully own that creativity, and celebrate it, we begin to create great change in the world. We refuse to be caged in a reality that undervalues women. We begin to understand that our value comes from our own sense of worthiness, and that nobody’s opinion of us is more valid than our own belief in our efficacy.
Women of the world, we are Creators. Do not deny it. The world needs what we are willing to share. Let us have the courage not to worry about the “messiness” that occurs in the process of creation. Let us instead embrace the satisfaction we can take in truly owning our creative natures.
This week I am experimenting with different WordPress formats. It is surprisingly easy to build a website on WordPress because the templates for layouts are super easy to use. You can import custom graphics and manipulate the widgets for pages very easily.
Even though this is not intended to be an ad for their service, you seriously want to check out what they have to offer if you have ever considered starting a blog or launching a web site.
I may change it up now and then to see how the different elements enhance the overall readability of my site. I appreciate it if you message me and let me know what you think as I figure out the “tech” side of this creative endeavor.
If you get some value out of what I write, then it is a bonus.
But I write this blog for me, not for you. That probably sounds selfish, doesn’t it? Yes, I agree. I used to think blogging was the most selfish, narcissistic thing to do. Probably roots back to a decade ago when I lived with someone who blogged three days a week and had difficulty keeping a day job.
He was pretty selfish and narcissistic, come to think of it. Hmm. I now forgive him for the ways in which he took advantage of my kindness, and I appreciate what I learned in the process.
Some people like to talk, and like to hear themselves talk. It gives them comfort when words spout out of their mouths, and they get to “be” out in the world in this way.
Some of us prefer to write, and it gives us comfort when words spill out onto the page or a screen. But it is not so much about “being” in the world, as it is a way to figure out what we really think, what we really want.
What is the difference, then? As an introvert, I prefer the latter. I used to work for a boss that told me she figured out what she wanted to do by bouncing ideas off someone out loud. It was a way of brainstorming and getting to a solution.
Once I truly understood her process, and that it was enormously helpful to her, I could stop running off and trying to implement all of the ideas that flowed out of her like a fountain.
For me, an introvert, I like to let words flow out on paper, or leak out from my fingertips onto my screen. Then I can go back and edit, select, revise and “mine for meaning.” I accept the concept of shitty rough drafts – thank you my dear Anne Lamott.
Not all words are precious, and the majority of them are not. (Thank you, Liz Gilbert.) But words can be a process for us, a way to dig down into the marrow of a situation, really an exploration and an excavation. The provide clues to what we desire and our buried hopes and dreams can re-emerge this way.
Other creative media can do this too. Sometimes I engage in whatI call “color work” with my pastels and sheets of newsprint paper. It involves choosing colors I want to work with, using broad strokes on the page, and then smearing the colors with my hands and fingers in a way that is pleasing to the sensations in my fingers.
Writing (in black and white) seldom provides this pleasing sensation. Though it comes much more easily to me than “color work,” my right brain yearns to play with my left brain sometimes. When I indulge it, my soul seems to reward me with deeper insight now and then. When I hear an internal dialogue about how I am not an artist, or that people would laugh at me if they could see this, I quiet that critic and realize it is not about them, it is about me.
It is about bringing my whole self to more of my daily life, my logical parts and my creative parts. It is about bringing the inner fountain to outer manifestations. When we generate and create a lot of ideas, a lot of them will be crap. No worries, mate. That is the nature of ideation and innovation. A few of them might be decent, and maybe a tiny number of them will be brilliant.
But the practice of generating and letting those ideas loose? That is where the magic lies. It is the flow and the discipline of doing this every day, or every Saturday, or twice a day or whatever your preferred rhythm.
This is what brings me joy these days, creating color work that nobody will ever see, and generating words and ideas that please me, or sometimes challenge and annoy me. What a gift, the privilege of doing this. I am eternally grateful that this universe has seen fit to grant me this opportunity, as I know not everyone has as much freedom to do the same.
May you write and read for you, dear reader. If it touches others in some way, invites them to do the same, may we celebrate this incredible privilege together.
Today I am working on a Saturday to prepare for a workshop that I will be co-facilitating on Monday with a favorite colleague. It will be a 2-hour session on “Innovation Jams, Design Thinking and the Medici Effect” with 16 students, mostly engineers and program managers at our company. The workshop filled up fast and apparently there are actually a few more people on the waiting list who had planned to take it as well.
I am so excited about this opportunity and the fact that I get to offer this type of workshop. The idea came about when we were brainstorming how to spread the word about how to use design thinking for every day problems, and how diversity drives innovation. It is a message that resonates with me, and I have so many stories and examples of how opening up to the “intersections” in our lives, whether cultural, or between fields or between genders, actually changes how we think.
In order to open up our creativity and to begin to invent novel solutions to problems, we must be willing to go beyond conventional thinking. Since our brains tend to resist that process, and are much more comfortable doing things as we have always done them, there are some tools and strategies we can use. One is to pay attention to what is happening around us and to notice things. Another is to talk with people who are different from us, who may have other perspectives. Yet another is to assemble teams from diverse backgrounds in order to solve problems. My favorite way is to PLAY! Do art, work with colors, play-act, do improve, and just have some fun. It is good for your brain.
All of these are fairly simple and low cost, but yet they yield enormous benefits. I work in a very large medical device and health care solutions company that has big ambitions. My worry is that we are TOO BIG and the bureaucracy to get just simple things done is killing us. I think that stifles innovation, when we are weighed down by big systems that keep slowing things down. But I also want to help people find creative ways around this problem, because the mission of the company aligns with my personal goals. There are a lot of brilliant scientists and engineers working there. I would love to help them find a way to tap into their best thinking to design products and services for patients around the world.
I often say when I am working on these types of “special projects” which are technically outside my job scope as a clinical research manager, that this work feels like play. I got to go to the art supply store and pick up an assortment of fun crafty items, so we can have the class members actually build physical prototypes to represent the solutions they create. Using tactile materials can help stimulate creativity, especially for those of us so used to working with ideas, words, and paper all day. I had a blast picking out various items that I thought our class could use. It truly felt like play, as it does when I work on design for these type of events.
How fortunate I am to be able to do this kind of work. Yes, I still have a pile of other things to do for my “real” job that I will have to catch up on as a result of spending more time on this. But what a privilege it is to get to do work that feels like play for some of my days. Namaste, friends. Hope you have plenty of time to play this weekend!