Content Beyond Measure

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My heart is full. I’m snuggled up on my sofa with my daughter. My family is watching an old movie on TV. We’ve satisfied our bellies with some popcorn – cooked on the stove the old fashioned way – and are relishing in the beauty of our laziness. It is the perfect unwind to a blessed holiday weekend.

We logged a lot of miles over the past few days, nearly 1,000 end-to-end, to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. It was a much-anticipated weekend of precious time with my sister and her family, my mother and her husband and my niece. My own family looks forward to this annual gathering, knowing no distance is too great to be together.

This year’s gathering was decadent. My dear sister, who so expertly organized and orchestrated everything, left me with no option but to relax and thoroughly enjoy my family time. Her ability to flawlessly feed an army, stay calm in the midst of a houseful and make it all seem effortless is a quality I admire. She is gifted with an ability to care for others and does it with grace.

I am blessed to have a great role model in my big Sis. Her faith leads her every decision, providing her with the DNA to be a strong wife, a patient and supportive mother, a caring daughter and a best-friend-turned-sister. She is the woman I aspire to be. I am blessed to have her as mine.

She gifted me with a weekend of decadence: great company, amazing food and the rest my soul and tired spirit needed. Not in the grandiose ways that one might think is needed, but in a dozen little moments that leave my family blessed, my body renewed and my soul already wanting for more.

For a weekend that is all about Thanks and Giving; she excelled in showing how thankful she is by the ways in which she treated us. In how she reminded us of the need to always show love to others. In the giving of our time, talents and the special gifts God has bestowed upon us. Yes, My big Sis reminded me of that this weekend. And I am outrageously blessed and content beyond measure.

The Naked Truth

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I have a secret to tell. If you know me – err, think you know me – it just might surprise you. I really don’t care what you think; it honestly doesn’t matter one way or the other. That said, it is high time I come clean.

I lie.

Surprised? Maybe; maybe not. I’ve been pretty good at concealing things for as long as I can remember. Sometimes, my lies are so skillfully crafted and believable that I can convince even the most clairvoyant of folks that it is truth.

My lies aren’t the kind of lies that are constructed to hurt others, but I suspect admitting it will bring pain to those I love deepest. Truth be told, I’ve never lied to intentionally hurt anyone. No, my lies were all about sparing those I care for most from the harsh reality of life.

Those big, fat lies are many:

I lie when the actions of others have hurt me, pretending I’m ok. Just for the record, my heart is broken in a million fragile shards and it is taking forever to cobble back together.

I lie when I pretend the falsehoods others accept are my truths really do not make me feel helpless and small. They do.

I lie by erecting thick walls of indifference – the same walls some chose to call arrogance – because I know no other way to shield the pain in my heart.

I lie when I put on a mask of control and shield myself with busyness. It helps me hide the chaos of hurt and my urge to fall apart and cry. But I don’t, because I know others are are too consumed with their own tears to wipe mine.

Lies are what others are most comfortable with. They keep it easy. They lend an convenient excuse for others’ to continue their own selfish ways.

Truth be told, I’m making it easy for others to walk away, instead of holding them accountable for their own truths. And I’m no longer certain that’s the right thing to do.

From now on, when you ask if I’m ok, my answer may not be what you want to hear. But it will be the truth. And if you can’t handle it, that’s ok. You have my blessing and forgiveness to keep walking. My life has become emptier, but more honest, without you in it.

Outrageous living sometimes detours down a lonely, bumpy path. Thankfully, those twists and turns do lead us to a life of full, vulnerable and abundantly blessed living. A life I choose to wholly embrace.

And that’s the naked truth.

Old Dog and New Tricks

848401f3a7d5328e7676797dd0bda3cfDo it again. Do it again. Do it again…

For the past few weeks, that’s what the voice in my head has been saying. Sometimes it comes as gentle encouragement, “hey, that time was pretty good, but let’s do it one more time to get it just right” and other times, I hear “Seriously? You still can’t get it?  Come on, let’s go through it again.” Yes, this old dog has been busy trying to learn a new trick and, in the end, look like she’s been doing it forever.

Deep down, it is unrealistic. No one can put on a pair of skis for the first time and hit the slopes like Bode Miller. That’s nuts! To believe I can test drive a new skill with the finesse of a master is a silly expectation I’ve hung on myself. But come hell or high water, I am going practice, practice, practice until I get it!

I have to admit, it has been a while since I had to get serious about learning something new that really mattered. Enter a new role and new responsibilities, and I am a student once again. In the process of challenging myself to learn a new tool well enough to demo it like a pro, I’ve been humbled, enlightened and positively challenged.

The lessons that have emerged are ones I believe are worth sharing…

You Are Your Own Worse Critic. The self-imposed pressure I am putting on myself to be a master is silly. No one honestly expects me to have the same skills and finesse of others who have finely honed theirs over years of experience. Be kind to yourself and speak encouragement to yourself, for the knowledge will come.

Ask Questions. I have asked more questions, despite how silly some of them sound to me, in the last few weeks than I feel like I have ever asked in my life. I remind myself that the only stupid question is the one I am afraid to ask, so I am learning to check my ego at the door and let others share their experience and insight. In the long run, I am getting to the goal more quickly and really developing a strong sense of insight on the ways in which I can leverage and deploy the capabilities of my team in new ways.

Be Open to New Approaches. I am a skilled presenter and love to get up in front of the room and dazzle the audience. I’ve been fortunate to use this skill often and love the energy and rhythm I can bring to a meeting. My style is uniquely mine. As I interject myself into new situations, I must be open to the ways of others and give reason for them to be accepting of my ways; owning that the latter comes as others see the entirety of what I contribute. Earning the trust of others happens best when I accept their approach while I am adapting my own. The right for change comes with time and experience.

Be Hungry to Learn. As frustrating as it feels at times, I am loving the challenge learning brings. I like to push myself to try new skills and open myself up to the knowledge that awaits. I have to make it fun for myself and reward myself in simple ways as I progress along the curve. Having that inner hunger to try new things and grow is critical and must be fed.

Practice. Practice. Practice. Nothing can replace the experience that practice brings. Hour after hour, I have worked to hone and tighten my skills. I have recorded myself and others, made pages of copious notes and pushed myself toward improvement. In the end, these efforts will pay off handsomely. There is no substitute for focused practice.  None.

This old dog has lots of life left! It is exhilarating — and humbling — to know I have to start at square one and learn new skills. I am grateful for the willing instruction of others and am leaning in to absorb all I can quickly. I am giving myself permission to start at the level of being “good” and not “great,” for the latter will come with time.

In this season, I am learning in more ways than I can count. And I love it!

 

Doing “Goodbye” Right

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I’m not a huge fan of goodbyes. The mere word to many seems like an oxymoron. How in the world can a departure be good? Someone – or something – is moving forward and leaving another behind. Many goodbyes bring tears and sorrow, most evoke promises that are seldom kept for long:
-We promise to write to departing friends, giving assurance we will “keep in touch”
-We tell colleagues who are moving on to new opportunities that we will get together soon, knowing schedules and responsibilities make it near impossible
-We cling to crumbling relationships with pleas that we will change our offending behavior
-We grieve the loss of loved ones, attempting to barter personal changes we need to make as currency for time

Yes, goodbyes are hard. Despite their sadness, goodbyes can turn into good byes.

Leaving, no matter the circumstance, is never easy for either party. When one door closes, it ushers in the season of change for everyone involved. And whether it is a new job, a new personal life or a the conclusion of a life well-lived, the process to follow is much the same.

We have to weigh heavily our responsibilities to those we leave behind. Good or bad, we are leaving people who rely heavily on us. Our time in their lives – personal or professional – came with accountabilities and expectations that must end. As professionals, we need to ensure that we are leaving our business relationships and records in good stead. We owe it to the clients we serve to pass the reigns to capable hands; ensuring commitments and promises can be fulfilled.

In our personal life, the relationships are far more important, but the responsibility no less: we owe it to those we love to be able to function without us and have the life skills to survive. Despite the difficulty of an ending life or relationship, making sure those we love – or once loved – have the means to go on living must be discussed and planned for. Closure is so hard without it.

We must prepare ourselves for the next phase we are embarking upon. Whether it is to learn the skills necessary to thrive in a new position, eliminate the clutter we’ve amassed to make the physical move less stressful, or to ensure our heart has been freely given to God, avoiding this work will only derail our future plans. We cannot take lightly the importance of preparing ourselves for the next chapter to come.

We must encourage those we leave behind. There is sweet sorrow when goodbyes are spoken. Co-workers and clients will miss our contributions, lovers – even embittered ones – deserve to be shown respect and compassion; dear friends and family will cling to the memories of final moments and words. Ensuring our words, actions and reactions are grounded in love and encouragement will make the parting a little easier.

We must take care of unfinished business. The rule is simple: don’t leave a mess for someone else to clean up. Finish the projects you started. Close out the open accounts in your name, ensuring your outstanding balances are paid in full. Return to others the property you have borrowed. Heal the hurts and clear up the misunderstandings. Say ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you’ to those who need to know. If you made the mess, don’t expect someone else to set things right on your behalf.

Taking time before we go to celebrate our accomplishments is important. We must all take time to make lasting memories with the people we care about and do the work we must to leave behind a better situation than we found. That should be the priority of us all.

Yes, some goodbyes come at the most inconvenient of times and can be horribly unplanned. But if we live, daily, as if each day might bring an unexpected farewell, we can soften the blow and make it a good bye.
-We can leave behind order and structure for others to follow until they begin to trust their own instinct and skills.
-We can instill confidence and capability that our work will continue.
-We provide assurance that the time spent together was invaluable and far out measures any temporary pain that endings bring
-We can leave lasting memories and legacies that others will remember, leverage and share

And most importantly, we can trust that when we meet again, whether on this Earth or not, it will be a joyous reuniting.

Make sure you live each day preparing for every goodbye to be a good one. That is a part of embracing this outrageously blessed life.

Rediscovering Me

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It has been ages – too long – since I’ve written a blog or even felt compelled to “check in” and contribute anything to the community I am blessed to have built around the idea of Outrageous Living.

I wish I could pinpoint the source of my disinterest. It makes no sense. Truly. I love to write and create, feeling wonderfully empowered to draw upon my experiences and ideas to craft a post worthy of others’ time. But when the well is empty, well, it’s just empty.

My time away has been an interesting journey. I’ve been busier than ever, yet not so busy that the time to write has not availed itself. But my thoughts are returning and I sense the opportunity – and desire – to write wells up within me again.

Sometimes we all need to give ourselves permission to slip away quietly from the noise and hustle of everydayness and rediscover ourselves. To shed the clutter in our world, find harmony and balance in the simplest of living and just be. Ridding our self of the obligations we have – real or self-imposed – and renew the hunger and passion of our existence.

I’ve found that me again and she’s the same outrageous, passionate and centered person I like to hang out with. Thanks to a few months’ hiatus, and some time ahead to forge new paths and ideas, the journey of a blessed, outrageously wonderful life is about to hit the restart button.

Thanks for waiting for me.

Daily Productivity in a Digital World

2b2fbbf6b1ef604be7a09030c79544ff“I can never get anything done,” was the comment of a colleague recently. Complaints about burgeoning workloads, increasing client demands and the non-stop pace at which emails, phone calls and texts come in our 24/7 world make it all overwhelming. She simply feels like she is drowning in the modern workplace and, in some ways, she is. It is difficult to balance the demands of a digital world and remain productive; but it can be done.

While I am by no means an expert on personal productivity, I’d like to think I’ve learned how to create a manageable level of balance with a few good habits I’ve picked up along the way.

1.  Set aside some non-traditional work time for the important stuff.  Like it or not, the traditional 9-5 hours are not your most productive hours.  Too many calls and interruptions come that break the focus and concentration needed to give the critical stuff your best.  I am up at it in my home office each day by 5:00 a.m. to crank out my blog, personal emails and clear critical tasks that I know need my complete concentration.  I’ve learned early morning is when my brain is at its best and that is when I hit it hard!

2.  Make a list and set daily priorities.  There’s a saying that reminds us “if you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there” and a daily list of tasks is your path.  Start your day with a plan; you may not get to check everything off the list, but if you start knowing what you need to accomplish and which tasks are most important, you will have the focus and time management needed to set out on your day.  When obstacles and distractions come, you’ll be making educated decisions about how to handle them.  When the end of the day comes, even knowing you’ve checked off one item will give you a sense of accomplishment!

3. Do similar work in groups.  My husband and I disagree on whether or not multi-tasking is a useful work habit; I embrace it wholeheartedly while he thinks it results in one giving multiple tasks “diminished focus simultaneously.”  Personal choice, perhaps, but when you can find similar work and group it together and – better yet – tackle the trivial stuff at the same time, I say go for it!  Sorting expense report receipts and clearing out “FYI” emails that are cluttering your in-box during a conference call that marginally applies to you is time well spent. Research says it takes your brain 20-30 minutes to adjust to a new task, so if you are going to shift gears from one task to another, make sure you are giving it the time and attention needed to allow your brain to fully engage and focus.

4.  Turn off the distractions.  In this wonderful world of digital messaging and instant news, music and updates, the constant barrage of mental stimulation distraction coming into our day is endless.  You cannot do good work and focus if you are constantly being interrupted.  Just as much as I hate having someone burst into my office in the middle of a private meeting, I cannot stand having an email pop-up in the middle of an intense moment of focus staring at a budget spreadsheet or presentation I am working on.  Turn off the distractions if you really want to focus and concentrate.  Those texts and emails will still be there for you later.

5.  Set aside time for personal connectivity to your world.  Keeping your work world and your personal world separate is a good idea if you are easily prone to distractions.  One colleague I know keeps two browsers on his desktop:  one has all his work-related bookmarks and links and the other is his doorway to his personal pages and sites.  Find your own way to make work time about work and personal time your time for yourself; the two rarely mix to enable productivity.

6.  Get away for it all.  Silence is truly golden and there is nothing more refreshing than a moment of complete disengagement from it all.  The mini-recharge your brain and energy level gets from a 10-minute respite is powerful. When the urge comes to take a break from the project that has you stressed out and you are tempted to jump on Facebook or check your personal e-mail for a quick break, try standing up and doing a few stretches instead.  Better yet, leave your smart phone behind and take a short walk.  Nothing strenuous, just a short leg-stretching / mind-waking stroll to rest your eyes, renew your mental acuity and catch a second wind.  Without the distractions of a phone call or background music, you will allow yourself to find a moment of balance and be restored.

Being productive doesn’t come from working harder; it comes from working smarter.  Today’s technology can be a friend or a foe, depending on how you use it and put it to work for you.  Privacy buttons and ‘do not disturb’ settings are on smart phone for a reason; use them!  Calls, texts and emails do not have to be immediately taken just because they arrive.  Setting priorities and boundaries for work and personal life and necessary for personal health and quality of life.  Being organized and productive during work hours are equally essential for career success and professional survival.

Take the time to figure out what is weighing down your productivity and set the boundaries, priorities and work habits in motion to take control.  It is your life.  Own it!

Teach and Model the Skills That Matter Most

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All across America, you can tell it is Spring by the burgeoning population at the local ball fields. It seems everywhere you turn, athletic fields are filled on evenings and weekends with children of all ages learning to pitch, hit, catch and throw. Proud parents and grandparents have come to watch, cheer and encourage their budding athletes as they develop their skills fill the parking lots of overflowing. Spring has sprung, indeed!

I am the daughter of a dedicated athlete. My father played just about any sport – and very well – that you could challenge him with. From the time he was a young man, if he wasn’t playing, he was coaching; when he wasn’t coaching, he worked tirelessly to ensure the youth of my rural community would have access to ballfields and sporting programs that continue today. That was his legacy, to leave behind the opportunity for others to play, learn and grow as young men and women on the ballfield. He helped build a softball complex and seed the youth football program that ultimately became the high school football program of my hometown. He loved sports and said that the character one developed on the field, they would take with them for the rest of their life.

I spent many a night digging in a dirt pile while my Dad helped erect fencing or construct dugouts and concession stands at the local field. Riding on a tractor, dragging an old metal bedspring as a way to groom the outfield to prepare it for seeding and listening to Dad share his vision for what he and his fellow Jaycees could build is a memory forever etched in my mind. Those men knew the value of sports, fellowship and community and they left no stone unturned until they built it for their friends and neighbors. That early facility, primitive as it was in today’s standards, was an important outdoor classroom for many youth.

Sporting programs today shouldn’t need signs like the community of Lee have had to place on their ballfield. It is a shame that so many have forgotten that leading and guiding the young men and women of tomorrow comes in many forms: part skill development and part behavior. The drills, plays and practices are no less important than the respect, language and teamwork behaviors that are honed both on and off the field. How parents and fans interact with the players and the umpires set examples these young men and women will pattern themselves after for the rest of the lives. How coaches motivate and discipline these young minds will set in place future character traits of business leaders, parents and the coaches of tomorrow. How players treat each other: encouraging, assisting, sharing their talents, lifting up those less skilled, etc., all become life lessons of how society will behave in the not-too-distant future.

Few young men and women will leave the ballfields of this season and go on to play in Little League World Series, earn college scholarships or make it to the professional level. But all will leave to go on to lead everyday lives as a part of humankind. Their lives will require them to take risks and go deep in the outfield for the big play; not always coming up with the ball. They will sometimes hit home runs on the way to their destiny but will strike out equally often, if not more. Life will deliver lots of bad calls, foul balls and opponents who grease their bat and cheat to win. How are they being prepped today for those situations?

Make sure the education they are getting on the ballfield prepares them for how to handle life graciously. Ensure they are learning now how to stand up to their fears and be ready for the big play. Give them the passion and hunger for life to ensure that they always have their equipment in good condition and at the ready, so that at any moment they can take the call get in the game to win! Ensure that they don’t encounter every rotten situation with the flailing of arms and the screaming of obscenities; that there are better ways to handle disappointment and the inconsistencies of life that will come.

I love baseball and the opportunities that play brings both on and off the field. Dad always said you could tell the character of a man by how he carried himself on the field. My Dad, he was one heck of a good judge of character!

Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Out!

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I grew up in Red Bud, Illinois. The town drew its name from the wealth of Red Bud trees (cercis canadensis) that populate the region. When it is Springtime, there is nothing better to herald the arrival of the end of the bitter ravages of winter than that first burst of purple that signals the blossoming of the Red Bud trees. Before you know it, everywhere you look, the world is a contrast of eye-popping magenta and a thousand shades of brilliant greens; the world is waking up from a long, cold winter and the belle of the ball is the Red Bud tree.

Growing up with these gorgeous trees all around me, I’ve always taken them for granted. But now that I live in Virginia, they are not as plentiful and I am not even certain that the variety of Red Bud tree that I see here is the same Eastern Red Bud tree varietal that I am accustomed to. But this I do know: I still get a little swell in my heart when I drive past a stand of trees and see that brilliant splash of color on Mother Nature’s otherwise gray and dreary canvas.

I don’t know if it is because Red Bud trees put on their majestic exhibit in April, when those “April Showers” are most likely to also be at their peak, but I find that their color seems to intensify against the darkness that comes with the gray skies of springtime rains. The gloomier the skies get, the more brilliant those blooms become. Perhaps just a study in contrast, but one I definitely do not want to miss the lesson on!

I love the heritage of my hometown. A business trip next month to the area allows me to sneak home for a day or two and I can hardly wait – it has been too long since I’ve made a visit. I’ll unfortunately miss the breathtaking beauty of the city streets lined up and down with their decades-old Red Bud trees in full-bloom – it truly is a sight to behold. But I haven’t lost the image in my heart that matters:  be the Red Bud tree in the otherwise colorless bloom of the day.

Don’t ever be afraid to stand out! We’ve all be given unique talents and skills that give us the entre to a world of opportunity and experience. But we have to be willing to put those God-given talents to use and allow ourselves our moment to shine! Be the splash of color on that gray canvas: the world awaits your masterpiece called an Outrageously Wonderful Life!

Winning Your Iron Dog Moment

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2,031 miles in seven days. From Big Lake to Fairbanks, and 26 checkpoints in between, 39 Pro Class teams are currently racing across Alaska to win the famed Iron Dog Race. It is the world’s longest snowmobile race, requiring participants to test their mettle against some of Alaska’s most remote and rugged terrain, while at the same time confronting some of the harshest winter weather conditions. It is a test of survival skills, teamwork and preparation.

Amazingly, no one has ever died in this extreme test of sportsmanship. Despite extreme conditions, terrain and speed, not a single racer in many years of the race has lost their life. Why? Because true athletes are prepared for the competition. They practice and prepare, physically and mentally.

The racers spend months making sure that their snow machines are in the equivalent of mechanical perfection, investing countless hours and thousands of dollars in research, equipment and training to be prepared for any surprise they may encounter along the course. Breakdowns are costly and minutes lost on the course are the difference between winning and losing.

They hone their mental strength and teamwork skills, making sure they can withstand the daily hours spent in the bitter cold on the course, fighting cold, wind and terrain as a team. They know each others’ strengths and weaknesses and are prepared to motivate and encourage each other throughout the course.

They have prepared their gear, with the proper hydration, insulation and tools and the camping gear they are required to pack throughout the race. For they know that they will face extreme conditions throughout the course and must be prepared for survival in the harshest of conditions. Keeping drinking water from freezing, battling wind chills in the subzero triple digit range or chipping morning snow out of the cavity of your snow machine engine are daily battles.

Despite the challenges of such a race, these extreme athletes persevere. They train, battle and push themselves to the limit to compete in this annual race. While their course is different, they are not unlike you or I. Their chosen field of battle is simply run on a different course.

Today is your day, too, to compete and win. Is your equipment tuned and in peak condition for your day? Are you mentally in the best possible form you can be in? Have you done all you can to make sure your team is aligned and ready to work with you, motivate each other and play, successfully, off of each others’ strengths and weaknesses? Do you have the gear you need ready for the unexpected that may come your way? That’s what it takes to be a winner…and that’s how you win the race.

You might not find me today racing from Kaltag to Unalakleet on the back of an Artic Cat, but you can be darn sure I am out on my own Iron Dog today and ready to hit my next checkpoint…prepared to be in first position!