Category Archives: Personal Growth

Identifying Connections

When I am fully alert, aware and focused in my current moment (instead of running through the constant lists in my head of what should be done, and where else I must go, etc.) I remind myself to look for connections and not distinctions between myself and the people around me.  There are plenty of things that separate us from all the people around us, even those who should be closest.  We often tend to focus on these differences.

We have more similarities with all of other people on this Earth than we recognize, sometimes we have to look deeper and sometimes just think more simply.  We could be worlds apart ideologically, but both appreciate a hug or a kind word when we are hurting, say.  And back before we were quite so global, sociologists did studies that nearly all people named facial expressions of basic emotions the same – sadness, anger, happiness and such.

Closer to home, and having just celebrated Christmas, the connection between my almost 24 year old son and his 6 year old cousin makes me smile.  Other than being part of the same family and both male, they have very little context that aligns on the surface.  But they have a mutual interest in Legos.  And since my son was willing to pull out a few boxes containing a portion of the million Legos that he owns to sit with his cousin for a couple of hours they have found other things that they can talk about together and enjoy.

High Five - Copy

I don’t know you and all the joys and challenges that you encounter, but I imagine that we could quickly find some means to bond if we started to talk.  We don’t have to be friends forever, or even ever see each other again to have a moment of connection.

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved


That Snap into Place Feeling

Legos go together with a satisfying snap.  Lids on containers of all shapes and sizes are snuggly in place when they snap.  Locks are set when we here that snick, and doors shut tight with a click.  Now we know that at least that particular item is secure.  There is plenty of unknown only feet away, so giving ourselves any kind of assurance of safety is paramount.


If only the right decision would offer the same satisfying snap when we land upon it.  Particularly with the big scary decisions that we sometimes have to make with little information or time to contemplate.  Have that surgery, go for the short sale or ride the foreclosure, change careers or stay the course, time to put dad in the nursing home?  All of the options have down sides and leave us feeling slightly ill – no snap involved.

Every once in a great while a decision will come with an immediate snap, reinforcement that it was just the right decision for us for that moment, for that situation.  Because if we take the same option the next time, it doesn’t always turn out so well.  What the???  Crap, I thought that was The right decision – as in my go-to from here on out.  The moment was no longer right, some alignment was different and no snap resulted.

The initial evaluations, weighing of options are tough enough.  Did we apply the right parameters, ask the right questions to get a clear understanding?  But then the re-evaluation starts with the smallest opening of doubt.  ‘I didn’t think about this, consider that point, take into account for this other…’  If only I’d gotten that snap, or known it was coming, then I would have kept looking for a better option.

I always thought that part of being an adult would be a strong ability to make solid decisions.  Ha.  The adults around me seemed to know what they were doing, to be making decisions with snap in them because they didn’t let me see the machinations and ruminations that went into the decisions not because they had a perfect sense on how to make good decisions.

I’m going to keep searching for a snappy decision making method, in the meantime I’m going to snap together some Legos.

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Front and Center, Through it All

I love parades and try to devote at least a part of my Thanksgiving morning to watching the parades even as I have become an adult responsible for getting the big feast cooking.  Parade watching on TV is a cherished part of my Thanksgiving rituals.  But I have noticed a change, rather at some point the way that parades are broadcast was changed and I am now aware of this result.


photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

In my childhood, the cameras focused on the floats and parade participants, the announcers providing their chatter as backdrop and occasionally coming in to view to announce a commercial break.  These days, a person is lucky to catch a glimpse of parade participants over the shoulder of the announcers as the camera focuses incessantly upon them as they bring in a continuous parade of minor celebrities and periodically mention the bothersome parade that is happening behind them.


This got me thinking about the spotlight.  Some people like to be right in the center of the glow, some can come and go, some enjoy the periphery and others want to be far off in the other direction.  Life is best when there is a variety of types, all sorting to their preferred spot.


The thing is, though, that sometimes that spotlight should swing off the person who wants to be front and center and sometimes it should illuminate that person who prefers to exist in obscurity.  Sometimes a team, an ensemble, a band, a cast should be in that light together.  Hundreds of people must come together to pull off a successful parade.  It is a display, an event that deserves attention.  Even the people who take a support role want the result of their effort to be experienced by as many viewers as possible.


I find myself moving around in my chair as if I were actual standing on the side of the street and if I adjust I might be able to see the actual main event, the parade, around the obstruction of the announcers.  Yes, I understand that these announcers are pleased with the spotlight, but this isn’t their turn.  It is the turn of the hundreds of people who started planning this parade the moment last year’s parade ended.  Possibly before.


I am frustrated that I hardly saw a moment of the parade that I turned on the TV to see, but this has really opened my eyes to all the small moments that happen every day – the things that don’t get noticed.  I want to keep this revelation front and center, to acknowledge efforts large and small.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Revisiting a Question

We back away, brush our hands off and think, ‘whew, that’s done now on to the next thing’ – problem solved, to-do checked off the list.  File it away.  Next.  But what if it isn’t?  What if in a few weeks, or months, or even years something happens to make us have to go through it all again; possibly even come to a different conclusion?


The medical community has revamped the protocols for cholesterol and statin use and that seems to have knocked people for a loop.  That question was resolved, we all thought anyway.  But life is cyclical, we learn new things on some other topic and the ripple effect can alter the decisions that seemed set in stone just a short while before.


“That is the one thing that I’ve learned, that it is possible to really understand things at certain points, and not be able to retain them, to be in utter confusion just a short while later.  I used to think that once you really knew a thing, its truth would shine forever.”

~ Lucy Grealy


It seems a bit like Lucy and I aren’t coming at this issue in quite the same way, but I think that we really are.  Where she mentions retain, it might be about keeping the knowledge fresh in our own memory, but it could also mean keeping it solid in light of new information or experiences.  Almost anything that we think we know is based almost entirely upon the context in which we know it.  If the context changes, our understanding of the thing can be thrown into confusion.


It might seem as though we are moving backward in revisiting a question, but if we are looking at it with fresh eyes and understanding then it is actually a good thing.  When the elements that went into the original answer have changed, then the nature of the question and the basis of the solution might be wholly different.


It isn’t a retread at all then, but a deepening and broadening of understanding.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

List Making, Priorities & Holiday Shopping

Simple.  Easy.  There are things waiting to be done so you get out your favorite list making method and write them down.  Then you prioritize them, bang through them and the day is done with much accomplished.  Sure.  Why are there whole books written about getting stuff done then?  And articles in nearly every December issue of magazines about making the holidays light, bright and cheery without getting buried in your to-dos?

making lists

I’ve been thinking about planning on the personal side of that work-life balance since I wrote my last post.  And because it is the holiday season and Black Friday highlights are showing the usual frenzies of shoppers clicking through their lists and getting in each other’s way.  I’ve participated all of once in the Black Friday melee and found it to be a thoroughly frustrating not to be repeated experience.  Whatever prompts these people to see the excess of shopping hassles as a priority is beyond me.


I understand the thrill of the chase, and I definitely get the joy of a deal.  Maybe it defies my sensibilities because we don’t tend to buy each other electronics in my family.  When I do buy them, it is after research on the best product and based more on reliability and features than price.  And most of these door busters seem to be electronics.  Too, I don’t like to get up early on a day off, nor am I fond of being cold.  Shopping is meant to be leisurely when I’m buying gifts.  A return to my teen days of browsing and considering, unlike errand running which is map it, get it, and move on.  I want to think about the person that I’m shopping for, not look over my shoulder for a potential kamikaze attack.


Back when I had more time, I would get out my baking implements in mid-November and pull out my cookie recipes.  I would add to a growing pile of cookies and quick breads in my freezer each week until mid-December when they would all come out and I would box them up as presents for extended family. (My boys fearful that I wouldn’t save enough for them to munch.)  Hundreds of cookies, about a dozen different kinds.  My back and knees are happy that is not my routine anymore, but the rest of me misses it – and so do many family members.  I hope to be able to return to days when cookie baking can get back on my priority list for the holidays.  I’ll get one of those cushioned mats for my back, knees and feet.


If I had to explain how I make my holiday priorities, it would be to pick out the things that mean holiday to me – ways to be closer to friends and family, to feel joy.  I love Christmas cards, festive packages, all of the carols.  Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward all.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Change in Planning

At work I plan in a project management and process style.  This should go before that, these tools are necessary to complete that task, assemble this list of things before starting task x.  It makes so much more sense to plan – who wants to keep stopping and starting a project to get it right?

my PM reading

It would make sense then if I applied the same concepts to my personal life.  Yes, it would.  But that isn’t how it usually happens.  I’m behind on making doctor and dentist appointments, there is a list of little things that need to be fixed in the house, and don’t ask me the last time that I went on a vacation beyond visiting relatives.  All of these activities take some planning and so await that step.


I have actually taken a day off of work to do all this planning so that I will be prepared for the day off that I will need to take to complete the tasks themselves.  I know many of you can relate.  It is just too hard to squeeze the calls and so on that are the planning stage for all of this stuff that begs to be done.  Evenings would be a good time, or maybe weekends.  Sure.  One out of fifteen things on my list are successfully planned during these hours.


It seems to me that I am often rewriting a to-do list onto a new sheet and transferring most of the items over just because the old one got too hard to read in the bottom of my purse or on the front of the fridge.  I wish I could say because so many of the points on the list were crossed off.  Ha.  I have taken to dating the lists, just for self-torture purposes.


I’ve decided that I must use up all of the best planning brain cells at work and leave the lazy ones for personal stuff.  I drive home at the end of a day, or wake up on a Saturday with the best intentions and sometimes manage to actually knock two things off the list on the same day.  Only to have two new ones show up the next day.  (Sigh.)


Can you relate?  If you can’t because you are on top of all the aspects of your life, do share your secrets.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Wanted to do This, but That Got in the Way

Have you ever just been eager to start on something but been prevented because something that you need to do what you want requires attention before you can get into your desired task?  So frustrating!


For the last month plus I have been finding more often than not that when I sit down to write – blog post idea percolating away in my head – my Microsoft Word must be reinstalled.  Grrr.  Now I must deal with this technical issue and risk losing the essence of my post idea unless I start to write it out long hand.  My thoughts come faster than I can sketch out this way, that is why I love composing on the computer.


There are plenty of other examples; getting ready to bake something and finding I am short on a key ingredient, wrapping a package and the tape is missing in action, nearing the end of a project but still have an open question due from someone else.  So close, and yet…  Ticking this task off the to-do list will just have to wait.  Darn it.

Pushme-Pullyou from the original Dr Doolittle movie.  (my appreciation has lasted a lifetime)

Pushme-Pullyou from the original Dr Doolittle movie. (my appreciation has lasted a lifetime)


A few years ago I just couldn’t quite motivate myself to get in the car and go off on vacation.  A vacation that included my cousin’s wedding.  I’m not sure what prompted my malaise, but I waited until the morning of departure to pack and then did so in a desultory fashion, all the while fighting with the idea that I just wouldn’t go.  When I finally got myself on the road, it was only perhaps an hour into the drive when I started to think of toiletries and other items that I had forgotten to pack and by the time I stopped for a break I had almost a dozen things listed.


It wasn’t anything that I couldn’t replace at the nearest drug store – the worst was my favorite lipstick and the drug store where I stopped didn’t have an equivalent color.  And it was more my own head that got in the way in this instance and created external obstacles, but I still had to push through it.  I did end up having a lovely time, and a much needed break from work.


Hmm, my frustration with Word is what prompted this post and I’ve taken it somewhere I didn’t intend.  I guess my point then is that it is good to plan, but also to push through the unplanned or frustrating parts.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Not an Optimal Time to Think

If we were to be asked, we would say that we should always think about what’s going on, what we are doing because it cuts down on mistakes.  And then there is reality, often a far cry from what is best practice.  Well, to err is human.


Ask a person how something went wrong – a car accident, a work mistake, hurt feelings after a callous comment – and the answer most likely boils down to ‘I didn’t think’.  Too much was going on in that person’s mind at that moment and the most immediate task became the casualty of the overtaxed thinking process.


This is why we practice things, why we drill something over and over, so that the activity creates a sort of groove in our brain and that memory kicks in every time we take up that activity.  (Think of the times that you have been tired and pulled into your driveway and realized you don’t remember the trip at all.)  All that practice makes it more possible that we’ll do the right thing even if we might be fighting panic or illness or something else entirely.  But it isn’t foolproof.


I have tacked up bits and scraps of paper near my writing desk (which I rarely use now that I have a laptop…), these scraps hold advice on writing from past well-known writers.  One is apropos for today, because it can be applied to thinking as well as writing.  It is Herman Melville who said it, but it comes to us through Sarah Paretsky; a writer must be in a ‘silent grass growing mood’ in order to write.


Think of all the times that you know a thing but it just won’t crystalize in that moment.  Most likely because that moment isn’t an optimal time to think – there is noise, distraction, pressure coming from somewhere and clouding your thought process.


I equate this to my math difficulties.  My brain shuts down on any math when I am in a group.  This goes back to a horrid game that was suddenly introduced to me on a steel gray February morning in 2nd or 3rd grade.  I had just moved to the school, so my classmates had been practicing this game for months.  To this day my brain simply says no if I have to do math when there is any attention on me.


I needed a silent grass growing mood to get a firm grasp on math concepts and then practice to gain speed before I played that stupid game.  Even understanding the root of my math anxiety, it is rarely an optimal time for me to think in mathematical concepts when I’m in public.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Do You Know When You’re Done?

I was just plowing through a few household chores, feeling effective because I could see immediate results as things were put in their proper place, wiped down and such.  I felt like I accomplished something – a feeling that is hard to come by in our modern world.  Particularly at work.


Back when we were mostly an agrarian society, it was easier to see when we were done – animals fed and given clean stalls, garden weeded, wash on the line to dry.  A person could end the day with a sense of accomplishment.  Most of these tasks would still have to be repeated the next day, but a person could rest knowing that the job was done for that day; stability had been maintained.

public domain image

public domain image


Now there might be a quota of orders to fill in a warehouse, or parts to be made on an assembly line or projects to be worked on in an office but done is a bit harder to see and feel.  So what if I made and received a lot of calls plus dealt with many emails, I didn’t get done because there are still more.  That quota in the warehouse or plant might have been met, but there are still more behind them that the workers can see.  The quota is lodged in a computer somewhere.


We need to feel a sense of accomplishment, but we’ve made this nearly impossible to achieve.  That stability that previous generations could build seems nebulous to us.  How do we capture and nurture it again?


I wish I could say that I have an answer that works for me.  Even as I was whipping through the straightening and minor cleaning of my house this morning, there were glaring hints of the larger jobs that have been neglected for one reason or another (time, know-how, money).


One thing that I can say, since I have been aware of this accomplishment deficit, is that I make a point of reviewing what I have completed every day.  Even if it wasn’t something that I intended to do, or is very minor.  By consciously focusing on these checked off, crossed out tasks I can somewhat counteract the weight of all the partially done tasks in front of me.


What about you, do you know when you’re done?


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Intellectual Calisthenics

Some weeks just seem to be overfull of mental obstacle courses – over this wall, through that muck, around the barrier, dodge the danger zone, swim this channel, start this next obstacle course.  And again.  Oh my.

photo credit: Wikipedia, Marine Pull ups

photo credit: Wikipedia, Marine Pull ups

The brainy neuroscience folks like to tell us that this is good for our minds, keeps us sharp.  Hmm, I feel more like I have a puddle in my head after a couple of days like this and can’t be trusted to decide what’s for dinner.  I don’t really care in those moments that I might be lowering my risk of dementia.  In fact I tend to feel slightly demented after too many days of intellectual calisthenics.

One good puzzle here and there and I agree, my brain is the better for the exercise.  For instance in the calm quiet as I write this, it has been a good challenge to remember how to spell calisthenics.  (My fingers don’t want to spell it correctly and resent that I keep using the word.)  It’s when there is a relentless string of exercises that things get wearing.  Like I’m in my own extended, real life version of a disaster movie.  How much more can be piled on?

(That last question is rhetorical, I don’t really want to find out.  I thought that I better put that point out there, just in case some force wants to explore the answer.)

Well, the sun is shining and that is a November feat not to be ignored, so perhaps I should take a break from intellectual exercise and go get some of the physical kind.  The leaves need to be raked, so I’ll think about that as I take a walk and soak up some sun rays.

How have you exercised your own mind lately?  And how do you feel about it?

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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