Throwback Thursday: B minus work

This week’s edited piece is from a post I did back in December 2017. As I get ready to meet some deadlines for writing projects, it is a great reminder to just get the work drafted.

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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.

art of scribbling
Photo credit link

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. 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.

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 (despite my recent worry about this).

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.

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.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Starting my Summer Sabbatical

This weekend we visited our families in Bemidji and relaxed after a busy week of finalizing my corporate position. While I am excited to start my “new thing” I also know that I need a break from the intensity of work for a while.

In the corporate world, it is not as common to take a break of more than 2-3 weeks (at the most) in the U.S. as it is in academia. But I have been dreaming of a break like this for quite some time now. I expect it will be ~2 months for me, and will conclude with my 2-week honeymoon Sept 5-19 with my husband (1 year wedding anniversary).

In the academic world, typically sabbaticals have are granted as a year free from teaching duties that could be devoted to research, travel and writing. Traditionally this occurs in the 7th year. Sabbatical is related to the biblical “sabbath” in origin, the day of rest referred to in Genesis. Leviticus refers to an entire year of rest in the 7th year, as a way to respect the natural rhythm of crop-harvesting, and allow the land to lie fallow.

I love the concept of cycles of intentional activity balanced with intentional rest. An over-focus on productivity in our culture seems to rob us of the ability to rest and play without guilt. We feel like we have to “earn” our rest, and then, if we work very hard and have saved up a lot of money, maybe we can retire formally and finally rest.

sabbatical
Photo credit link

Personally the idea of going from full-time work, to full time retirement has always seemed weird to me, and not at all desirable. Work often gives us a sense of purpose and satisfaction, even while it can be the source of stress and struggle at times.

If you love your work and it is well suited to your skills and interests, it is something you may not wish to escape. While you may decide to “down shift” in your later years, or work less than full time, the idea of going from 100% to zero has never appealed to me.

Granted, in the days when work was largely physical and humans had a limited capacity for this enduring effort, it certainly made sense. Today, knowledge work demands high focus during “productive time” but can also require rest and intentional play for creative generation.

What if more of us had a more flexible approach to work and life, where we could take a couple of months off every year to recharge and refresh? How might this affect our quality of work, our quality of life, and perhaps even the planet and the environment?

My theory is that quality vacations and sabbaticals may afford the kind of down time that helps us appreciate what is good about our lives, and also what is missing. This time off has required us to put away some savings, and make some sacrifices in terms of luxuries and spending. To me, it is entirely worth it. I have planned 2-2.5 days a week to “work” and plan for my consulting launch.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity and shall make the most of it. My husband tells me the time will go fast, and I am sure it will. I have a stack of books, some Udemy courses to finish, a road trip with my sister, and other connections to renew. I shall savor my journal and writing time, will meditate every day, do yoga, dance and perhaps create some art.

What would you do with a nice, juicy sabbatical of a month or more? I would love to know. 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Throwback Thursday: time enough at last

As the end of my time in my current company draws near, I return to a post from December of last year. I am looking forward to the month of August, since I have a road trip planned with my sister, LOTS of reading and thinking time ahead. What a relief! Time enough at last!!

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Do you remember that episode of the Twilight Zone called “Time Enough At Last“? I own the Twilight Zone complete collection on DVD, and this is an episode worth watching if you have ever wished for “time enough” to do what you want.

henry bemis
Photo credit link – episode wiki page

Henry Bemis wants one thing in life: more time to read. I have so much empathy for Henry. There are times when I really long for more solitude, reading (and writing) time. Henry works at a bank but sneaks down to the vault during his lunch hours to read.

But not only does he do that, he tries to read while he is doing his job, which means he does not do that job so well. He clearly feels “put upon” by the world, his job and his wife, since nobody seems to understand his thirst for books and reading time. But I have deep empathy for his suffering.

Prior to my appendectomy in December, I was really wishing for some reading time and contemplation. I wanted some time off from work when I could just read, relax and enjoy some time to myself. I looked forward to the holiday break coming up – my workplace shuts down between Christmas and the New Year. I was feeling rather “put upon” at work myself, and I just wanted an escape. I had in mind a sabbatical, and while I think this was not so practical in my current job, I viscerally ached for this kind of break.

I would not have chosen to go to the hospital to have emergency appendectomy surgery in order to get out of work. But I was fortunate to recover very quickly, so it felt like a blessing in disguise.

One day while reading down in the vault Henry Bemis is knocked unconscious by a shock wave. He awakens to discover that the world has been devastated by a nuclear war. At first he is in shock, walking through all the devastation around him, and he decides to commit suicide. But then he sees the ruins of a library, his paradise!

henry bemis and clock
Photo credit link

Henry gleefully piles up the books, thinking he has a supply to keep him busy for years to come, with all the time he needs. But as he settles to read his glasses slip off his nose and smash on the ground, trapping him in a blurry world forever. “That’s not fair! That’s not fair at all! There was time now. There was all the time I wanted! That’s not fair!” (I found a 3-minute video on YouTube if you want to see that scene. It still breaks my heart).

Poor Henry. Life is not fair. Bad things happen. And yet this is the way of life. We get sick, our plans go awry, and we have to adjust. We must get extra rest. We must slow down and respect our body’s limits. We must acknowledge that we do not control everything, and stop resisting and arguing with reality.

Oh, Henry. I am giving myself the gift (in August and September) of time enough at last! It has been so long since I had more than 2 weeks off for a summer vacation. I am beyond grateful.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Heading back in

sleeping cat with tongue out
Calvin all tuckered out and laying on his Dad’s foot.

After a lovely two weeks of vacation, on Monday I am “heading back in” to work mode. My husband took a picture of our cat Calvin, who was lolling about on his foot on Sunday, enjoying the sensation of connection. I thought it illustrated my sentiment fairly well.

Going back to work sometimes makes me feel like that, but I guess that’s one way to know I am not aligned with the work I do now.  The School of Life has an excellent video about that “Sunday Night Feeling” which I encourage you to check out if you sometimes suffer from the Sunday blues.

I am so grateful for the time off. It gave me some perspective on the situation and on what my intentions are for the coming weeks. I completed some coaching homework, including a timeline and plan for my 1-year goals. I had a good conversation with my husband about what we are prepared to do in order to go from two regular incomes to one for a few months during the transition. My intention is to leave my current job behind in August, and to try to work on my own as a consultant.

I plan to offer my skills in facilitation, strategic planning, human-centered design and change management to companies and departments where I can add value. While my last few years have been primarily focused on clinical research project management in the medical device field, my skills are transferable.

I really enjoy organizing and leading multi-disciplinary problem-solving sessions for leaders or individual contributors that allow people to think big and dream differently about their work. I have a lot of experience in change management efforts, having co-led several of these efforts in the past few years. Most were successful and some less so, but I learned some valuable lessons about what factors are critically-necessary, especially in international and multi-cultural organizations.

Effective organizational change can be achieved when the following exist: 1) shared understanding of why and what changes are necessary; 2) buy-in and ownership of the change(s) at all levels; 3) effective communication and pacing of changes; 4) ongoing conversation and engagement of those affected by and asked to embrace the change; 5) evaluation and re-evaluation if the changes are effective and achieving the desired outcome.

Changes so often fail because they try to address a problem without understanding the root causes. I believe the most successful change efforts often arise from the “on the ground” and customer-focused employees, the people who do the work and see the gaps in the system. Leaders can facilitate these changes by being open to hearing the problems and issues, soliciting and supporting ideas from their front line employees, and adding the appropriate resources to address the challenges. It is important not to make assumptions or jump to conclusions without fully understanding the dynamics of the situation.

I am fortunate to be connected to other consultants doing this kind of work and anticipate I will begin by apprenticing and learning from them, partnering where I can add value. Many years ago I consulted in the nonprofit field, helping leaders with strategic planning and grant development efforts. I particularly enjoy adding an outside perspective to an organization or department that is struggling. It is fascinating to learn and understand the “ecosystem” of an organization and problem, and then begin to apply design processes and engage the right people to solve that problem. Indeed that is the most rewarding work I have done throughout my career.

In about 6 weeks, I will say goodbye to the corporate role, and begin a new phase of my work life. I am ready. Wish me luck!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Truth and consequences

Yesterday I had a fairly vulnerable conversation with my boss about some ways in which I have not been fully “showing up” at work.

This was after my coach helped me draft out a conversation in which I wanted to have about my intentions to leave the team this fall. The night before the conversation I had woken up at 2 in the morning, unable to get back to sleep for a couple of hours.

Last night I slept very deeply and without disruption. Though I was not able to share ALL of the things I wanted, I definitely opened up in a few places where I’d been “hiding”. I was able to have a more authentic communication, and I will continue that process when my boss comes to town in a couple of weeks and we can talk face to face rather than by phone.

It was interesting to observe how telling the truth (even though I had massive fears about opening that conversation) released my energy and allowed me to relax. Aligning myself with truth, no matter the consequences, kept me in my integrity and my body seems to reward me for that.

Truth
Photo credit link

What a relief.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

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

 

Meaning in everyday life

meaning in everyday lifeHello Readers!

This month I was invited to participate as a guest writer in the “Making More Meaning” blog by Stephanie. I love her idea to invite several reflections from fellow bloggers on how we find meaning and I am honored to write on this topic.

The minimalists have led the way in our understanding that collecting more possessions is not what gives our lives meaning. I got a reference a few weeks ago to the book “Stuffocation: Living More with Less” from Lisa at the Simple Life Experiment podcast. James Wallman makes a compelling case for an experiential approach over materialism in the way we live our lives, and traces the history of this change in perspective.

Wallman helped me see how collecting things to show one’s status may have arisen from and evolutionary fitness marker display, which helps me have more empathy with this human impulse. At the same time, we have an ecological imperative to evolve away from this way of living, given worldwide population growth. Left unchecked, the manufacture, packaging and waste generated in making more “stuff” could lead to massive problems in the earth’s ecosystems.

Cocoa helping with work
My dear Cocoa loved to help me when I worked at home. She tried find meaning in my work as well, but she often found it lacking and preferred cuddles.

I consider how I personally find meaning daily life. During my 20’s and early 30’s, my career was sometimes more about earning income to pay my bills, while I found true meaning in my volunteer activities. I am fortunate today to work for a company that has a meaningful mission to me: “alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.” When focus on the patients we serve, and stay committed to the mission, I find a great deal of meaning in the clinical research that my team does every day in Latin America.

On the other hand, when a focus on short-term profit clouds leadership judgment on what is best for the long-term health of our department, it is much more difficult to be propelled by the mission. I believe people can profit from their work and add value to the world simultaneously. There is nothing wrong with making a fair profit. We can re-invest profit into further innovations. Profit and start-up capital are often required to develop new solutions for patients in a sustainable way.

Finding meaning and purpose is about making a contribution that aligns with our values and allows us to use our strengths and talents often. I like Brene Brown’s definition of spirituality (from her work in Rising Strong) to explain how meaning, purpose and spirituality intersect for me. She sees spirituality as something not reliant on religion, theology or dogma, but rather a belief in our interconnected-ness and in a loving force that is greater than ourselves. It is in this way we complete our connection to spirit, living as interconnected beings. We fully acknowledge everything we do has effects on other people, on animals, and on other life on our planet.

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Newlyweds meximinnesotana and dear hubby, Sept 2017 near Isla Holbox, Mexico

We must do some inner work on ourselves, to be sure that our intentions are not coming from a place of needing to “prove our worthiness” to anyone. We are inherently worthy of love and belonging, just by being born. But the gratitude that flows from this realization gives us generosity of spirit that feeds our energy and our commitment.

We are also wired to be in relationships with people, animals and other living organisms. Research shows that we benefit from being in nature, though there is some controversy on whether it is nature itself, or being in community with others that really boosts our well-being. Healthy relationships have been shown to decrease your chances of dying prematurely by 50%. Support offered by caring friends can buffer the effects of stress. In older adults, loneliness is a significant predictor of poor health.

Note that it is about quality and not quantity of your relationships. Even if you have 500+ facebook friends, this does not substitute for 2-3 close friends (or family) in your life that you know you can truly count on when you need support. As an introvert, I know that it takes a lot of energy to maintain many relationships, and so I cultivate them selectively, and in a deeper way.

Is it possible that the “meaning” of friendship gets diluted if you have too many friends? 

I will leave you to ponder that one, while I get back to some work I must complete this week. I would love your thoughts or comments.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

willy and calvin
Though my husband and I chose not to have human children, our fur babies add meaning and happiness to our lives. Willy and Calvin, our “boneheads” as hubby likes to call them, fight but also express mutual admiration. Who can tell me that love is not the ultimate in finding and creating meaning in our lives? 😉