Saturday, May 27, 2006

Memorial Day

Officially Memorial Day is to remember and honor those who have fought to preserve this country, the United States. The best military men and women have acted with great courage and honor. Many have given their lives.

I’d like to talk today about the example that the best of these men and women have set. Honor. Courage. Doing the right thing even when it’s scary or hard. Doing what has to be done even when you’re so tired you just want to give up.

Most of us will never go into battle and that’s a good thing. Most of us wish for a world without any war. We won’t win medals. They won’t erect statues to us for what we do.

That doesn’t mean what we do doesn’t matter. Each of us has a choice, every day, in how we live our lives. Each of us every day can choose to act with honor and courage and do the right thing—even when it’s hard. Not because someone will give us a medal if we do but because each time we make these kinds of choices, we help to create a better world.

I truly believe in the ripple effect. Everything we do impacts not only those with whom we interact directly but everyone those people interact with on a daily basis. We help to create the world we live in by the choices we make.

When we act with honor and courage, we may inspire others to do so as well. When we act and speak with kindness and compassion, we encourage others to treat those they encounter with kindness and compassion.

If you find it hard to believe that what you do matters, take a day and all day, no matter what the other person does, no matter how you feel, speak and act with kindness toward everyone you meet. Smile even before you know if the other person will smile back. Look for the best in the other person and connect with that. Do what’s right, even if it’s hard. Then watch how the world around you reacts. Some people will be suspicious because this isn’t what they are used to encountering. Odds are, though, that you will find your own day going more smoothly. Odds are you will find other people smiling at YOU. And though you may never know it, odds are that your kindness will have an impact on people you will never see or hear about.

I had an example of this just the other day. It was the last class of my Build a Novel course. People were talking after class and one woman commented that not only had my class impacted her writing but it has changed the way she interacts with her child. If she hadn’t spoken up, I would never have known that what I said and did in class had an impact on a child I don’t even know.

Most of us will never wear a uniform, never go into battle but each of us, every day, can work to bring about a better world—for ourselves and for our children and grandchildren. Each of us can help to preserve the best of our culture and society. WE can live up to the ideals of seeing each man and woman and child as created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We can, by our example, help to create and preserve a society in which people act with decency and compassion and kindness and courage and honor.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Believe in Yourself

Every time I coach, every time I teach, every time I write, I am reminded how important it is—and sometimes how hard—for us to believe in ourselves.

It matters to everyone, but perhaps profoundly so to writers because we often spend months or sometimes years working on projects, not knowing if anyone will like them or not. Even if we sell our manuscripts to an editor, there’s no guarantee that readers will buy our books. It’s hard sometimes to hold onto faith in ourselves—especially if we were not raised to believe in ourselves. That’s why I talk about it so much in my workshops.

Exercise: Make a list of every success you have ever had in your life—big or small, writing or non-writing. Keep that list handy and add to it with every new success. And when you hit days where you wonder if you can cope with some challenge life—or the writing—has handed you, pull out that list and remind yourself that you do have the skills to do so.

I do believe that within each of us is the ability to face whatever challenge life faces us. I also believe that when we can hold onto that faith in ourselves, we are more likely to succeed simply because the brain functions better, more efficiently when we are calmer and not afraid. Believing in yourself is a powerful thing.

By the same token, believing in someone else and helping that person to believe in him or herself is a powerful and wonderful gift you can give. Think about it. Odds are the people you remember most vividly (in a positive way), the people you would do anything for, are people who believed in you when you needed it most.

Create that list of your successes for yourself. When you are faced with self-doubt, pull out that list and use it to help remind you why you can and should believe in yourself. Let others know, too, when you believe in them. You never know when it could change someone’s life because at the right moment you said what they needed to hear.

Wishing you all a wonderful week,

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day

For all the mothers out there—Happy Mother’s Day! I know the work and love and sacrifices that go into being a mother.

This post today is for all those who find this a difficult day. Maybe you’ve lost your mother recently. Maybe you are a mother and you’ve lost a child or your children are far away. Maybe you wish you were a mother and aren’t. Maybe you find yourself second guessing things you did as a mother or things your mother did for/to you—or both. Maybe the people you most hoped would value what you do as a mother don't.

There are lots of reasons this can be a difficult day for many people. And if it is for you, as I find it is today for me, then maybe it will help a little to know you’re not alone.

Motherhood is tough. Children are 24/7 and there is no perfect set of rules on how to raise them. Nor is there any guarantee on how they will turn out, no matter how hard you try to love them. Some mothers succeed spectacularly and some fail spectacularly and each leaves a lasting legacy in the souls of their children—though not always the legacy they hoped to leave.

Growing up is about coming to terms with your parents and learning who you are distinct from them. It’s about learning to fly though sometimes you have to escape the nest and sometimes you get shoved out a little too soon. If you’re lucky, you get just the right amount of time in the nest and then all the love and encouragement you need to fly. If you’re a mother, the challenge is in knowing just when to let go.

If this is a happy, wonderful Mother’s Day for you I’m glad. That’s how it should be. Enjoy the day and time with your mother or being honored for being a mother.

If this isn’t a happy Mother’s Day for you, be gentle with yourself and know that you’re not the only one who may find it hard to celebrate Mother’s Day today.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Fire Ants, Hail, Strong Winds...

Do you ever have those days when you wonder what’s going to go wrong next? I mean, I love my house. I love the Austin area. I especially like the people here. And a lot is going right in my life now. I’m teaching a writing class that’s going really well and working on a manuscript and even doing a some (very) short term work for the census bureau right now.

But there are those days...

--I wake up and discover yet another fire ant mound in my yard and that an old one is coming back.
--I hear that a roof can be totaled and look just fine and it’s happened to EVERY HOUSE a few streets over from mine and now I'm wondering about mine--especially since a roofer left fliers on every door on MY street.
--The back gate I couldn’t afford to get fixed before now hangs by a thread and every time we have another thunderstorm with hail and high winds I worry I’m going to wake up and find it’s now in the middle of the street.
--I wonder if I can afford to keep paying a lawn service so I get a mower and discover halfway through mowing the front that I just can’t do this any more—especially not in the heat (plus hitting two fire ant mounds doesn’t help...).

It’s days like those that make me want to crawl back under the covers and just not get up for, oh, say a month! Mind you, I know that in the scheme of things none of this is really serious. I know there have been times in my life I’ve faced much greater challenges, so what’s the big deal? But hey, on some level I’m a wuss. A bunch of little things can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Why am I sharing this here? Because I figure that at least a few of you occasionally have your equivalent days, right? I figure that it might help to share some of what works for me when I have days like that. (Because, hey, I know from experience that crawling back under the covers does NOT solve anything, darn it!)

First thing is to reduce or get rid of the sense of panic that things are going to spin out of control and I’m not going to be able to handle them. Those of you who have been reading here awhile know that I encourage my coaching clients to make lists of all their successes, of everything they have managed to do right in the past. It’s days like this such a list matters because I can look at my list and remind myself that I have coped with challenges in the past and succeeded. I can do this.

Deep breathing helps, too. Especially if I pair that deep breathing with an image of a cool and quiet and SAFE place so that I can feel my body relaxing. And as I relax, my brain begins to function more efficiently. Which means that the odds go up that I will be able to figure out a solution to my problems/challenges.

I remind myself that I don’t have to handle everything at once, RIGHT NOW! I can choose one issue and focus on that or I can take small steps toward addressing each challenge and as I see a clear path, act on it.

I can picture it as part of a scene in a book. What would my character do? What would I want my character to do?

Life always throws challenges at us. We can’t control that. What we can do, each of us, is to figure out the strategy that works best for us. We can make the lists of past successes so that when we have moments of self-doubt, we can pull it out and remind ourselves that we have the ability to succeed. We can take the few minutes to do deep breathing and calm any sense of panic so that our brains can work better. We can take one step at a time knowing that eventually it will all be dealt with in the best way that we can. And when we do succeed in solving a problem, we can celebrate—celebrate that we were able to resolve it and then ADD IT TO OUR LIST OF SUCCESSES. That way, when the next challenge occurs, it’s one more bit of proof that yes, we CAN cope with whatever latest practical joke the universe plays on us.

Wishing you a better week than mine....


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Writing and Life—People

For those of us who are writers, writing and life are intertwined. What we write can affect how we perceive the world around us and the world around us affects what we write. I was struck this week, as I dealt with some issues in real life, that it can be an advantage being a writer.

If we are writers, we are used to putting ourselves in our characters minds and hearts. We are used to looking at issues and situations from viewpoints other than our own. This is a useful skill in real life as well. If we can look at difficult people we must deal with and put ourselves in their shoes, we are likely to be able to find solutions to problems. We are likely to be able to speak to them in ways they will hear and we are likely to actually hear clearly what they are saying to us.

If we must negotiate, the optimal strategy is ALWAYS one that is win-win. If we can use our skills as writers to figure out the other person’s bottom line and find a way to meet it and meet our own at the same time, we are not only more likely to get an agreement, it is more likely to be an agreement that all parties will abide by.

If we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, the way we put ourselves in the minds and hearts of our characters, we are less likely to find ourselves trapped in anger and hurt and other negative emotions that hurt us. We are more likely to be able to hold onto whatever was good about the relationship—or perhaps even evoke good from someone not usually known for kindness or consideration or other behaviors we value.

If someone has hurt us in the past and we can use our skills as writers to understand why, we can realize how we might wish to change our words and actions or realize that these things would have happened no matter who we were or what we did. And we are less likely to carry the hurt so deeply through the rest of our lives. We are more likely to be able to let it go.

If we want to persuade someone to see an issue from our point of view, then our best option is to use our skills to see first what the other person’s hopes and fears are and how they see the issue. If we treat the other person’s beliefs and feelings with respect, they are more likely to listen to ours with respect. If we can address their fears and hopes in what we say and still support our own position by doing so, that’s when we are most likely to be able to convince someone that we might be right.

None of this means we must give up who we are or adopt the other person’s positions or beliefs as our own just because we understand how they think or feel! We can still listen to and value our own instincts and knowledge. And sometimes that is hard for us to do if we find it too easy to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. I know this was a mistake I made during my marriage—to assume that he was more likely to be right about things than I was, especially because he was always surer that he was right.

So if you are a writer (and even if you’re not), look around at difficult situations and people and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. See how you can use that to create win-win solutions—and that includes a winning solution for YOU as well as for the other person.