Monthly Archives: May 2014

Not so Great Now, But Later…

My niece had a bad few moments yesterday afternoon that is primo material for a great story later.  I am part of the phone tree for the alarm on my sister’s house and sometime before 3pm today my cell phone rang but I was in the middle of something so I let it go to voicemail.  When I checked the phone later, I had a message from the alarm company that ended by telling me that the police had been called.  Curious, all this time that I have been on the phone tree and this is the first time that they have called.  (I couldn’t tell you what I am supposed to say to them…  I think I have it written down somewhere.)

 

Anyway, my niece got home from school and set off the alarm and got to have an unpleasant conversation with a local police officer.  I feel empathy for her embarrassment frustration and worry, she is that lovely age of 13 when almost everything is potential for embarrassment.  I won’t mention yet that she will be able to tell this story for years.

Capture

I think back on some of my moments that still get laughs when I trot out the stories…  There was my high school graduation when I was the only one out of 700 plus proud graduates who managed to catch the sleeve of my gown on the stair rail and I had to walk backwards up the steps, in high heels, to unhook myself.  There was the time when I was dressed like a ghoul and I locked myself and my kids out of our house and car when we were trying to go to a Cub Scout Halloween party.

 

I have to laugh when I think about the time when I was dropping off my older son at preschool and accidentally locked my younger son in the car.  He just kept smiling and waving at me when I tried to pantomime him unlocking his car seat and hitting the button to unlock the car doors.   (I had a bad habit for several years of locking myself in or out of places.)

 

I’m not going to say that I don’t lose my cool when things go a bit haywire, but honestly having something go a bit off just makes better memories.  I try to remind myself of this in the moment.  To err is human, and makes for a fine story.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Creativity Clocked In

The number of people who say that they aren’t creative astounds me.  Maybe they have a very narrow definition of creativity?  Maybe they don’t want to talk about their creative efforts because they don’t want to be judged?  Maybe someone once told them that they aren’t creative?

 

I think that we all have our creative moments, if we don’t define creativity too tightly, with too many restrictions.  To my thinking, creativity should be pleasing to the creator and build positive energy.  It should be something that we encourage in everyone.  A little quiet time, some mental space and more people might be able to tap into their own creative vein.

 

I have tried my own hand at sewing, knitting, painting, drawing, wood burning, wood working, writing, photography, acting, music, gardening, cooking, baking, crochet, embroidery (even designing my own pieces), and other pursuits that refuse to come to mind right now.  I tried each of these things because they interested me.  I have been somewhat more successful at some than at others, but I enjoyed learning about the process even if I was disappointed in the result.

Some of my past creative output

Some of my past creative output

 

I suppose there are those who might say some of the things that I listed aren’t creative – back to defining creativity.  I do define almost anything that can be subjectively applied and have a different end result as potentially creative.

 

I am impressed by the creativity that other people show.  I am particularly impressed by people who are able to make a living using their creative skills.  For many of us, creativity is something that is mostly applied to hobbies – though I have used creative thinking more than once at work.

 

I’m not entirely sure that I could be creative on demand.  Though sticking with any creative pursuit does require a certain amount of discipline.  And one of the biggest keys to creativity is being able to tap into the right mindset, so perhaps creativity on demand is just a matter of making sure that you tend the path, or paths, to that mindset.

 

I was very lucky to have two parents who were highly creative in their own ways.  (Though I am wondering now how they might each respond to being called creative.)  Both of my parents encouraged us to take on creative pursuits, and each spent time on their own creative outlets to lead by example.

 

The results of other people’s creativity are easily found on the internet and these can be inspiration to try something out for ourselves, or hindrance out of fear that our own effort won’t be so accomplished.  I don’t think that deciding to express creativity requires accomplishment.  Do you?

 

Writer’s note:  I am changing my writing schedule because summer is a very busy season at my workplace.  I love the challenge of coming up with topics to share here, and was proud of myself for keeping up with it during this last frigid winter when my thoughts were frozen, but I hope to find a balance between keeping things fresh here and keeping my team motivated through our busy weeks.  I will be posting on Tuesdays and Fridays, which hopefully will give all of us a bit of time to enjoy the summer months.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Long Weekend Coming

I just looked at the calendar and hurray we have a long weekend, for those of us who can take advantage that is.  A bonus day, a holiday, a chance for something other than ordinary.  Most of us who work in offices have had five solid months without a holiday break.  (I’ve always been a bit bemused that the work calendar is weighted so heavily with holidays at the end of the year.)

 

photo credit: Wikipedia

photo credit: Wikipedia

I used to slog through these first months of the year, hanging on to my PTO days just in case they would be needed.  And then I read the best advice, I’ve forgotten where, that we should take a day off every couple of months as a mental health day if for no other reason.  Perhaps to attend to all the stuff that builds up; the phone calls, the need to research, and my favorite – a day off to plan for the next day off.

 

Because here I am rejoicing about this long weekend and realizing that once again I haven’t planned for it.  I haven’t made any arrangements.  And a holiday Monday is no time to try to make any of the phone calls that have been piling up.  Like to the dentist – I really need to make a dentist appointment.  And find a roofer – I’ve been putting off getting a new roof for a couple of years, but I really have to stop procrastinating.

 

Well, it is too late to do some things to make these extra weekend hours count, but it isn’t too late to figure something out.  Plus, I imagine that I am in good company.  Really good planners are shaking their heads at the rest of us, this is a fact, but so many of us could use a personal assistant to keep us on track.

 

We’ve earned this bit of down time.  I hope that everyone gets to enjoy it in some meaningful way.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Highly Collaborative Introvert

Maybe you are wondering why I am combining these two seemingly contrary traits.  These traits cannot exist in parallel to each other.  But they can and do, and I am living proof.  On my original blog, in my most enduring and highly viewed post to date I talk about being an introvert with extroverted tendencies.  And mention that I like to collaborate.

 

Collaboration is to work with another person on within a group toward a shared goal.  Collaboration is a powerful way to take a good idea and make it something stellar through the use of the strengths of multiple people.  True collaboration, and not the buzzword ‘collaborative’, can and does improve plenty of projects.

 

Introversion simply means that a person wants to choose where, when, with whom and for how long they interact with other people.  Having no control over any of those points creates an energy drain for the introverted person.  Introversion is not shyness, though Dictionary.com lists introversion as a synonym, because shyness is more about wanting to fade into the background when in a group.  Shyness is timidity, wanting to limit your exposure to the unfamiliar.  A person can be introverted and not be shy and vice versa.

 

All of the above is lead in to my topic, being a collaborative introvert.  It took me a very long time to understand my introversion because I am not a complete introvert.  But I often came away from group interactions feeling exhausted and anxious and I couldn’t figure out why.  And part of the reason why I didn’t understand is because I love shared ideas.  I get jazzed up when a group situation offers a chance to develop an ok idea or plan into a much better one.

 

public domain image

public domain image

It has only been in the last few years, as I thought about defining these traits for myself that I realized the distinctions.  And the parameters that I need to create for myself to prevent that exhausted, anxious feeling.  Or at least lessen it as much as I can.

 

Simple things really help – taking a moment to compose myself before walking into the room, having at least some pre-idea of what might happen (meeting topic/agenda, reason for the event, who will be attending, etc.), knowing when I need a break.  I also almost always have a notebook with me to jot things down (for potential blog posts later).

 

What about you do you find value in collaboration?  Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

 

Related:  I also wrote this follow up, Introversion Revisited – How Could I Resist?, which didn’t play as well.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Fragmented Experience

I was recently at the Salesforce1 World Tour in Chicago (they had Buddy guy play, which was awesome) and they used this marketing term while discussing customer experience and a light bulb went on for me.  Fragmented experience – that got tucked away for future mulling.

DSC03817

Having spent a few years in customer service/care/experience (whatever the current lingo), I am sensitive to providing clear, accurate and timely information and assistance to customers in a cohesive manner.  As a consumer for even longer, I am well aware of how many companies fall far short of this goal and I have had way too many fragmented experiences from the customer perspective.

 

(ATT – take heed!  A couple of months ago I called them to ask a question and the automated message said to contact them through their website for faster service.  When I hung up and tried that, the website told me to call them.  Yes, really.  Maybe not a fragmented experience per se, but I thought for a minute that I was in one of Dante’s circles of hell.)

 

So, what is a fragmented experience?  Any time when you get only bits and pieces of what you are after using one method of contact and you have to expend a lot of effort to achieve your goal of all the information or service that you are after.  Too many companies seem to do this on purpose to make people give up, which often results in a disgruntled customer who is paying more than they probably should.

 

I probably shouldn’t single out ATT for my fragmented experiences, but that is the one that is coming to mind just at this moment.  I’m sure that I could gather plenty more with a quick poll of my friends.  Sadly.

 

Plenty of companies in recent years have ignored the percentage of their employees who felt disengaged because the company saw no compelling need to address the issue.   Some of the same companies have allowed fragmented customer experiences to be the norm because they knew inertia would allow them to retain a large portion of these disgruntled customers.  What if that starts to change?  What if younger, hungry companies start to show customers a truly better experience?

 

What is your most egregious fragmented experience?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Sense of Place

I have never lived in one place as long as a decade, though I am coming close with my current house.  I think that this has given me a very purposeful perspective on how sense of place affects us.  I’ve tried to talk to friends who have had more continuity of home but mostly had a ‘what are you talking about’ result.

 

A sense of place is the feeling of belonging, of feeling that things are right, content.  Right time, right place, right people.  The house and town where you grew up, plus your family and community, surround you and give you the context to decide who you are and what you are about.  If they stay constant, they are almost invisible participants in this process – at least background or scenery in the story of your life.  Although you may have a strong urge either to replicate or escape them.

 

If they change regularly, or at a crucial time in your development these elements might become more than background, they might shape a part of the story.  They might, if you are me, pull into the foreground and make you wonder who you might have been had the circumstances changed.  Had you stayed in one of the places, say?  Or a different location had been chosen.

 

At one point, my dad had two opportunities to move up to run his own council – one in the Chicago area and one in Port Huron, MI.  He took the opportunity in Chicago.  I was already in my late teens, but I do sometimes wonder how the alternative might have affected things.  It is possible he had other conflicting opportunities leading up to previous moves, but I only know of this one for certain.  I do know that he entertained the idea of leaving Scouting when I was in mid-grade school due to a bad situation with council leadership.  He stuck with it and we ended up in Portage MI and I had my own room, plus that was the biggest house we ever lived in.

 

I have come full circle in a way – the first house that my parents actually owned was in Hoffman Estates IL and I have now lived in 2 different houses in this village as an adult.  Moving back to a childhood place was a bit of a comfort at a difficult time in my life.  Familiar places reduced the stress of unfamiliar problems.

moving out-8-28-99

My nomadic childhood has led me to think a lot about community.  About what draws people together and conversely sets them apart.  About how important community is for well-being, for stability – financial and emotional, for opportunity and support.

 

Having no strong sense of place linked to a physical location, I developed a strong sense of place within myself and within the group of people who make up my family and close friends.  I have also taken to collecting things that remind me of people and my past.  Nearly all of the items in my house have history.

 

I hope that you have a sense of place that gives you comfort.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Mr. Nobody’s at it Again

Two boys can get into rather a bit of trouble in the blink of an eye.  Especially when led astray by a rapscallion like Mr. Nobody.  I never clapped eyes on the fellow, but he apparently freeloaded at our house for quite a few years – from the time that my boys were 3 or 4 years old on up until they figured out how to get into mischief on their own or with their friends.

 

He just came into being one day – the day before the standard answer to questions about what was going on was the universal ‘I don’t know’ accompanied with a shrug and shifty eyes, the next day with a wink and a nod the answer changed to ‘Mr. Nobody did it’.  I took to sharing pointers with the boys that they should pass on to Mr. Nobody.  Like respecting property and what was considered acceptable or not.  They would listen and solemnly agree to pass on the lesson or concern.

 

Mr. Nobody was a safe scapegoat who, to the best of my knowledge, never got into anything really awful or unforgivable.  Well, there were the two broken windows (of the two windows in the boys’ room), but luckily no one was actually hurt.

 

Mr Nobody won't show up for a few more years, but the mischief is there.

Mr Nobody won’t show up for a few more years, but the mischief is there.

Boys have a lot of energy and curiosity which can be a dangerous combination – it is proven that males have a higher mortality rate from conception onward.  Mr. Nobody allowed us to talk about dangers, actions and consequences without accusations.  Sometimes the boys even participated in talking about how Mr. Nobody should be punished so that he would understand the gravity of his actions.

 

Mr. Nobody probably had a hand in helping the boys to develop their critical thinking skills – his invention was certainly a bit of creative thinking.  He came about as a bit of avoidance, a hope of deflection – a sophisticated use of humor for boys so young – and he stuck around as long as he was useful.

 

Is there a Mr. Nobody in your life?  An inspired invention that fulfilled much more than its original purpose.  (My younger son says he was a diabolical super-villain.  Ah, perspective.)

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Fitting Tribute?

How can I possibly figure out how to say what I want to about having a mom and being a mom in a single blog post?  I’m not sure, but I am going to try.  Mother’s Day is almost upon us again and it has been a bittersweet day for me for 9 years now.  It is hard for me to honor my own mom properly, since she is no longer with us, and on top of it let my boys know what might be fitting for me.

 

Growing up we had a set routine.  Dad would put the same items on the grocery list as a lead up to the day – brown and serve sausages, cinnamon rolls, eggs, something to grill for dinner.  Mother’s Day festivities started in earnest with brunch after church.  I was always in charge of the cinnamon rolls.  Dad had us all snapping to in the kitchen while mom read the Sunday paper.  The day progressed and we could have been hard pressed to tell the passing of the years except that we three children got bigger.  And the sweetly sentimental card that Dad picked out for mom would be different every year.  (Dad was a champion at picking out cards for special occasions.)

 

public domain image - vintage Mother's Day sentiment

public domain image – vintage Mother’s Day sentiment

I look back now and I wonder because I can clearly see that this ritual was more about what dad thought Mother’s Day should be than perhaps what mom did.  I don’t think any of us ever asked her if it suited what she wanted.

 

My very first Mother’s Day as a mom came shortly after I gave birth to my older son.  Daddy and son got dressed that day and went out to get me flowers and a card.  Then we three had a picnic.  It was perfect.  I couldn’t say for certain now if I participated in the planning or if our day was based on my husband’s idea of a good Mother’s Day.

 

Other Mother’s Days followed.  I got feted, and reached out long distance to my mom.  I never understood the moms who said their idea of the perfect Mother’s Day was to have time to themselves.  (Yes, that would be nice on any other day during the growing years, I agree.)  I learned from my dad’s ritual that it is important for the family to turn the tables and take care of mom.  I also learned that rituals are powerful.  (Somehow that lesson worked better for me in the personal setting than in the formal setting of church.)

 

The next Mother’s Day that comes clearly into memory was the one during my transition to single mom.  The boys and I made the trek to COSI – the science museum in Columbus, OH (we lived in southern OH then).  I had wanted to have a very special experience because we were all hurting.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to help my mom from that distance – it was her first Mother’s Day without my dad.  (We’d had a very bad start to our year.)

 

It dawned on me that year that I needed to figure out how to impart that lesson on my boys – the importance of turning the tables and showing care for mom.  I had no idea how to accomplish this task.

 

And I’m not sure now if I did a good job in the intervening years.  I do know that there are only 2 days out of the year that my older son remembers that the phone works both ways; Mother’s Day and my birthday.  (Except the year that he blew out his knee on Mother’s Day.)  My younger son has a stronger sentimental streak in him, like my dad, and has been known to make a small or even a grand gesture now and then between recognized holidays.  I expect he will make a special dinner on Sunday.

 

For good or ill, a mom is a figure who looms large for a child.  It is a most important thing and nearly impossible to get completely right, to be a mom.  The effort does deserve a fitting tribute.  Whatever that might be.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Perception of Control

I feel compelled by circumstances to write on this topic.  In a short span I came across the following links that relate to the topic of control and our perception of our level of control:

3 Reasons You Can’t Climb Out of Your Financial Hole

TheRealMikeRowe on Facebook – 4/19/14 Saturday Mail Call

 

So if I start out this post about control saying that I feel compelled to do something, then who has control?  Well I do, because I didn’t have to pay attention to the forces that happened to bring these examples to me within minutes of each other.  But I am also aware of the influence and how it affects my behavior.  How many people live their lives with a high perception of a lack of control?

 

Too bad we can't have a time out spot like this nearby when we need it.

We can’t control the weather.

I learned early on that I operate better when I have structure, so I created structure when the situation didn’t provide it.  I see this as a gift of my melancholy.  I also learned that this awareness seems to be rare.  There is an assumption that control is held by others in many instances.

 

If we assume that the control is held by others, then we abdicate any control that we might hold in a given situation.  And it might be that the overall control is held by someone else – but there are almost always aspects of control that we might be able to hold if not wield.

 

The example that comes to mind is the jury that I sat on over 10 years ago.  (Fascinating experience – I highly recommend it, but found it hard to balance my life for those 5 days.)  The young man was on trial for murder because he drove the car in a drive by shooting.  Had he exerted control that night and not taken his crew for that ride, instead followed his original plans to go on a date, there is a high potential that none of us would have been there those January days.  Had his lawyers exerted some control and put up some sort of defense, he might not have been found guilty.

 

I could go on with that more extreme example.  There are plenty of examples every day.  Maybe someone regularly interrupts you at the office.  You could find a firm and suitable response that lets that person know you will find them when you are available instead of letting the interruptions continue.

 

I thought it was interesting that most of the comments that I read through on the financial article didn’t address the points of the article at all, rather unconsciously reinforced the first point that many people have a perception of lack of control over their own financial solutions.  Awareness of where you might take control, no matter how small, is a first step.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Offering a Gift

I am still absorbed in my book about Louisa May Alcott.  (It takes me a terribly long time to read a book through these days since books are mostly reserved to a few minutes before I go to sleep at night.)  Louisa seems to have been rather fixated on presents.  She is quite generous with her immediate family as her fortunes improve thanks to her writing but on the flip side she receives very few presents on those gift giving occasions.  She deeply appreciates the gifts that she gets but there is clear envy of others who receive more.

 

It is May, therefore I am almost tardy in finding a gift for my brother’s birthday.  He would be fine with a card, I am certain.  But I like the ritual of gift giving.  The lead up to gift giving occasions means an opportunity to think about that person.  To set aside the constant scroll of things to do and places to be for a bit to think about that person.  Times we have shared and our current relationship.  What the person might like or need.

DSC03063

My brother and I are at that stage in life when we don’t need more things to clutter our homes, but we have lots of interests so a well thought out addition to our collections is appreciated.  A couple of years ago, for his birthday, I bought a flash drive and loaded it with the family pictures that I have scanned so far.  He was thrilled.

 

Nine years ago, only months after Mom died, I was doing my ‘oops May has started, gotta birthday shop NOW’ thing and ended up finding my current house.  We were living in a townhouse at the time, the boys and I.  A townhouse is cozy, but two teenaged boys make it claustrophobic and so we had been unsuccessfully seeking a small single family home.  On the way to the mall with my younger son we saw an Open House sign and decided to check it out.  It was a ranch just like we had wanted.  We went in and it met all our criteria.  We were getting excited (and nervous, there were other people touring the house too).  Of course I had forgotten my cell phone so we drove home and called our realtor to set up a second tour which would include my older son.  I feel like my family helped us to find this house and I got a great gift for my brother’s birthday that year.  (I think I got him something from Brookstone…)

 

Despite the fact that I really enjoy gift shopping for the opportunity to reflect that it provides, regular obligations still take up too much of my thoughts and I find myself scrambling at the last minute quite often.  I guess I should work on my planning ahead skills a bit.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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