Need to get something done? Visualize it that way.

The outdoor tennis season is finally upon us, and I’m anticipating my competitive season. For the record, the word “competitive” is relative. I still pay to play, unlike pros such as Spain’s Rafael Nadal, Japan’s Kei Nishikori, Simona Halep of Romania and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

I’ve been warming up indoors, and now outdoors, the last several weeks – drilling and just hitting with other players.

Embed from Getty Images

I find myself practicing as much in my head as on the court, envisioning points in singles or doubles – mostly singles, since the match is all on me.

  • Will I be able to negotiate the court with good footwork?
  • Will my serve hold up and be a reliable tool?
  • Are my knees up to all the running, stopping and pivoting?
  • What about my down-the-line forehand – can I get it around a player who’s 6″ taller than me and has the wing span of a 747?

In my head, I can.

And that’s what really matters. Regardless what the activity is – a tennis match, presentation, project or learning a new skill: when it’s showtime, having visualized it is half the work. If I’m going to try it at all, I need to be able to see it in my mind.

By then, enough of me will be convinced that it can be done, and that I am the one who can do it.

The rest – it’s just execution.

Order vs. Chaos

Which side are you on?

Several Circles, 1926. Wassily Kandinsky.

It has been one of those weeks when life often felt like the other side of this Kandinsky – the one representing chaos.

And just like that – after time with friends, family and a little physical outlet – clarity kicked in.

I believe God puts people wiser than me in my life for a reason – to help me find answers to my questions or even ask the right (read: hard) questions of me, and to remind me who I am. Realizing that is clarity in itself.

Not that I know a lot about Kandinsky, but this work has fascinated me ever since seeing this scene from Six Degrees of Separation, one of Will Smith’s first films and still one of my favorites.

Ms. Peterson and writing for mobile

Journal being written in by a hand holding a pen

Photo by ynsle @ sxc.hu

A project I worked on recently re-taught me something I learned way back in high school English – but only because I’d gotten a big, fat, red “F” on a term paper.

At the time, I was crushed.

How could it be that, after spending time reviewing my draft with me, my teacher, Ms. Peterson – who’d even told me she’d not seen some of the perspective I’d presented on that classic work – still gave me an “F”?

Ms. Peterson: Nydia, I couldn’t even read it. It was all in one paragraph.
Little, naïve me: So what’s the problem?
Ms. Pete: You can’t write a paper all in one paragraph. Every new idea starts a new paragraph. Give it back to me that way tomorrow and I’ll change your grade.

Ever had that Why-didn’t-anyone-ever-tell-me-that-before feeling? Yeah, that one.

One idea, one paragraph – or less?
These days, the one-idea-per-paragraph rule applies more than ever. With more people accessing the web via mobile, most ideas need to be broken down, sometimes to one sentence per paragraph. (I don’t do it often, but it can be helpful, especially in longer-form pieces.)

After all, what fits on a web page doesn’t necessarily look as good on the screen of a handheld device.

Chop, chop
It feels choppy to write like this sometimes, but when I look it over on my phone, for example, I know that if someone can finish a paragraph there, they’ve completed a thought. That means they’re more likely to finish the article.

So if you’ve gotten this far, thank you. Clearly, Ms. Pete gets at least partial credit for it.

In an Instant

Underwater

Photo by neil2580 @ sxc.hu

Tonight we watched a new ABC show called “In an Instant,” a series of mini-“documentaries” about how people’s lives have been changed in the blink of an eye, usually by adversity.

It brought to mind two important things:

  • How important cherishing family is, regardless of time, distance, estrangement, whatever. Much easier said than done. But the bottom line is, I have one shot – and only one – to give them my best, so I’d better make it good.
  • I need to take what has happened in my life, own my response to it and come out of it newly equipped and empowered to make the most of it. A reminder to let the waves carry me, rather than crash into me.

Avoid the drama. Just say no

You’ve probably been there – getting sucked into drama that has nothing to do with you. It’s no secret it can be toxic. There’s just one way to handle it: Don’t.

And this might help: Pin this up on your wall, click your heels a few times and repeat after me this old Polish saying:

Not my circus, not my monkeys

Printable by Vanessa Brady, Tried and True

Stuck – for now

stuck

Photo by halocyn

Check?

I’m in a near headlock over my great-grandfather. While we’ve known for 20+ years that he might have come to our family from another, it wasn’t until recently that I started to get warmer on which family that might be.

Until my lead went dead-cold.

Well, not 100% cold. Just a bit sideways on some important stuff. The info I found meant that my great-grandpa necessarily:

  • Was 12-15 years younger than all records found to date show;
  • (Ok, probably) Lied about his age to marry a 17-year-old (if my now-cold lead was right, he’d have been 35 on his wedding day, even though his marriage record says he was 20);
  • Somehow was transported from Mexico’s interior (almost from Mexico City) to the northeast state of Coahuila, near Texas, within 8 days of his birth.

Then, last night, I realized that, if his death certificate is correct, he also would have been 104 years old when he died (1950). Most people weren’t living that long back then.

So I started over today on the search of his birth/christening records. Lo and behold, I found this:

I think I've found my great-grandfather Braulio - or have I?

UPDATE Dec 2015: This is the name of a female. Braulia gets ruled out. //  This christening record looks like a closer match of my great-grandfather. At left is the name of the baby being baptized; names circled at right are the parents. But are they my relatives? I have not a clue. Nada. Source: Mexico, Coahuila, Catholic Church Records 1627-1978; FamilySearch.org

It matches, almost to the day, nearly every birthdate reference I have seen for my great-grandfather to-date. Without the proper documentation, I’d been unable to validate it.

The only thing is, this Braulio was born to another family entirely. I haven’t delved further, but so far it doesn’t appear to be extended family. Maybe I’ll learn otherwise soon.

All I can say is, this puzzle piece fits better than the last. I think that’s good…right?

So maybe it’s “check” for the moment, but I’m too stubborn and persistent to ever let it get to “check-mate.”

The multiple meanings of ‘Feast or Famine’

Orange tree whose fruite is ready to harvest - looks like feast

Photo by Brian Jimenez, Unsplash

Most freelancers are well aware that, when it comes to getting work, it’s a feast-or-famine game.

When I lost my job a few years ago, it took me a long time to realize that rest is no different. If it were, we wouldn’t put so much work into planning vacations. I mean, we have to plan to rest.

Thank God for my mom who knows me better than anyone, because I’m not sure I could have taken this wise counsel from anyone else the way I did from her.

Basically, she told me this: Enjoy this time as rest. You may never have this opportunity again.

That resonated in a way I wasn’t expecting. She was telling me to go out more, rekindle old friendships, enjoy a few coffee shops, play more tennis – all things I could never do that readily before.

As it turns out, I did in fact have that “rest” opportunity again.

Once again, it took awhile to figure out that, while it didn’t feel like rest at first, this season might be short-lived. So I’d better make the most of it.

And it’s when “feast or famine” took on a whole new meaning.

Hunger is hunger, wherever you are

Yesterday I attended a wonderful fundraiser for Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. I call them the food bank to the food banks across much of our state.

In an exceptional move in 2012, Care and Share arranged direct distribution of food to families affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire. I was unemployed at the time and volunteered with them over several months following the fire to organize food distribution to hundreds of families and local food banks .

The heat was unprecedented that summer — nearly 2 weeks of 100+ temperatures strung together, punctuated only by the frighteningly persistent sound of fire trucks, up and down the Front Range.

Everything was brittle. Temperatures, foliage, patience, tempers. So many had lost so much.

care-and-shareIt was during this season I gained a whole new respect for Care and Share’s work, their work ethic and their vision for tackling hunger in Colorado. This focused food distribution was one of the most compassionate things I’d seen done in a major, local crisis.

It’s not uncommon with major disasters like typhoons or earthquakes to gather goods of all kinds to distribute, but I’d never seen anything like this  on a local level. What vision and leadership.

It truly gave affected families one less thing to worry about and one less encounter each week that would require them to explain “how they were doing” after they’d just lost everything.

Fast forward
At yesterday’s luncheon, we heard stories from individuals who’d benefited from Care and Share’s extensive services to food banks around our state:

  • One young mom who’d quit her job to get a college education so she could make a better future for her family. In the process, she found herself and her family in need of basic food and nutrition;
  • One poet who, though she didn’t “look the part” of the person suffering from hunger, she went through college married, with a family, and without food at least a couple of days a week; and
  • A very successful, young businesswoman, who had grown up “off the grid” in Colorado and – very long story, short – ended up getting many meals from dumpsters.

While the last story was the most dramatic of the three, hearing all their accounts reminded me of one thing:

Hunger is hunger, wherever you are.

When you’re hungry, you can’t focus on the task at hand. If you’re in school, it’s hard to learn when your body is focused on its most basic needs – not to mention your brain doesn’t fire on all cylinders without the proper fuel.

If you’re trying to work a job but can’t make ends meet enough to put food on the table, chances are good you’re missing things at work and you aren’t able to perform at your best.

When you suffer from food insecurity, the odds are stacked wildly against you and your dreams.

Third-world vs. First-world hunger?
I’ve witnessed first-hand hunger in circumstances of extreme poverty, where people have next to nothing and food is yet another thing they lack, among other essentials like clean water or access to medical care. Sadly, hunger usually comes with the territory.

But looking at someone who may be hungry and knowing I might see right through them because they look or act just like me is a much tougher concept to grasp. It takes attention and focus.

My lesson: More often these days, it is hard to know that people around us may need food, shelter or even a job. My hope is that we will respect our common bond of humanity enough to be sensitive to each others’ needs. Today I needed this reminder.

Process is never the goal

Process is a means to an end, the Yellow Brick Road on the journey to Oz.

Photo by Melissa Bent

I’ve been mistaken for a process person before — more times than I care to count.

And it’s true – I’m good at process. I can be pretty religious about it, actually. My mantra is simple: If your work requires recurring activity, for goodness’ sake, save yourself some gray hairs and make a process for it. It clears the way for creativity and innovation by providing margin to discover without the pressure of producing.

I’ve had to become good at process because for so much of my career, I’ve been faced with widget-making at scale. Translation: Lots of repetition. And, if there’s one thing I hate to waste time on, it’s repetition. There’s a reason for the saying, Work smarter, not harder.

So I put in the time upfront to smooth out a process and get that repetitive stuff out of the way – all to free me (and others) up to do the more strategic stuff – the fun stuff.

The way I look at it, process is the foundation for building something strong and enduring. It’s a means to an end, the Yellow Brick Road on the journey to Oz.

The road, however, shouldn’t be confused with the journey. The road is what we must travel to get from point A to point B. The journey – for all its struggle, getting lost and finding our way again – lies in how we face what we encounter along the way and, ultimately, the end result.

Housekeeping ain’t for wimps

Have you ever gotten so excited to finally clear out the cobwebs, clutter, old emails or the like, only to find out it ain’t all that easy?

empty-boxI suppose this is true of lots of things we want to swiftly clean out of our lives.

Today, I’m in a perpetual arm-wrestle with Gmail and Apple mail as I try to clear out a massively overcrowded inbox (OK, two inboxes). I’ve  hit my limit and want to see it all cleared out.

But it’s just not that simple.

Call it an “ID10T” error or blind ambition, but I’m determined to win this – or, at least act like I won it. That inbox won’t be quite at zero, but it’ll be much, much closer. For me, that’s a “W.”