The Blog

All other things being equal, do the most difficult thing first. Repeat. Then repeat again. The day will get easier as it wanes, and when it’s time to wind down and go to sleep it won’t be such a shock to your system.

Our bedroom is sparse by design. Our pillow talk, the same. Darrell and I will have a quick exchange about something silly or thank each other again for whatever it was. But discuss the latest strategy for health insurance shopping? I don’t think so!

Sweet dreams.

dessert for the blogAs a youngster my New Year’s Resolutions were ambitious. If you caught a glimpse of them you’d be left with one impression: “This person’s trying to be perfect.”

Would it surprise you that by about two o’clock in the afternoon on New Year’s Day something had thrown me off? I was trying to change too much at once. Obviously.

I pared my lists down as I got older, and by the time I vowed to give up junk food for a year I had one goal in mind: to not eat junk food for a year. I was tired of losing and gaining back the same twenty pounds, but the extra weight was almost beside the point. I wanted to experiment with keeping a promise to myself. For a year! It didn’t matter so much what the goal was. What mattered was the promise, kept. That was going to be the title of the book, too: The Year I Didn’t Cheat.

Seven years later that book became The Willpower Workaround. I can’t wait to tell you more about it. I mention it now because in solving just that one thing, an addiction to sugar, I solved so many other problems. It was unbelievable.

Try to do everything perfectly or even better, and you’ll quickly become overwhelmed. Fix one thing about your life and don’t be surprised if several others fall into place.

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

You’ve probably had dozens of blood samples taken over the years. Ever thought of taking a conversation sample?

If people could hear the conversation in your home or your office right this very minute, what would it tell them? Would they want in on the fun, or would they thank their lucky stars they could go back to their own lives?

Just curious!

Is there anything more magical than New York City in the winter? Well, yes. New York City in the winter -- enjoying lunch at arguably the cutest little neighborhood joint, with Darrell and Katie and a long-awaited visit with her roommate. All that time in Manhattan, and we hadn’t met the roommate. She’d found the place, didn’t glance at her phone once, and posed us such interesting questions. It was a blast.

No wonder Katie had talked her up so much. She’s smart and funny and fun. Like Kate. And like Katie would have, she sent us a beautiful thank-you note for picking up the tab. But you know what? We’d had so much fun I’d forgotten we’d done that!

It was a good reminder to be that person. Be the one whose presence is the real gift.

Once you figure out what skills you most love to use -- the way I did in a career planning workshop many years ago -- the next step is to figure out where you’d most love to use them. Writing brochures for a university admissions office, for example, isn’t the same as being a technical writer for a engineering firm or a cub reporter for a small town newspaper. And if your dream is to write essays and books, find a pay-the-rent job that won’t tax your writing chops. You don’t want to be so exhausted by five o’clock you can’t dig into your novel in the evenings.

When I realized interviewing people was one of the skills I most loved to use, I knew vetting candidates for temp jobs wouldn’t cut it. But hosting a radio talk show? Now we’re talking. So to speak.

It isn’t a character flaw that you like some environments and not others, some people and not others, some fabrics and not others. Your dreams didn’t land on you because they belong to someone else, and neither did your preferences. The more you honor the person you are, the easier it’ll be to live in your own skin. You’ll be more fun to be around. You’ll get more work done faster because you aren’t constantly fussing with a sweater that itches.

And the ripples will keep on spreading.

Parachute“Skills are the most fundamental atoms in the world of work, which is why we spend so much time on them.”

That was Dick Bolles, explaining what he was up to in a career planning workshop I attended many years ago. Dick broke us down into people with skills, almost the way a basketball coach breaks his players down by focusing on the fundamentals -- dribbling and strength training and endurance -- before a single scrimmage.

“Don’t think of yourself in terms of a job title,” Dick suggested. “Labels limit.” He showed us how to take ourselves apart -- how to spread our skills all over the floor, grab our favorites, and build brand-new people. Soon we were ready to say, “I’m a person who’s good at this, this, and this.”

Employers don’t mind hearing that! Especially when you add, “And I love using these skills so much you won’t have to babysit me. You won’t have to bribe me to stay late or go that extra mile. I’m doing it because I want to.”

Everybody wins.

In the beginning, you only had to please your parents. You depended on them for survival, so they called the shots. Gradually, as you grew up and away, you found other people to depend on -- and they, too, often wanted something from you in exchange for their approval.

Then one day, if you were paying attention, you realized it was mathematically impossible to keep all those people happy because they disagreed with each other. The solution? To acknowledge what you’d probably heard by then, that happiness is an inside job. People will either come around or not, as someone else pointed out: “Either way, lovely!”

When you come to an important intersection in your life it’s tempting to want reassurance you’re doing the (so-called) right thing. I once got it from the world authority on career change, Dick Bolles. More on that tomorrow.

We’re in transition. I mean, the times are always a changing -- but sometimes, especially if you’re married and of a certain age, they can slow to a crawl. At least that’s what I hear.

Not for us! What we do for a living (well, sort of) and where we do it are in, as Katie would say, that tiny window when you are directly in the space between two things. It’s exciting and unnerving at once.

That’s one reason we travel light. It makes it easier to unpack all the way, even if we know we’ll be gone again in a few days. Having things strewn about as if we haven’t decided how long we’ll be around keeps us anchored in the past or skipping ahead to the future. It’s distracting.

How do you stay focused?

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