The Blog

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?

I don’t get sick very often, but on a recent and blustery winter morning I woke up with a touch of the flu. We were about to leave town for what I was sure would be a magical weekend -- and I couldn’t figure out how to get ready for that and make it to the airport on time, let alone run the three or four miles we almost always do on weekdays.

We could’ve skipped it. We could’ve…not run. I was tempted. Oh, was I tempted. What better excuse, after all, than the flu? Then I thought of all the people right that very minute battling tougher circumstances than me, and remembered I’m not the gal who bails when things get difficult. Then we went running. The cold air felt great on my slightly feverish cheeks, and I actually smiled as we pounded the snow-packed pavement.

Skipping a workout when I could’ve gone through with it would’ve made it easier to skip it the next day, and the day after that. Next thing I know I’d be attending presentations on how to lose weight instead of giving them.

Working out consistently is a hassle. It’s like anything else. If you wait until you feel like it you’ll probably never do the little things that, over the course of a lifetime, determine the course of that lifetime.

What choose you?

calligraphy for the blogIf you know a writer who has a special occasion coming up there’s a way to make it even more special. Take something she wrote and have an artist make it frameworthy.

The person will never be the same. Trust me!

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photo and artwork courtesy of Katie Anderson

There’s a woman I know who seems to have it all. A life filled with kids and pets and jobs -- and laughter. That’s what you notice when you walk into her house. There’s a lot going on, and it’s hilarious.

I asked her to join me on the show. I’d never interviewed a plate spinner quite like her before, and I thought it would be fun. She was as nice as she could be, but she turned me down. Things were fine. Great, actually. But what if there were problems down the road?

It reminded me of someone else who doesn’t talk about his kids because “they might get into trouble someday.”

I was about to get all “come on, that’s life” on these people, until Darrell wanted to write a story about me for the University of Nebraska’s alumni magazine. “No way,” I told him. “I don’t want to give people the impression I have anything figured out.” Sure, I have a few things figured out -- but not enough to constitute having made it, whatever that means.

If you’re married you’re familiar with this expression: “You win some, you lose some.” I lost this one. Darrell wrote the story and got a stipend for his trouble. I thanked my lucky stars we’d sprung for some professional photographs a while back. But I practically held my hands in front of my face when I read the piece, the way you might shield your eyes during the scary parts of a movie.

If I’m that conflicted about it, why share the link? Because you should’ve seen the look on Darrell’s face when he read what he’d written. “I’m proud of you!” he said.

I’ve never properly thanked him, and this post is an attempt to fix that.

A friend of mine is in charge of publicity for Steven Pressfield, and part of her job is to share her thoughts on the business of writing. A while back she admitted how not enchanted she is by that sometimes. She also mentioned a few projects around the house she wasn’t looking forward to, either.

I left her a comment and had Darrell proofread it. He couldn’t resist offering Callie help with removing the base of a broken lightbulb that’s stuck in a socket. Something about a cork. Next thing we know, another guy had weighed in. “If a cork isn’t handy,” he said, “use a baking potato.” Can you guess what happened next? “A potato would work,” Darrell suggested I add to the thread, “but just make sure there’s no power running to the socket or you’ll have more than a hot potato.”

It took me exactly zero seconds to realize it’s true what they say about guys and their projects. You’ve barely raised the garage door to have a good look at the lawn mower and soon all the neighbors want to help fix it. In the driveway? Mildly amusing. On a writing blog? Hilarious!

You know, to me.