Tuesday, April 29, 2008

10 Things About Finding Your Mentor

This post brings together the latest thinking on mentors. As we're bombarded and immersed in a constant flow of information, marketing messages, corporate uncertainty, and constant technology change, we need guidance from trusted sources. The tribes of old had their wise men and women, the sages, today we have mentors.

1. Prepare for your mentor. Work on how you see your life: what you like and what you want to change. The mentor will tell you to do this anyway, so get a head start. Think about categories such as health/fitness, career, investments, relationships, family, friends. Some areas are in much better shape than others.

2. Realize that you need more of a mentor committee, or team, rather than THE mentor.

3. It may be worthwhile, however, to pay a professional coach to work with you for a time. It costs money, but you're dealing with professional whose reputation is on the line.

4. A mentor or coach does not necessarily hand out the advice; she asks important questions. How much you put into answering them is your business.

5. Having your own questions articulated can speed up the process in a mentoring relationship. That's one purpose your journal serves.

6. A lot of times the mentor tells you what you already knew, but were afraid to face. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

7. The effectiveness of your mentor depends a great deal on how much you trust him. Your feelings may guide you.

8. Available and effective mentors often wear disguises. One can look just like a little old lady; another can appear to be that nice guy at the office.

9. Sometimes your friends are thinly-veiled mentors but the one who helps you decide which bikini to buy is not necessarily the one who helps you plan your investments.

10. The answer to your question can come from absolutely the most UNexpected source. It could be a seemingly random conversation, or something you read, or something your seat mate read and is telling you. Be alert for these kinds of answers. They're free of charge.

Wednesday is the last day of the post-writing contest. Send your entry to mixonian@gmail.com and get the chance to win $50!

Finding Your Perfect Mentor, Part II

The last post on this subject, finding that perfect mentor, indicated that there is no guru out there waiting on your porch, ready to give you solutions. But, guidance is out there for you, sometimes you just need to recognize your mentor in the disguise of a friend, a teacher, an acquaintance, a perfect stranger, your own feelings, or even a book....or maybe even a blog post. Before you can use your mentor's wisdom, you need to get your question(s) straight.

I have heard an expression to the effect that when you are ready to learn something, the teacher appears. I read recently a quote, "The next message you need, is always right where you are," by Ram Das. I do not know who Ram Das is, but I think s/he is on to something. Get your question clear, and the answer appears.

Here's a perfect example of a small solution that showed up, unexpectedly, in response to a rather trivial question. About a month ago, I went to Savannah to make a presentation on Chavez at an academic conference. I really wanted to stay with my cousin, to save money on hotel, but I hadn't seen this cousin in 10 years, nor were we ever what you would call close. However, he did invite me to stay with him, and I accepted his invitation.

The morning of the day before my departure, he sent me an email asking me if I wanted to go with them to church that evening of the day I was to arrive. I can assure you that going to church with them that evening was NOT something I wanted to do, normally, but I didn't answer right away in the expectation of receiving some direction on this small question. Part of the reason I was going to this conference, like all conferences, is to meet people, and I knew very few people who were going to this one. I was thinking that maybe I should just hang out that evening at the conference, and maybe I would run into someone I should talk to.

That afternoon, my dad called, as he does from time to time. He asked me about my plans for the conference and the last thing he said to me during this brief conversation was this: "I'm going to give you some fatherly advice. I think you need to make friends with Veronica." My father is a man of few words, and does not give advice very often. Veronica is my cousin's wife. I had met her twice over the past 20 years, maybe we had spent a total of two minutes together, or maybe less.

So, there was my answer. I emailed Michael that I would love to attend the church dinner and program. As it turned out, neither Michael nor I went to church that evening. The battery in my car died the next day in Savannah and he helped me get it replaced and he and I had the most delightful, and delightfully unexpected dinner together that evening. I don't think that would have happened if I had not made plans to be with them that evening.

Answers can come from unexpected, and expected sources. Keep an eye out, and an ear open to find them.

Tomorrow is the last day to email contest submissions to mixonian@gmail.com. You might win $50.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Finding Your Perfect Mentor: Part I

We all need that advisor, the one who guides us through uncomfortable, sticky situations, who encourages us when we're tired, and offers a fresh perspective on an ongoing project. This person is always available when needed, never out of town or busy with a different project when solicited. This advisor, unfortunately, does not exist. But we still need help, and clarity is definitely available for us.

There is no one single person who can possibly be that super-guide we secretly crave: the one who knows us, who believes in us, and has instant solutions to all our less-preferred situations. There are two sources of guidance: inside our selves, and in other people. Most of the time we really do know what we need to do, we just need a little push or reassurance to proceed.

Over the past few days I worked with a super organizer/stylist, who went through all my stuff, everything in my living room, studio, and bedroom. She would ask me, for example, if I really planned on wearing that beautiful tweed Ralph Lauren blazer, the one I bought in 1983. Now, deep inside, I know I am not likely to wear it again; I haven't put it on in at least 20 years. But the fear of never buying another blazer as nice as that one has kept me hanging on to it. That blazer, along with few other bags of other garments, is now in the hands of Good Will. It's not that Carrie taught me some new principle of organizing, or that I didn't know it was best to throw out clothes that I wasn't wearing. Her outside opinion, expressed as "Do you really want to keep....THAT?", helped me clear out more clutter than I even knew I owned.

Every creativity or productivity or success author insists that we need to get these outside opinions. And we know that. But sometimes we don't know whom to ask, or hate to bother someone.

One suggestion from Julia Cameron, and Jack Canfield, an unlikely pair, is to get together with a group of 5 to 7 people who are all working on their own projects. Cameron's book on creativity has spawned small groups of "The Artist's Way" devotees all over the planet. Canfield's approach is more business-like: invite people whom you think can help you to meet and share ideas on a regular basis.

This is an excellent idea. Not only does it provide structure, but it also allows a degree of accountability. There are other ways to get mentoring...appearing soon on The Mixonian.

Last day to submit posts for contest is Wednesday, April 30. Email entries to mixonian@gmail.com and maybe win $50!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Attitude of Gratitude

Well, you've all heard it before, an attitude of gratitude makes for a happy existence. Trite, perhaps, but absolutely true! Maybe I'm remembering this because it's my last day of class for this semester, and I have a wonderful house guest with me, my sister. When things are manifest the way you want them, it's easy to be grateful.

When things are bothering you, it's even more important to be grateful. Focus on the good things in your life is the most helpful mindset you can have. You see opportunities that would otherwise remain hidden. Life is easier for those people with a positive attitude and there's nothing like a dose of remembering your blessings to straighten out your thinking.

If the words you speak account for only 7% of your message, attitude is probably 95% (Mixonian math). Attitude sets the tone for all your communication, in the most literal sense. Being positive transmits outward through your tone of voice, your posture, your facial expression, and overall energy level. This state of mind is a rich resource, available to everyone.

Several authors recommend writing out a gratitude list. That is a good starting place. Writing down some things for which you're grateful is an outstanding way to begin the day, every day.

Be grateful, not because it's a pious thing to do, give thanks because it's the intelligent way to be.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tiny Changes, Big Impact

To get anything done, you have to act. Thinking about it, wishing for something, is not enough. Imagination precedes action, it doesn't replace action. What happens is we sometimes get overwhelmed with the scope of our dream or goal, and we don't know where to start, or what the next step should be. Julia Cameron has a great suggestion to get moving.

In The Artist's Way, she recommends making 10 tiny changes in your life. Listing these in your journal, or anywhere, and doing them. What kind of changes are tiny ones? Ones that you can do today, or certainly this week. For example, something so mundane as socks. I had been looking for socks to wear with my running shoes, not that I was going running, but of course I needed athletic socks, not dressy socks. I started to murmur to myelf about my kids taking my socks, and then I realized, simply go buy more socks! It sounds so ridiculous, but getting out to a nearby convenience store, I bought my socks. No more negative thoughts about socks!

In their follow-up book, The Artist's Way at Work, the authors, writing for a slightly different audience, refer to this as filling the form. "Filling the form requires us to pay gentle attention to our wishes and needs. We may not be able to make the large changes that we yearn for, but we certainly can make small changes that bring us a sense of comfort and optimism" (69). I think tiny changes are the path to big changes. In his work with success principles, Jack Canfield recommends taking 5 steps each day that move you closer to your big goal, it could be as small as sending email to 5 people who may be able to help you.

Think of 3 small changes you can make in eacd of the following areas of your life:

1. Work space.
2. Car.
3. Kitchen.
4. Wardrobe.
5. Reading list, or entertainment plans.
6. Living room.
7. Bedroom.
8. Exercise habits.
9. Eating habits.
10. Spiritual/intellectual maintenance

These changes can be so ordinary, getting your tires aligned, getting a picture framed, buying organic dates, picking up paint chips, buying socks. However, they get you moving toward your good life.

What can you do today that would bring you delight, or bring you closer to attaining a big dream?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Connecting the Dots of Your Life

Life today is compartmentalized; it has become second nature to separate personal life from professional concerns, family from friends, work from fun, learning from school. We are trained from toddlerhood to see life in these categories. In education, the ancient Greeks studied three subjects: astronomy, music, and rhetoric. My 4th-grade daughter gets grades for phonics, reading, English, handwriting, vocabulary, math, science, history, P.E., art, and religion. These divisions promote specialized knowledge, but I think the human heart yearns for a more complete existence.

I run into this in my studies. My work on Chavez draws from history, sociology, political science, rhetoric; my favorite sources are generalized intellectuals like Kenneth Burke and Carlos Rangel. Yet I know to get published in an academic journal, I am supposed to narrow my approach to suit a particular journal's interest.

This compartmentalization is what drives people either to other activities, or to despair. The latter choice emerges when a person is totally exhausted from a job or activity that pays the bills and is somewhat fulfilling, but leaves the person with no energy to pursue more creative interests. That person is heading toward professional burnout.

Christine Kane hit the nail on the head when she compared a rich life to a musical composition; there must be rests between the activities. I read interesting way to do this in a book, The Artist's Way at Work by Mark Bryanm, Julia Cameron and Catherine Allen. It is a valuable resource because it applies Cameron's innovations in creativity development to a specific context - the office. A man named Roger, wanted to take two weeks off from work for a retreat, but was unable to do so. He took initiative, however, and worked his retreat into his daily schedule.

He set three 10-minute reading breaks and a 20-minute walk at lunch. He kept a meditation book in his desk drawer and listened to inspirational music or talks on his Walkman (this was before the omnipresent Ipod!) What a useful way of scheduling breaks into the day, rather than waiting until the very end, when we're exhausted, to try to get creative.

If you look, you will see ways to do this in your own life. Daily writing first thing in the morning really helps you clarify what your mission, what is working and what isn't. You will see solutions on the pages.

While you're writing, send a post mixonian@gmail.com by April 30. You could win $50.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Turning Serendipity into Success

Over the weekend I finished reading Susan RoAne's book, How to Create Your Own Luck. It's full of examples of how following up on chance encounters can lead to new jobs, great customers, or even access to key medical doctors. As I was reading this, I remembered how when I lived in Caracas, these kinds of serendipitous events were frequently the topic of conversation; it was considered normal. So I had this idea that Caracas, a city whose inhabitants all swear is a super small world, even a hankerchief, was somehow different in this aspect. Reading RoAne's book has prompted me to think that chance encounters are important everywhere.

For example, on February 25 of this year I made a presentation to our local art museum board, because "by coincidence" I had seen their ad for an executive director. I did not get that job, but one board member owns an advertising company and we have worked together on a few projects since then. Or take my own job at the university. I got it when I called the husband of a friend to interview him to write an article on listening skills. That led to a major career change, and it's because of that job that I'm having so much fun writing a dissertation on Hugo Chavez. My sister got her last two wonderful jobs through contacts with her hairdresser.

I hate the term "networking" so I'm not going to use it. I can't bear to bring myself to think about talking to people just because they might be able to help me, and that is not what RoAne advocates (see Commandment #5). But I can talk to people knowing that it might brighten their day, and in any case help to pass our time together pleasantly.

Below is another extract from RoAne's book; her "The 10 Commandments for Turning Serendipity into Success" appears in the appendix.

1. Thou shalt pay attention and be open to opportunity.

2. Thou shalt be approachable; smile and make eye contact with others.

3. Thou shalt do good deeds; say kind words, as they are oft returned.

4. Thou shalt create a network of associates, colleagues, friends, family, and coworkers.

5. Thous shalt stay in touch with thy network when thou needest nothing from it.

6. Thou shalt be a supportive Yeah! Sayer.

7. Thou shalt not render prejudgments.

8. Thou shalt follow up the leads, ideas, and connections offered by thy network.

9. Thou shalt be positive and look at the glass as half full.

10. Thous shalt embraces these eight (counterintuitive) traits, the ones from Friday's post.

The most important thing, perhaps the requisite for meeting interesting people whom you can help and be helped by, is to make up your mind that you're going to do so. Sometimes, you start talking to someone, and that person is not very friendly. It doesn't happen very often, but ALWAYS, when someone is not nice, assume that person is having a bad day. That's an opportunity for you to show compassion, not get your own feelings hurt.

Send in your own ideas in a post to mixonian@gmail.com. Contest ends April 30. You may win $50, and writing is good for you anyway!

Have a super Monday, I know I will.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Solve Problems through Wider Perspective

One thing I learned from reading many books by Kenneth Burke in my doctorate program is that to widen our perspective on life, we first need to realize that we do see and interpret events through our own particular paradigm. Stephen Covey says that the way we interpret situations forms our reality, so this subject is important enough to take some time to reflect upon it.

Think about the training of a surgeon. This person spends years learning how to operate on people. So it is no surprise that this "cut out the problem" paradigm spreads throughout the surgeon's personal life. That's the way he sees relationships, projects, challenges - looking for the part that needs surgical removal.

Similarly, someone who grows up in a fishing community sees life in terms of baits, traps, fishing spots, the "one that got away". The fisherman may see a situation as involving the wrong kind of bait, or wrong quantity, while the surgeon sees the same problem as one needing the scapel to resolve. A teacher would see it as something that needs to be taught, or reinforced conceptually.

Going back to the WAQ post, the life of a queen is definitely different from (and better than) the life of a commoner. And while most countries have no royalty apart from the celebrity-set, a woman who knows in her heart she is "as good as" any queen, feels more powerful than the woman who perceives in her heart she isn't good enough, that her life depends upon the whims of the fates.

Making the transition to the Queen paradigm begins in your imagination. What if you were a queen, how would you behave? Think about how this lady would dress, what would she think about, how would she spend her week-ends. Because the Queen has numerous infomers, her perspective on life is indeed wider than that of her subjects. And this wider perspective makes her wise. It's time to promote yourself to Queen of your domain.

Don't forget the post contest. Win $50. Contest ends April 30.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Time to Get Lucky

While in the local library looking for a book by creative mastermind, Julia Cameron, I ran across a provocative title, How To Create Your Own Luck, by Susan Roane (2004). Well, to what purpose do libraries exist, if not to let you check out books like these without having to actually buy them?

Here's the scoop on Susan Roane. She was a school teacher who got laid off in some teacher-firing process that went on in California many years ago. Obviously the teacher shortage did not then exist. She decided to work with groups of newly unemployed teachers, to help them find new vocations, careers, or even simple jobs. One result of that work was a subsequent book, How to Work a Room. You can see that her work is not that of encouraging reflexivity, but just the opposite -- to get out there and talk to people.

Her main theme is that small talk is important because it forges new connections between people, and it can lead to what she calls "big talk": the job offers, speaking opportunities, play dates for children, investments, and so forth. Mixonian is all for any manner of connecting with people, and it is through talking that relationships are built.

Roane's book on luck is structured around eight traits:

- Talk to strangers.

- Make small talk.

- Drop names.

- Eavesdrop and listen

- Ask for or offer help.

- Stray from chosen paths.

- Exit graciously without burning bridges.

- Say yes, instead of no.

These are all helpful reminders, but I did have a little trouble with the last one. I, and many people I know, have trouble sometimes saying "no" to things to which we really don't want to commit. Nevertheless, Roane's point is valid, you never know what an unexpected contact can lead to, if you approach the situation an open and alert mind.

The friends of Mixonian who travel frequently may be interested in knowing she gave several examples of fruitful friendships that were formed on flights. (Fantastic, no?)

Many people do not enjoy small talk, but you never know to what it can lead.

Don't forget Mixonian's post contest. Submit the lucky post and win $50! And speaking of writing, Christine Kane has an excellent post on writing. See www.christinekane.com/blog.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Meeting of the Queens

"In life... it's vitally important that you buy your own crown and declare yourself Queen, and then spend the rest of your life living into that."
-- Jill Connor Browne, author of Sweet Potato Queen's Book of Love.

My friend Sally has a tiara in her office. I've never seen her wear it, but its presence on top of her cabinet sends a wonderful message. And she does not work in an ad agency, or publishing house; she works in a fast-growing scientific lab company. And she is treated pretty much like a queen there, as far as I can tell, having spent some time there working on a sales project.

Thinking you're the Queen captures the right attitude for life. Queens know they're powerful, but they're not usually arrogant (that's the Crown Prince for you). Queens are not victims of life and they dress well.

You've heard of JAPs - Jewish American Princesses. Now we have a WAQ - White American Queen. Have a royal day!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Challenge: Clutter vs. Time Off

If you've been following the line of thought through the last several posts, you may have been struck by the irony of writing about the need to take time off, indeed to schedule time for being a vegetable, followed by posts about the imperative of dealing with clutter. Obviously, there is only so much time and energy, do you schedule time to vegetate, or do you deal with the unfinished tasks, the "drains"?

The answer goes back to Stephen Covey's teaching of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. While I benefited from his teaching many years ago, at that time I certainly did not realize the full wisdom he was imparting. Not that these ideas were new; his contribution was to organize these ideas in a manageable fashion. His first habit is: Be proactive, not reactive. Yeah, we all know that, but it's a concept worth re-visiting.

We are proactive, perhaps most of the time, but because of the multitude of distractions and activities, it is so easy to get stuck in a pattern, and dealing with all urgent matters, and leaving out some very important things. And what is important to you can change with time. It's a good idea to re-assess your situation in order to be proactive in a fresh way, a way that reflects the way you are today.

Being proactive means both scheduling time to do nothing and setting aside time to work on clutter. I'm using "clutter" in a very wide sense, all the stuff that needs to be done, even if it doesn't look like physical clutter in the home. The normal tendency is to ignore clutter, until it takes on crisis proportions and becomes an urgent task, which then tends to take over your life. You may be familiar with the Crash and Burn process. The more intelligent approach is to schedule a manageable time to work on it, without expecting to actually finish everything, but to reduce the scope of the clutter by dealing with it for half an hour every day, or two hours every Saturday, or something like that.

Same goes for time off. That means no TV, no radio, no I-pod, no cell phone, nada for a while. Time to allow your mind to create, without necessarily telling you what it's up to.

Be proactive, once again. Work on your clutter, then relax and do nothing. It's part of creative life in 2008.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Win $50

Mixonian is pleased to sponsor a blog-writing contest. The best blog for Mixonian wins a good $50 check. Here are the contest guidelines:

1. Send your blog entry to mixonian@gmail.com by April 30, 2008.

2. There's no strict length guideline, around 300-400 words is probably best.

3. Stick to a theme related to communication, connecting, and/or creating.

4. Include your snail mail address (U.S. please) so I can stick a check in the mail to the winner May 1.

5. No anonymous entries, of course.

I look forward to reading your entries. Just ask my students, I LOVE grading papers! : )

I will publish the winning entry May 1.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Free from Clutter

I am addressing the issue of clutter again. The subject is still on my mind, even though I am not a pack rat. While all the my international and local moves have forced me to throw out a lot, tons in fact, I still see much to be done.

When I worked with the Stephen Covey group in Caracas many years ago, one of the main concepts I taught was the difference between urgent activities and important activities. I didn't think of it at the time, but now it's blatantly obvious that dealing with the clothes that need ironing, the stacks of stuff, the overstuffed drawers, are all important, but not urgent, and so it's easy to put off dealing with it. However, accumulating too much clutter can develop into a crisis but even worse, it keeps you distracted from more interesting projects, and may even depress you.

Seeing things, or noticing anew what needs to be taken care of puts makes you feel bad. It doesn't have to be clutter, but it can be. It can also be the squeak in a door, the ugly pitcher from Aunt Helga on the table, the burned out light bulb you keep meaning to replace. Not being able to easily close a drawer is another "drain".

Probably the reason this is so much on my mind is that as part of an e-seminar I'm taking with Christine Kane, we had to write down all the pending things, broken items, stuff to do that we keep putting off. Let me tell you, it is sad to really take in all that you're leaving undone, and it's natural to feel something like despair.

I think though, not facing these things is a dangerous form of denial. It's painful to see what you can overlook most of the time, but taking time to face the enemy is necessary to bring this monster down to a more manageable size. I've always had goal lists, now I have a "drains" list -- those things which drain my precious energy.

Being a perfectionist is the answer. It's not waiting for the glorious day to get every single thing in order. It's making a list, checking it twice, and working on it bit by bit.

Life is a journey, an adventure, not a destination. Work towards the good life, away from the clutter.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Clear out Clutter

A minimalist approach.

Clutter distracts. Distractions cause loss of focus. Without clear focus, missions are not accomplished. Living an unfulfilled life is not a happy experience.

Distractions block creativity.

Clearing the clutter means making decisions. Your decisions are not ALWAYS the most expedient ones, but clearing out clutter leaves more room in your life for the good stuff. In other words, it's normal to make mistakes and the unexpected consequences can make your life more interesting.

Be creatively brave. Clear out clutter. One clut at a time.

Friday, April 11, 2008

When Life Throws Up on You

Being positive or not, there are times when so many things go wrong that you can feel like life is just throwing up all over you. You go to the shop to get your tires aligned, and find out you need new tires. The sofa you ordered finally gets delivered, and you hate it. Your flight is delayed, but the airline keeps you in your seat for the duration. You find out that the less qualified candidate got "your" job. The very important email message is apparently ignored by its recipient. And so on....the normal stuff of life for everyone.

The key to not getting derailed from your mission in life is to think "containment". You're feeling less than peppy, try to contain that feeling by taking some time off from being productive and having a small, intimate pity party. But the party has a starting time, and an ending time. You are not going to allow this crud to overflow into your entire life.

If you can reduce the impact of this negative energy by consciously setting boundaries to contain it, and taking time to nurture yourself and get ready to move on, you do yourself and the world a huge service. The best gift you can give is being truly happy - your joy is contagious. Don't let temporary ickiness in life spoil the whole experience.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Scheduling Time Off

It's not cool to get a good night's sleep most of the time. The really hot people are so busy they just barely get enough shut eye to make it through. The movers and shakers move and shake so much that they forget what it's like to be quiet. Maybe this hyperactivity is what's behind the growing sleep industry: sleep aids, sleep seminars, and sleep therapy.

I don't think the quality of your work can stay at a high level without rest. And as Christine Kane just pointed out, even music cannot exist without rests built in the composition. Think about it.

On top of getting enough rest at night, we want to have times of rest and contemplation during the week, if not each day. I know some of Mixonian's readers are panting as they read, because they are running so quickly through their weekly activities. Hectic days and weeks are inevitable, what we don't want is a totally hectic life. Think of being frantic and being creative as being opposites.

It's not that anyone can just retire right now. It's about balance, and not fearing the absence of distractions, as it seems most children do these days.

Get out your day scheduler and put in a Very Important Meeting with yourself. There should be only 1 item on the agenda: do nothing. But remember, turn your phone ringer off; no distractions are allowed at this highly important meeting.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Journaling Craze

A couple of days ago I whipped into Barnes and Noble to see if they had a pretty mechanical pencil (they didn't). I have a copywriting project I've been putting off and I thought getting a lovely pencil would help motivate me but actually a wonderful motivating force appeared in the unexpected urgent need for two new tires!

However, in the brief time I spent inside the bookseller's, I noticed writing journals everywhere! And while I am a strong advocate of journal writing, and decorating them for that matter, my first reaction to seeing all these journals was, "Oh, great, another fad."

So I started this fascinating conversation with myself about what was going on with journal-writing; it seemed that even "normal" people are doing it now.

The answer came clearly and it's obvious once you think about it. Step back a moment and look at all the communication clutter that surrounds us. Messages from all sorts of media 24/7, not to mention the all-knowing voices of friends and family compete for our attention. We are constantly bombarded with messages on how to eat, what to wear, what one million things we should be worrying about, how to raise our kids, how to be successful, etc. With all the options we have today, we need much more clarity to make decisions.

Writing in a journal helps one find her own voice amidst all the cacophony of chattering in the environment. Especially for those who want to please others, writing can help keep track of one's own heart's desire. I recently read that each human person comes into this world with his mission written on his heart. Writing in a journal is a great way to discover, and even refine that mission. At any age.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Finishing Unsurmountable Tasks

One experience that both annoys and drains energy is leaving tasks unfinished. Not because you lost interest, which can be the case, but because other things simply took over. When there is a task that appears absolutely impossible, like a dissertation (random example : )), you have to move forward on it every single day.

Another aspect of these types of projects is that they usually involve the collaboration of other people. The other people also have other things to do, and frankly your project may have a pretty low priority on their lists. You still have to move forward each day.

This morning, before dawn, I emailed (for the second time) one simply but crucial paragraph from this dissertation proposal. It's the research question paragraph - a key thing for scholars. It's one single paragraph so I think he can look at that today, and get back to me.

What are you doing to move your biggest project forward?

More Creativity for Normal Tasks

I asked my two daughters, aged 10 and 13, to do the same assignment I gave one of my classes about a week ago. After getting through the, "Mom, do we HAVE to..." routine, this is their list.

Ways To Be Creative in Normal Life

1. Instead of chewing your vitamins, swallow them.
2. Play restaurant while you cook.
3. Instead of buying clothes, sew them.
4. While in the car, count cars by colors.
5. While in the car, play games with the letters on the license plates.
6. Get stuff that is used, instead of always buying new (part of our recycle campaign).
7. Get a dog to entertain yourself, instead of playing electronic games.
8. When babysitting, shave a balloon.
9. Have a doll fashion show with the clothes you make for the dolls.
10. Science.

That was their list, done at the kitchen table while I fixed supper. It's a great exercise, at the very least it gets an interesting conversation going.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

5 Things I Learned at the Convention

Every field has its annual convention where practicioners meet and share their projects; conversations in the hallways can lead to new opportunities. I just came back from the Southern States Communication Association's annual meeting in Savannah, Georgia. There I made my first academic presentation on Hugo Chavez. Communication scholarship big kahuna Andy King, from LSU, declared it "brilliant". That encouragement will last me the rest of my life. Here are some things I learned at the convention.

1. Norwegian heavy metal rock bands mutilated animals on stage in the 1990's as a form of social protest. Apparently Norway's culture is highly conformist and people are not encouraged to be creative. Mutilating animals was one highly-visible response and the perpetrators blame Norway's church for this pyschic oppression. The leader of this movement is in jail for alleged murder.

2. Increasingly people are meeting their beloveds online. One professor married his online love over 5 years ago and now they are the happy parents of a child. He lives in Louisiana; she was in Latvia before marrying him.

3. No one knows exactly how blogging is changing society, but it is. There are now 10 million blogs on line. We are taking over the world (EVIL LAUGH)! Academics seem to fear this uncontrolled force.

4. A new term is in fashion: hetero-normalizing. For example, the practice in which the man gives his fiancee an engagement ring is a hetero-normalizing tradition. I give this example to show the power of words and the use of this term illustrates an increasingly influential world view.

5. Savannah, Georgia is spectacularly beautiful in the spring. The city embraces its post-colonial architecture and tradition while actively encouraging new design; the result is wonderful. The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is setting a fine example.

It was a great trip and I'm getting back to work on the dissertation. Happy Sunday!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Finding the Right Life Frame

Similar to the way a photo or a painting looks far better in the right frame, the frame through which we look at our situations can enhance or diminish our happiness. I know this, but like many people, I sometimes look down on people who are so positive, that they annoyingly refuse to face their stark realities. However, research supports the finding that people who see the glass as half full, in fact, lead happier lives.

I have a fantastic example to illustrate this paradigm. Many people are well aware of my reluctance to be living out here in the boondocks. For the sake of argument, let's call this village Podunk, USA. This is why Podunk, USA, is not the place I want to be:

1. It is in the middle of nowhere; I hate long drives and gasoline is expensive.
2. There is little international flavor.
3. I have no social life.
4. This town is clique-ish and I am not part of the in-group.
5. Cultural events happen, but not that often.
6. Job opportunities are scarce.
7. The schools are not very good.
8. It's boring.
9. It's an 8-hour drive to see family.
10. I seldom get to speak Spanish.

However, as Carrie pointed out yesterday, this is the perfect place to write a dissertation, which is by far my most important project at this moment (thank you, Nellie, for reminding me!!!!). It is perfect right now because:

1. I have no social life.
2. The extremely helpful ECU library is two blocks away.
3. I have a fulfilling part-time job.
4. I can ride my bike to work.
5. There are few distractions.
6. It's a low-cost place to live.
7. My children see their father often.
8. The ECU gym is three blocks away and has a wonderful pool.
9. It's boring.
10. I have few friends, but they are extremely supportive.

If you're unhappy about a situation, see if you can reframe it to see the benefits. Otherwise, see if you can change it.

Remember this prayer: God, help me to change the things I need to change. Help me to accept the things I cannot change. Grant me the wisdom to know the one from the other. Amen.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Why Be Positive

The title to this post is both a statement and a question, hence no question mark. When your best buddies are mostly experts in English grammar, you become acutely aware of certain details like that. If being positive is so important and helpful in this life, why isn't everyone bubbling over and being positive all the time? Being negative, which is what non-positive people are, is a nasty habit that's easy to fall into.

News stories encourage the habit of negative thinking. Having taught newswriting, I know that one function of news programs is to make the audience consider new negative possibilities. Maybe there is too much of oxynitsuldiobiocide in the water, and it's going to make my teeth fall out. Maybe there's a killer waiting for me at Wal-Mart. Maybe my cat really is psychic. And then again, maybe not.

Advertising is another downer. Fear sells, especially to women. Consider how many products for women are sold on the basis of fear: if you don't buy our product, you may end up old, ugly, out of fashion, uncool, and of course, unloved. Ridiculous!

News programming and advertising are all about making money. Making money is a wonderful thing, but you don't need to contribute to other people's profits by by getting caught up in their fear mongering. Use positive energy to raise your own revenues.

You will handle any thing that happens to you. You always have; you always will. And nothing happens that some good doesn't come out of it. Probably the thing I most feared in this life was being divorced. And getting a divorce is not a pleasant experience. But throughout it I enjoyed the support of so many wonderful friends. And now that it's over, I'm having a great time doing what I want.

We all have limited time together in life on this planet. Being negative, focusing on the bad things that could happen, is simply a drain of time and energy. Like Cynthia said on her radio blog, "Even if the glass is only one-fourth full, maybe someone will come and fill it." A positive outlook clears your vision so you see possibilities that are invisible to other people.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Creativity for "Normal" Tasks

You may have noticed that one of my life themes is using my creative force, and encouraging others to use and develop their own. It's the same principle as exercise making your bodies stronger; feeding your imagination and working it makes you more creative.

No matter what subject I'm teaching, each week I try to come up with different relationships among the materials and concepts to get through to the students. Last year I was particularly pleased with getting my 13-year old students to not only memorize poetry, but to recite it and play with it. They did so with joy. Poetry is fuel for the imagination.

Last week I had my students, this time they're around 20 years old, come up with a list of 10 ways people use creativity in "normal" jobs. They worked in small groups and came up with good examples: setting up displays in retail, using recycled materials to make art, marketing campaigns, and making restaurant menus. However, one group of three young men made a list that stood out from the others and I am presenting it here. Remember, that in developing creative ideas, brainstorming, it's important to write down ideas first, decide whether they're good later.

Students John Barker, E .J. Yancey, and Dekota Marshall, from ECU's COMM 2210-02 came up with these ideas:

1. Turf managers figure out how to grow grass on different types of soil.

2. Use a hot water heater to make a grill.

3. Use vegetable oil to power a car.

4. Hook up PVC pipe to a truck with a water tank to make a sprinkler.

5. Use a mule to take out the trash, instead of walking.

6. Recycle copper to make other parts.

7. Use chewing tobacco instead of medicine to cure a bee sting.

8. Football coach makes players pull and carry huge tires instead of weights.

9. Use a chain and a log in place of a sled.

10. Cut up old t-shirts to use as rags in a garage.

In your next meeting, you might want to come up with a list of ways employees show creativity at work. Starting with small innovations in place may help you think of other ways to do things that may be much better. In any case, any activity that gets people to THINK is good in my book. Have a creative day!