Imagine the other side

other-side-2

Sometimes I look back through my social media posts to see what they tell me about where my heart and mind have been the last few months.

It looks like lately, I’ve mentioned – a lot – the longer days, starting with Dec. 22, the day after winter solstice. I used not to care a lot about winter (or summer) solstice – the shortest and longest days of the year, respectively.

These days, I care a whole lot about them. I guess it’s because they have everything to do with getting to the other side: the other side of winter, short days, cold. Or, the other side of tennis season – a break for my body and muscles, a time to slow down with the seasons.

I won’t lie – I love winter solstice most. Because on the other side of that is spring, summer, my garden, new life, fresh perspective for a new year.

Missing the other side

There was a time, for about five years, when I spent a lot of time on airplanes, trying to get to the other side of the world and back again.

Most of those trips lasted 10-15 days each. A few were longer. One thing I learned then was this mind-blowing fact about myself: I’m a home body. I love to be home.

Good thing my name comes from Latin “nido,” meaning “nest.” Because I took my nest with me wherever I went, settling into my aisle seats with music, pillow, book, travel wallet, journal and favorite writing pens.

I would set up for the long haul – literally – and miss home every minute I was away. Never mind the wonderful relationships on the outbound side. Nothing ever can replace those. I just like to be home, that’s all.

Envision the other side

So I had to devise a strategy for keeping myself “up” for the duration of each trip, whether I was there for training, story-gathering, meetings or whatever. I prayed for health and strength and presence for what I went there to do.

What I came up with was this very simple formula: Imagine myself on the other side of my trip. Imagine what I’d do when I first got home, besides eat a cheeseburger. That didn’t count. Enjoy friendships, spend time with my hubby, get groceries, talk to my mom every day. Simple things.

So on every trip, each day I would tell myself: In 9 days, I’ll be home in my own bed, or In 3 days, I head back on the midnight flight.

Knowing I was working in my strengths – bringing clarity to issues around children in poverty and equipping others for the same – gave me assurance I was in the right place at the right time. That helped a lot.

But when I missed home, I just imagined myself back with my family, and that peace carried me from that moment all the way through the rest of the trip.

That was how I got to the other side: by imagining it.

The forest or the trees?

Forest or the trees?

Good days are like that.

They can start out feeling like you can’t see the forest for the trees, and then – all of a sudden, the path is straight. Before long, you’re in a clearing and, while the destination is a long way off, with new clarity, you know exactly where you’re going.

Just keep your head down and keep paddling. You’ll get there.

Writing about what hurts

Writing about what hurtsI recently reloaded content from a very old, long-running blog and just finished scanning it to see the type of stuff I wrote about. This is what I learned:

  1. I wrote some pretty good headlines back then.
  2. My topics were all over the place, like a journal.
  3. I never, ever wrote about my work.

That last one kind of stings.

Considering that time in my life changed my life completely, I sure managed to suppress how much poverty had taught me – how much I’d learned, how much I had let go of.

Still, in the words of Heather B. Armstrong, one of the first professional bloggers to monetize her blog before monetizing was cool:

“BE YE NOT SO STUPID. Never write about work on the internet unless your boss knows and sanctions that YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT WORK ON THE INTERNET.”

So I journaled (privately) a lot about work. I’m sure many people do. Maybe it’s what keeps us from breaking the law.

Anyway, I also had long hauls of multi-hour flights, with plenty of time to write about everything from:

  • eating in-flight, off-hours meals with my arms practically crossed (thank you, United);
  • miraculously getting from Jakarta to Singapore with absolutely no itinerary (I later learned); and
  • my “lost,” luggage somehow following me from Entebbe, Uganda, to London Heathrow with absolutely no tags on it.

That was the light stuff.

In fact, what I’d never blogged about is what weighed (then and now) heavily on my heart. It’s also the third – and so far, missing – leg on this blog’s intended three-legged stool: culture, communications and cause.

I’m not sure exactly how the topic of cause – of poverty – will unfold, but it’s feeling more and more like it’s time to let it happen. I’m praying for the courage to go there next.

30 days and going strong

waze iconsI’m a huge fan of Waze. For my commute to Denver for work a couple of years ago, I relied on this traffic app to know when I needed to take an alternate route, when a cop was in the area or when it was going to be an extra-long drive home.

I still use it for local driving, because it’s great not just for telling you where you’re going but when you can expect to arrive. Of course, it first has to understand where you are now.

Thankfully, when it comes to blogging, I don’t need Waze to tell me where I am now. After 30 days straight of shipping, I have a pretty good idea.

Now, I’m excited about where I go from here.

Lessons learned

After 30 days of blogging, I discovered I can do it. I can blog regularly and reliably. Some days, it’s meaningful. Other days, I don’t feel like shipping at all. But I know now I can push over those hurdles. That stopped me many times before.

I’ve also discovered I have something (lots, actually) to say. And I’m discovering new things to learn and share. Not necessarily out of my initial scope for my blog, but different angles than I expected.

I am HERE

For the record, here’s where I am on my little journey now:

  • Completing a demanding commitment through #YourTurnChallenge (I did it!)
  • Inspired to keep going and keep learning
  • Freed up – liberated – to move forward
Where to go from here

From here, while I’m not exactly certain where my blog will end up, I am excited about the journey. It will probably be someplace I’ve never even imagined for myself.

Encouraged by a wonderful group of companions* on this journey, I am gaining confidence daily through what I learn from and through them. I love that part.

Going forward, I want to go deeper. That may mean blogging less frequently so I can plan content with greater precision. Maybe it means punctuating more thought-out content with abbreviated posts.

But my big Aha! is that, while there are many professional blogs out there designed, down to a science, to monetize content, for once I don’t feel I have to be among them.

And now, moving on.

* Estelle, Ann, Steve, Nancy, Mona and Gwen, to name a few

The give-and-take of creative critique

diver is midair, headed for lake water with companions in background

Asking for others’ critique could just be the thing that sets your work free. (Good thing, it goes both ways.)

I used to hate having my work critiqued. It made me itchy.

Over the years, I’ve learned to love it. In fact, I’m usually much more proud of my work as a result of others’ critique.

A little backstory: I lost my job in 2012 and it took a year to get back into the workplace. Yet another year later, I was job hunting again. Since the freelance and consulting work found me, I decided it was probably what I should be doing.

But one thing I’ve missed about the workplace is being with people. I’m an ENTP (read: extrovert who likes to start stuff), I love being, working with and learning from others. That includes critique of my work.

Because un-critiqued work is almost never the best possible work.

In my view, it’s work that no one really cares about. I get it that people are busy and may not have extra bandwidth, but getting someone’s input on your work is critical, not only to quality but to buy-in, especially if your work proposes changes that affect others. Socializing ideas is always easier when others have seen the preliminary work and have an opportunity to contribute their thoughts.

The fear of feedback

It’s understandable to fear critique like the plague, since it can feel like a personal jab to something that’s a part of you…like kicking your dog or something. Consider instead that you can get a lot of satisfaction knowing the core idea is yours. Others will just help you polish it up a bit.

In the end, critique is about collaboration. If you’re a believer that “together we’re better,” it’s a lot easier to swallow.

When giving or receiving critique on creative work, try the following:

Take a dispassionate approach to the critique.

  • Don’t take things personally.
  • Take your emotions out of the equation and consider, “If this were someone else’s work, might I have asked similar questions?”
  • Consider the role – rather than the personality – behind the critic’s feedback. What bases or interests are they trying to cover or represent? Does it help more to include it than it would hurt to leave it out?

Take every piece of feedback and put it into a checklist.

  • This isn’t so much so that every single suggested change is made, but so you can see the range and scope of changes and how they can impact your end product. Maybe there’s a pattern in that feedback that begs your attention.
  • Do the suggested changes make sense individually? Do they stand on their own?
  • More importantly, would the feedback make sense if it were all applied?

Consider the end user.

  • Will they understand the work as is? What questions are they likely to have, with or without the applied feedback?
  • Does the input provide more answers than questions? If No, there’s more work to do.

Give others the benefit of the doubt.

  • It’s true, there’s a kook in nearly every bunch who wants to throw you under the bus. Ignore them. But don’t necessarily toss out their feedback. If you’re on the same page regarding end-product quality, it’s worth considering others’ insights before assuming they’d just rather see us burn in hell.

Ultimately, it’s your work and, at the end of the day, the feedback is yours to take or leave.

But there’s one more question that if you ask nothing else, you must ask, it’s this:

Will this input make the end product better? This is the most liberating question of all, because it forces us to let go of “ownership,” releasing our work into a larger community.

  • No? Nix it.
  • If Yes, the rest should be a piece of cake.

Now, go make some great stuff!

Do you and your team complement each other?

I confess, I’m an assessment freak.

I like to know “how I’m doing” and where I stand – sometimes on my own, other times as I compare to others. I just like to learn more about how I’m wired so I can be better in whatever I do.

Also of interest to me is finding out what makes other people tick and how they’re wired. Most of the time, I like to sit and listen to them and hear them talk from the heart. You learn a lot when you let other people tell their story.

But often you just don’t have that kind of time.

Take job interviews, for example. If you’re lucky, you get maybe an hour to get to learn first-hand whether a candidate is compatible with you and/or your team. That’s not a lot of time, especially when you’re covering technical skills and other competencies.

I remember trying to get a read on potential hires during interviews. I’d ask a few Either/Or questions to candidates to get an idea of how they operated and, consequentially, how we might work together. Not that everything about us is either/or, but we typically know what we like or don’t like.

That’s all I wanted to know. So my questions went something like this:

Which is your preference:

  • Fast-paced or slow?
  • Details or big picture?
  • Dreamer or closer?
  • Starting or finishing?

If the candidate and I were wired similarly (fast, big-picture, dreamer, starter), chances were good the combination wouldn’t work as well as it could. We might get along socially, but why have two starters when you could start well and finish well – with a really strong closer? So I typically went for my opposite, or at least more of a complement.

For what it’s worth: In my experience, visionaries or big-picture folks can report to each other pretty peacefully, as can details people. And details people seem to work well when reporting to a big-picture person. Just not vice-versa, for some reason.

What do you think? Have you experienced the same?

One theory I have is that the latter combo can be less-than-ideal due to the vastly different languages visionaries and details people speak. It’s like apples and oranges.

Of course, if you like apples and oranges, I suppose you can always make smoothies.

The morning after

So it’s the morning after (OK, the day after…my morning got away) completing #YourTurnChallenge.

I’m kind of numb, kind of relieved, pretty tired but overall really energized by the experience.

I’ve tried something similar before, and I mentioned NaNoWriMo in a separate post. That’s about cranking out the crap that wants to grow up to be a novel. And I do mean crap. A minimum of 1500 words, every day, for 30 days. Doesn’t have to be good. Just needs to be written.

Wasn’t quite for me, although it did generate the foundation for documenting my family’s history through story. That has been very rewarding. But it mostly stayed in my journal, until now. So yay for that.

Surprisingly, I came closer to hitting NaNoWriMo’s word count during YTC than I could have imagined. Today, I’m keeping it short – mostly because this time feels sacred somehow.

I’m still processing what all of it means in the grand scheme and how I can apply it more professionally, as well as personally.

What I’m really getting my head around is that finding your voice just requires using it. That’s it. Just ship.

Build it so they will come
I have a post coming soon for the professional comms audience: “Build It So They Will Come.” It’s still about the same stuff – using what you know to help others build their knowledge base. We just need to remember, they might not learn it in a way that resonates with them unless we share.

Here’s to the wheels being greased and turning again. Clink! Clink!

What #YourTurnChallenge taught me

This is my #Day7 and final post for #YourTurnChallenge.

It is not, however, my last post. For once, I can finally say that with confidence and believe it.

Writing quote-CarlosFuentes-loresIt seems silly, but in today’s peer-pressured world of social media, it’s hard – even if you have a voice and want to use it – to let it out, for fear of feeling shunned upon sharing. Or of feeling roasted by others who find shelter in crowdsourced opinion.

And I’m one who typically has pretty thick skin.

Anyway, I’m over it. I’m over the fear and over the lurking, as Nick Kellet calls it. I, ladies and gentlemen, am going in.

The big surprise
I have always been a big cheerleader of others following their dreams. So when I encourage friends or colleagues who are afraid to try something new or ask for something, my line is: “It won’t kill you. What’s the worst that can happen – someone tells you ‘No’? or you have to try again?” Pffff!

It’s not clear yet what my posting schedule will be, but I am going to go for 30 days straight like another YTC challenger suggested and find my rhythm that way. I’m just excited to blog again and to my new commitment to just ship. In fact, this commitment means more than I ever expected it could.

The big lesson
What used to feel like urgency and pressure – in a negative kind of way – now feels like total liberation and a burning desire to say my piece. I hope more people do it, because it’s really not that hard. The hardest part is getting over ourselves and what we think others might think of us — assuming it’s negative. How often do we consider the opposite could be true?

So now, when I have something to share or say, I’m going to say it. It will be partly for me, but the way I’m wired – I really hope it will be for you, too.

#YourTurnChallenge has definitely made the last seven days a challenge. It’s been hard to ship during a really busy time. And if I – no, if we – can take on a challenge like this at the “worst possible time,” we can do it at our best possible times, right?

Mad props
None of this would have been possible, of course, unless Winnie had failed first and been so transparent about it — rounding all of us up to commit together to shipping.

So thank you, Winnie, Seth, the post approvals team and so many others for building and supporting a community with a powerful, new purpose — finding our voices and making them heard.

It’s been such a great week. I look forward to seeing many more of you on the trail.

Mind mapping your way to clarity

Welcome to my #Day6 post for the #YourTurnChallenge.

You’ve got a Big Idea. Maybe it’s for a new business or product. Perhaps a response to a disaster half a world away. Or, it could be an update to your resume.

Whatever it is, you’ve got to figure out how to get it out of your head and into some kind of document. It needs to make sense.

Who knows? You may need to show it to someone at some point, either for approval to get the budget for it, or a recruiter if you’re job hunting. Eventually, it’ll need to make sense to someone else.

Only, how do you get started? Where do you start? Sometimes there’s a clear beginning, but in most cases, there isn’t. It’s just an idea that needs clarity.

How I get clarity on a new idea – fast
When I have a complex idea I need to make sense of, I start with a mind map. It’s like white boarding but on your computer. Or slapping up a whole mess of Post-Its on a wall, only for them to get unsettled and lose their sticky identity.

Unlike most white boards and Post-It-based brainstorming, a mind map is easy to share, edit and collaborate on over and over again, even as the Big Idea matures and evolves.

what-mind-mapping-looks-like

This map was a brainstorm after a job layoff. I wasn’t quite at the point of taking a “skills inventory” yet, but I did know a few things I wanted in my life going forward.

How to get started mind mapping
I can’t live without mind mapping when I have a new idea, something to build or organize. It’s where I dump all related information, in no particular order. Just slap it up there, like this.

Let’s say you have a new product to brainstorm:

  • How did you come up with the idea – what’s the rationale for it?
  • What problem does it solve?
  • What does the competitive landscape look like?
  • What do its users look like? How do they interact with media?
  • What might its go-to-market strategy look like?
  • Etc.

You get the gist. The ideas are related, but their relationships may not be simple or linear.

Still, you might not know that until you lay them out next to each other, fleshing them out more fully. In fact, only once you’ve done that are you likely to see new relationships you may not have considered before.

Turning ideas ’round and ’round
One of the best parts of mind-mapping is turning your idea on its side, its back or completely turning it upside down. It forces you to look at in different ways. Most mind mapping tools let you move around the chunks of text, regroup them, whatever.

When you do this, I believe chances go way up that an even better idea will come out of this experience, because the rearrangement of your thoughts only challenges your initial thinking. It’s worth the time to play with your information and see what it looks like when you move it around.

By the way, I’ve had more than a few “aha” moments this way. But one thing you really learn: How much work or resources your Big Idea requires.

For example, one content development project I worked on required mapping out web pages and related copy needs for the project. Once we mapped it out, it was clear the job was bigger than I’d thought. Good to know ahead of time, right?

For the product launch example above, it might be the timing is such that certain key questions can’t be answered yet. Maybe the product isn’t ready for development under current conditions.

Mind mapping tools for budgets big, small or none at all
There are a bunch of tools out there – many of which I’ve tried at one point or another – that will help you document your Big Idea and put all its parts and pieces in order. Or reorder.

That’s the beauty of mind mapping – how much you want it to stretch your thinking is entirely up to you.

Here are some fairly current lists of mind-mapping tools – one general, the other with a design focus. I hope they help you find clarity as you pursue your own big ideas.