On the weekend, I was catching up with a bunch of friends who gather occasionally to keep relationships up-to-date. The question around the table was “So what’s new and exciting?” That usually elicits baby news, job changes, latest relationship, and emotional or situational struggles. I was completely engaged in what they were all saying…and then it was my turn.
I had nothing.
After stammering over what I could add, I pretty much just confessed to the mundane nature of my life. Vanilla was the only flavor that came to mind.
On the drive home, clarity prevailed and the largeness of the past year’s events filled my mind’s eye like watching an action film on the big screen. More “new and exciting” than I imagined could happen in a year – a grandson’s birth, a cancer diagnosis, my father’s illness and death were just some of the scenes of the last several months.
Then, right there, in the dark car, I was filled with gratitude that a merciful God filled all of that with His presence. Sometimes I forget to say out loud how incredibly good God is to be in our lives…and to never leave us alone in the hard.
Today’s “new and exciting” is that I am cancer-free right now, that darling baby is the star of his own music video, and acute grief in losing our dad is shifting to savoring memories of all our years together.
There’s more though…
Later in the weekend, I read this enlightening piece written by Benjamin P. Hardy. He interviewed composer and pianist John Burke about how he pushes himself to create.
Burke listed out four strategies that he regularly uses to “elevate” his work.
1. Always Work on Something You’ve Never Done Before
2. Map It All Out From the Beginning
3. Apply More Layers of External Pressure Immediately
4. Put “Creation Time” On Your Daily Schedule
Read Hardy’s piece for the particulars of Burke’s creative habits.
Burke’s approach to work, in general, and creating music, in specific resonated with me for two big reasons. The first, is that I had seen his system for creating in the habits of our composer/guitarist son, Nathan Mills (Beyond the Guitar). The second reason is that I see what the “new and exciting” had done to my own creative habits.
I had settled into a sameness, a smallness, that had become a prolonged recovery time for me. Healing was imperative, but there comes a time when we gather ourselves up and get back into life. The Hebrew King David’s example came sharply to mind – after praying and fasting for his terribly ill son – 2 Samuel 12:18-20 – at the news the child died, David rose up, washed and dressed, worshiped God, and ate.
The “new and exciting” for this Monday is to take John Burke’s strategies to heart. When a person gets her life back after a cancer diagnosis, and recovery is behind her, the best medicine is to get on with life…with a renewed passion and intentionality.
Thank you, Mr. Burke, and Mr. Hardy.
My husband has described this “elevating our work” with the phrase “Shifting to the next gear”. That’s what I want for this next chapter of my work life. I’ve been driving the service roads, and now it’s time to get back out on the highway. To adjust my life to a greater difficulty and higher speed.
Elevating our work requires adjusting our thinking in that direction as well. [See links below.]
Sitting at my desk, I’m sitting very straight with great posture thanks to the corseting effect of jeans that fit me better a few months back. Struggling into those button-top, zippered jeans was one of those New Year wake-up calls. Eating healthier is usually one of my top resolutions, but it didn’t make the list this time…well…yet.
I was going to write how elastic is my friend and then discovered a West Coaster named Aurea has a food blog by that name (Elastic Is My Friend). Then, given my wrestling on this pair of jeans, I’m thinking elastic is more a close acquaintance…not as close as these jeans feel right now, but much preferred over them.
A friend of mine and I talk a lot about language. Words are a great interest of mine, and it’s fascinating how their usage changes over time. Take the word “muffin tops“. In another “once upon a time”, muffin tops (that bulge over the top of our too-tight jeans) was called “love handles”. The latter is a much more affectionate or endearing phrase than the first. Both words are a bit of a tease, as in poking-fun-at-sort-of-thing, but Urban Dictionary gives us women, at least, a break. Its definition calls love handles cute, curvy, etc.
Eating healthier would definitely help me become friends with both elastic and these jeans, which are causing me to breathe more shallowly than is probably healthy right now.
What would help me eat more healthy? Not all the diets out there that are either trendy or costly…just not into all that focus on food.
In the not too distant past, I have turned my eating habits around and made jeans my friend using three actions.
Lay off the sugar. – Everything has sugar in it. Well, almost everything. I’m not into extreme food plans, but just getting sugar out of my diet for a few weeks or months has resulted in weight loss, a change in my appetite, and even my food preferences. Since everything has sugar in it, I’m not talking about everything, but the obvious concentrated sugar foods.
No Fast Food. – When I prepare food, I tend to make healthier food than when I drive-through or pick up something on the run. Not rocket science, but for me, it has to be something I resolve. Just too easy to pull in and pick up a fast lunch or beverage.
Eating Stops at 7:00pm. At some point, I have to determine to “Stop the Madness!” For me, if I exit the kitchen by 7:00pm (not carrying food) and just don’t go back in there…my habits and cravings will change. They have before…they can again.
So mid-way through January, in a pair of jeans I can still fit in…I’m resolved to begin moving in this direction. Not the strongest resolve I’ve had going into a new year, but stronger than I had this morning.
Elastic…aaaaaahhh. Looking forward to peeling out of these jeans and putting on my pajamas later…AND closing the door on the kitchen at 7:00pm.
I’m thinking there could be some sort of conspiracy in the fitness clothing industry how it’s all so stretchy and comfy, with elastic at the waist. Effective for work-outs but just as lovely lounging on the couch in front of the TV…with that enormous bowl of popcorn or dish of ice cream.Photo Credit: NYTimes, NPR, Pinterest
Focus! Need to definitely keep wearing these jeans until bedtime.
How about you? Any helps in forming habits where we don’t need such close friendships with elastic? Please share in Comments.
New Year’s resolutions are really very energizing. Whether we meet our goals or not, there is great promise within the resolution for resetting our thinking. A keen sense of self, or self-awareness, makes a difference in understanding our habits and progressing toward true habit change.
A couple of times in my life, I resolved to go off sugar. With a resolution like that, it meant abstaining from chocolate…which is a topic all its own.
Anyway, I was successful for over a year each of those times in excluding sugar from my diet. Never having really lost the weight from my first pregnancy, I decided to remove sugar from my diet for the pregnancy of our second-born. In those days, there was a chapter of Overeaters Anonymous in our town, and that group was a great help in my dealing with pretty much a sugar addiction.
The second time I “gave up” sugar was over 3 years ago, and I stayed the course of that habit change for over 1 1/2 years. Less accountability but even more resolve. Although I am back having dessert or sugary snacks sometimes, I am still operating with more self-awareness than ever before. Self-awareness, not self-condemnation. A very different experience.
Without knowing it, I was using a practice of habit change that Ken Sande writes about on his blog, Relational Wisdom 360. He first influenced my life years ago with his work on conflict resolution through his Peacemaker Ministries. He is a gentle guide in many of the issues that complicate our lives.
His New Year article on Seven Principles of Habit Change comes at a great time. Sande talks quite kindly about how we develop habits and what it takes to change them. His first principle of habit change gives us a look at the cycle of habits – the cue, the routine (or response), and the reward. Anyone who loves chocolate can understand this easily. For me, in eating sugar (or in overeating, in general), the cue could be a number of things – fatigue, anxiety, loneliness, presence of yummy food. It never takes much to send me to the refrigerator or pantry. The routine: feed the cue, whatever it is…with high-carb oral gratification. The reward: a brief soul satisfaction and temporary relief from whatever was the cue.
In my two seasons of not eating added sugar, I actually followed Ken Sande’s principles below (without knowing the wisdom of it).
Every habit has three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward.
You can change an undesirable habit by keeping the cue and reward but learning a new routine.
The best way to overcome the temptation to revert to old routines is to have a detailed action plan.
Habit change builds momentum if you can change a single “keystone habit” and then continue to build on consecutive “small wins”.
Will power is like a muscle: it can be strengthened and yet needs to be exerted strategically.
Faith is an essential part of changing habits.
Habit change is more likely to occur within a community (even if it’s just two people). – Ken Sande
[If any readers want to talk further about habit change regarding sugar addiction, I would love the exchange, either through the comments or email.]
Self-awareness is a huge factor relating to habit change. I can see that more now having come through seasons of looking at my own habits.
“Self-awareness is defined as conscious knowledge of oneself; it’s a stepping stone to reinventing oneself, learning to make wiser decisions, and helps you tune into your thoughts and feelings. So often we place blame on externalities because it’s the easiest excuse, when in fact we should be thinking about our thinking, reflecting, trying on different perspectives, and learning from our mistakes.” – Paul Jun
Matt Monge wrote a great piece on 13 questions we might ask ourselves to better understand why we do what we do. He is applying these questions to leadership and workplace, but they apply as well to habits. Also, in researching for this blog, I came upon this YouTube video of David Wallace Foster giving a commencement speech on awareness. Really thought-provoking as well as entertaining.
It is possible to affect true habit change if we are willing to take a studied look at ourselves – our awareness and our engagement with making choices/decisions and within relationship. I used to think that self-awareness was morally charged, i.e., it drove us to becoming more self-centered. That doesn’t have to be the case. When we take time to really examine where our minds go, through the day, we can train our thinking toward what matters most to us – related to people, resources, and life purpose.
When we are willing to do that, New Year’s resolutions can become much more life-changing than just going off sugar for a few weeks. These same habit change principles can apply to anger issues, pornography, other addictions, and pretty much any habitual process that negatively affects your work, relationships or general peace of mind.
I’d like to close with Ken Sande’s thoughts on taking self-awareness to other-awareness and God-awareness:
“The better we know and follow God (God-aware, God-engaging), the more we will know and discipline ourselves (self-aware, self-engaging), which opens the way for us to better understand, relate to, and serve our neighbors (other-aware, other-engaging).
To close the loop and spur us on developing relational wisdom, the Lord promises that the more we obey his command to love our neighbors, the closer we will draw to God himself (John 14:21-23). Thus, relational wisdom is a circle of interrelated skills that continually fuel one another.” – Ken Sande
It’s Monday morning and whatever you’re facing today, these folks help to bring down your stress and lighten your load…just by being in your path. You can name them easily. They are the ones who make you laugh and see a different side to your situation. They are the ones who give you second thoughts when considering a job change. They are the ones who add value to you, not just as a colleague but as a real in-the-skin human being. These are the folks who can turn the course of your day with just a few minutes conversation…or even a wave from across the parking lot. It’s just that simple.Photo Credit: Mashable
For you guys in a dark place…and not one person comes to mind…maybe, it’s good to think back…to people in your past who helped set you on a positive course in your career…think of those people. If you are in a hole in your workplace right now, and many of us have been there at some point in our professional lives, could you rally and become one of these people who light up the place?
Here’s the challenge for today. I read an article by content strategist Scott Tousley recently which got me thinking about this. Is it possible to become “a rising tide that lifts all boats”? If you’ve read this far, you probably are already that kind of person. However, if somehow you struggle with keeping fellow employees in your view while dealing with large-scale problem-solving, you might want to consider a personal assessment and do-over. It’s never too late.
Scott Tousley – who has the longest eyelashes and most infectious smile – also gets to live and work in San Diego, California. Besides all that, he writes really insightful articles about the workplace. His article, The 9 Habits of Insanely Likable and Charismatic People, is so good, I’m not going to write my own commentary on this topic, because you HAVE to go read his article. It lists the 9 habits (included below) with real-life anecdotes, brilliant support data, and links to read more. So don’t miss it – lightning-fast read for us visual learners.
Tousley’s 9 habits of insanely likable & charismatic people:
1. They are empathetic
2. They are humble
3. They are vulnerable
4. They have a sense of humor
5. They are present
6. They are genuinely interested in EVERYONE
7. They avoid social narcissism
8. They are generous and altruistic
9. They reciprocate praise (and take blame)
Being likable and charismatic isn’t about being popular or climbing the career ladder as much as it’s about making a huge chunk of our lives just more enjoyable… We have choices here.
If you had trouble calling to mind people you really like at work, then you’ve probably fallen down but you can get up! Don’t let that snarky, seemingly self-important coworker or boss mess with your head and steal your joy. Refocus to those in your workspace who you can’t help but be encouraged around them. Don’t miss them in that cloud of bother over the less likable ones around you. So what if they don’t seem to care about you or others at work. You be one who cares…and it can make a big difference. Take Scott Tousley’s excellent counsel in noting and affirming those likable ones around you…and set your course to return to being one yourself.
Ten athletes. 4 women; 6 men. The 2016 Summer Olympic Games, in Brazil have begun, and for the first time ever there will actually be a refugee team represented.
“These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem,” IOC president Thomas Bach said. “We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village.” – ABC News
The Refugee Olympic Team is a group of young people that have endured war and all the loss that comes with it. They are:
Yusra Mardini and Rami Anis – Swimmers, Syria
Popole Misenga and Yolande Bukasa Mabika – Judoka, Democratic Republic of Congo
Yonas Kinde – Marathoner, Ethiopia
James Nyang Chiengjiek, Yiech Pur Biel, Paulo Amotun Lokoro, Rose Nathike Lokonyen, and Angelina Nada Lohalith – Runners, South Sudan
To get to know them better, read Christopher Zumski Finke‘s fascinating article on how they survived their adversity and all came together (including video of the athletes themselves telling their stories). Some of the stories are chilling.
We all have our favorite teams and athletes, and the Refugee Olympic Team is now on my short list. #Rio2016 – a hashtag full of hope satisfied and dreams fulfilled.
Leaders of Tomorrow. What age group came to mind? Probably not your own. Maybe that’s one of our dilemmas in life and work. We either think we have already arrived as tomorrow’s leader today (ugh!). Or we stop thinking of how we can develop into that change agent of tomorrow because we’ve fixed our course…or settled into what we know already. It’s served us well so far, right?
Here’s my Monday morning gift to you: an introduction to the person, writing, and wisdom of Matt Monge. Earlier in his career, he worked in finance (credit unions, in particular), and had fascinating titles like Chief Culture Officer and Vice-President of People and Development. Currently he is is president of The Mojo Company, a leadership development consulting firm. His Facebook page bio reads: “My mission? Make the world a better place by helping people, leaders, & workplaces be more human. Depression fighter. Keynote speaker. Head of The Mojo Co.”
I read everything Matt Monge writes. Even his promotional video taught me more about leadership (you’ll want to take notes).
Monge posted a blog a few weeks back and I’ve been thinking through it since… It’s his 7 Skills Tomorrow’s Top Leaders Are Developing Today. I decided to post his bullet points here and how they stirred my thoughts on skill development today. [Don’t miss reading his thinking on this and other leadership topics in links.]
Being Others-Oriented – While other employee development folks have moved away from “servant leadership” language, Matt Monge continues wisely to be a strong supporter of it. I, too, am delighted by leaders who continue to seek out the greatest good for both employees and customers. The bottom line is best served here. As the years go by, or as tribes are built, our temptation is to coast in this area…making the negative assumption that someone else is serving while we’re the idea leaders. As leaders go, so go the organizations.
Persuasion, Logic, & Negotiation – First, Monge sees top leaders as practicing persuasion and negotiation differently “not with power, position, coercion, or even deception; but rather through logic, reason, and with an eye toward the good of the whole.” It’s funny how unaware leaders can be in thinking that manipulation and coercion go unnoticed by employees under their authority. It’s always better to do the work of taking the high road of negotiating and persuading. When we engage in the give-and-take of healthy debate and problem-solving, it’s a win-win for everyone. It does require time, trust, homework, and humility.
Reframing – This is a discipline of looking at a problem or situation from different perspectives. Monge talks about doing this in such a way that we wrestle with our own biases and blind spots. Reframing can make for a decision or problem solved that have wider success or effectiveness.
Knowing How to Think about and Make Decisions – Monge makes the distinction of being decisive vs. being a good decision-maker. I love this because often we experience leaders who get the job because they are decisive. Period. Full-stop. What does it take though to be a good decision-maker? To become an effective leader is to examine how we make decisions – what are my decision-making processes, who are my guides, what are those factors that always weigh in on my decisions? [Monge names those factors as presuppositions and core values. We need to think about what those are.]
The Ability to Work and Build Community with Others – This is such a core value of mine and yet after years in my career, it bears refreshing. I’m reminded, as Monge writes about this, of the Old Boys’ Network. Today, maybe it’s less-gender-defined and called other things, like C-Suite executives, or even tribe. Still, if it’s a few making decisions for the many, it’s not community. Monge’s constant message is that the strength and health of an organization is in the community. Leaders must do the work of leaning in to their colleagues (outside the executive suite) to draw on the wealth of knowledge there and to affirm the value and varied roles of those coworkers.Photo Credit: Twitter
6. Leadership – The leaders of tomorrow are continuing to develop themselves toward that future. We can be always learning, always growing – not necessarily just like other leaders in our lives, but learning what we need to learn to remain relevant/useful. Resting on the laurels of past successes or doing “what we’ve always done” will eventually pull us to the sidelines. I’m in the painful, personal throes of dealing with this right now myself. Shaking it off and moving forward!
Understanding Humanness & Emotional Intelligence – Monge defines emotional intelligence as having “four basic components: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management”. Foundational to emotional intelligence, in Monge’s thinking, is this whole element of humanness. As the workplaces of the future give way to more and more technology, we will be wise in tuning into the growing need for humanizing our organizations and our human employee experience. Being tech-savvy and not people-savvy misses what could be. Leaders of tomorrow, take note.
So that’s it for today. I love Mondays because it’s an opportunity to hit “the refresh” key of our work lives. We are not only motivated (like we might be on Fridays) but we’re fresh in our view of our work community…and hopeful.
Matt Monge, and others like him, gives me the encouragement I need to cast off from the safe, still shore and re-enter the fast and deep water of today’s work environment, determined to manuver well there…and maybe even coax other quality people back in from the shallows. Whatever our ages or sensibilities, we can work toward being tomorrow’s leaders of excellence.
Wake up early. Slater is not talking waking up early enough to just get to work on time. He’s talking 5ish. To wake up that early requires going to bed early…not just napping on the couch (guilty), but habitually, getting to bed early to get up early. This is determined by how much sleep you need…whether you’re a morning person or night person, that amount of time is pretty much set. “Sleeping in” – that weekend luxury – can derive negative gains. Is it worth it? Just asking the question he raises.Photo Credit: The Female Network
Exercise regularly. OK, so nothing new, right? This is not about staying in shape, physique-wise. That could be a benefit of exercise, but the goal is to sweat! We know the great benefits to regular exercise, many of which are mental. Feeling happier is one. It’s making exercise a habit that’s key here – for all its physical, mental, emotional, and even vocational benefits.Photo Credit: Beamery
Focus, don’t multitask. I have actually prided myself for years on the ability to multitask. No more. It’s possible it wreaked havoc on my memory and probably on the quality of my work and relationships. Slater talks about the importance of a daily routine of planning, execution, review and starting a plan for the next day. “Work out the 3-5 things that you need to accomplish over the course of the day and focus on them first.” Focus is key. I’m learning.Photo Credit: Massolutions
Learn from mistakes. When our day doesn’t go quite how we hoped, we too often default to blaming (too many meetings, interruptions, demanding bosses, time-wasters and trust-busters). We make mistakes in our decision-making and assessments; what’s important is that we deal with them humbly and proactively. Refuse to blame others. Learn from the mistake and move on. Sidebar: If it’s someone else’s mistake or poor judgment or questionable character, then learn from their mistakes as well. Don’t get muddled up, fuming about another, when your own life is at stake. You have it in you to control that.Photo Credit: UltrapreneurSayings
Make personal investments. What habits have you put in place to continue to grow and develop? Habits, not just hopes or goals set somewhere in the distant future. Slater observes: “The world’s most successful people are always prepared to invest time and resources in their own personal development. If you stripped someone like Bill Gates of his assets and dumped him on the street I’d be willing to bet he’d be ok – he’s constantly invested in himself and built up huge reserves of human capital, major companies would be falling over themselves to offer him a job.” This is where weekly goals come in, and maybe a mentor…someone you trust who will help you stay accountable to your goals. Don’t miss this valuable habit…I definitely need more discipline in this area.Photo Credit: SalesTrainingSolutions
I’ve written a lot in Monday Morning Moments about habit formation (see links below). There are so many great resources online about this important professional life skill. Slater’s article on these 5 simple daily habits reminded me again of how possible it is to know success/effectiveness if we do the work of putting these habits into our daily routine. I’m on it…once again. [Like with New Year’s Resolutions, we may not be successful over the long-haul with every one, but we move closer to goal every time we push in that direction.]
What are habits you have seen make a difference in your personal and professional day-to-day life? What habits would you like to make part of your daily routine? Please share in Comments.
Can our work ethic sustain us when our passion wanes?
Eric Chester has been studying and writing about today’s emerging workforce since the 1980’s, when Generation Y was in its infancy. Millennials have been examined and critiqued so much, but Chester has done his homework in how to help them be successful in the workplace. He also challenges employers to equip these young adults with what they may not have upon entering the workforce – that being a strong work ethic.
In his article in The MHEDA Journal, Chester defines work ethic as simply “knowing what to do and doing it“. Through his research, Chester created a list of seven indisputable, non-negotiable core values that he strongly believes every employer should demand: positivity (positive attitude), reliability, professionalism, initiative, honesty, respect, and gratitude (cheerful service).
This is not just so for millennials but for all of us in the workforce. What do we need to be successful or effective across a career? Is it passion or work ethic? Passion (strong or powerful emotion, deep desire, intense conviction) is a big buzzword right now in hiring, but what we really need is work ethic. As Chester states, in his book Reviving Work Ethic, “passion doesn’t fuel work ethic; work ethic fuels passion.”
A strong work ethic will carry us through seasons in our career when we’re “just not feeling it”. I appreciate the distinction Chester makes about how our work ethic actually fuels our passion and not the other way around. We may not all have passion in measures that enhance our success, but we can apply ourselves with diligence and intentionality such that we can push through to the finish, whatever it is. When passion wanes, this is a great encouragement to me.
“’Follow Your Passion’ is easily the worst advice you could ever give or get.
1. When you work hard at something you become good at it.
2. When you become good at doing something, you will enjoy it more.
3. When you enjoy doing something, there is a very good chance you will become passionate or more passionate about it.
4. When you are good at something, passionate and work even harder to excel and be the best at it, good things happen.
Don’t follow your passion, follow your effort. It will lead you to your passions and to success, however you define it.”
Chester uses the analogy of building a fire in a fireplace. You have to set the logs in place before you start the fire. Passion will heat up a conversation or spark a vision, but it won’t get the job done, whatever it is. This is where our work ethic when applied will get us to goal, to mastery, to the finish. That in turn gives rise to passion as we see what is possible when we put forth the best effort that is each of ours to bring.
Whether you are newly employed in the workforce or a seasoned veteran, it’s wise to consider the bottom line of what we ought to bring to our jobs. This will vary across organizations and companies, especially as our workforce itself changes in the years to come. Chester’s summation is noteworthy for all of us:
“Employers are searching for positive, enthusiastic people who show up for work on time, who are dressed and prepared properly, who go out of their way to add value and do more than what’s required of them, who are honest, who will play by the rules, and who will give cheerful, friendly service regardless of the situation.”
How’s your work ethic?…
Whatever our passion might be today, our work ethic can be rock solid…something we count on in each other at work in the every day.
“Pick a lane”. That phrase comes to mind literally when dealing with another driver on the highway who weaves back and forth, for whatever reasons. We get agitated at him, don’t trust her movements, and want to get as clear from them as possible.
In our careers, picking a lane is hugely important. There probably won’t be the same negative emotions (as above) about someone who is all over the place, but we are wise to set a straight course. Sometimes, especially across a lifetime, we have to re-set our course. The key is to do the work of that reset – pick a lane again. Being a generalist, a “jack-of-all-trades”, can make us quite useful to our employers, but there is no distinction in that. I’m not talking about significance here. I’m talking about what makes us the “go-to person”, that person whose passion, determination, and honed skill gives her voice in an organization…where she can make a difference. It’s something to consider…
Here’s a quick story of an incredibly successful young man who “picked a lane”. I did not know the person Lin-Manuel Miranda until a funny video crossed my Facebook newsfeed just a few days ago. The video was Broadway Carpool Karaoke and Miranda was one of the performers in it. The video was produced to usher in the 2016 Tony Awards ceremony. Photo Credit: Broadway
Hamilton was birthed while Miranda, then in his 20’s, was on vacation in Mexico and picked up Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. He was enthralled by the story of Hamilton’s life and was amazed the story wasn’t already written as a musical. [Hopefully you non-theater folks are still with me. This is such an incredible story.]
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote/composed the musical Hamilton, and from what I’ve seen of it, it is mesmerizing. So what goes into such a young man’s pursuit of such all-encompassing excellence in his craft?
Charlie Rose of CBS’ 60 Minutes interviewed Miranda about his life and Hamilton’s. [The full transcript is here.] Lin-Manuel Miranda – this playwright, composer, lyricist, and actor – talked about how he got to where he is today.
At five, Miranda tested into Hunter College Elementary, a school for highly gifted children, where he told us sometimes, he felt like he did not belong.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: You know, I went to a school where everyone was smarter than me. And I’m not blowin’ smoke, I was surrounded by genius, genius kids. What’s interesting about growing up in a culture like that is you go, “All right, I gotta figure out what my thing is. Because I’m not smarter than these kids. I’m not funnier than half of them, so I better figure out what it is I wanna do and work really hard at that because intellectually I’m treading water to, to be here.”
Charlie Rose: So why do you think I’m sitting here talking to you and not sitting here talking to one of your classmates?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: ‘Cause I picked a lane and I started running ahead of everybody else. So I, that’s the honest answer. It was like, I was like, “All right THIS.”
Miranda laid out very simply what framed his life of distinction: “I picked a lane.” We all do that across our careers, to some degree or another. Early in my professional life, I chose to carve out a niche in the care and counsel of cancer patients and their families. That was the focus and direction of my life for almost 20 years. Then, married with children, I would pick a very different lane – focusing on that little circle and those we shared life with in our community.
When we lived overseas for another almost 20 years, my lane was a merging of family, cross-cultural living, teaching English, and serving women (local and expat.) and their families. I loved those days of constant traffic in and out of our home. I miss those days. It’s quite possible, however, that those years marked a season where I was weaving in and out of traffic. You might need to ask my husband and children about that.
Now we’ve been back in the US for sometime. Picking a lane became a huge need for me as clearly my moorings of cherished overseas life were gone and I was a bit adrift. When the opportunity to came to test my skills as a communications strategist for a new and innovative work team, I jumped at it. That was a great time of learning and growing and a thrilling adventure which fueled a deep passion of mine. Alas, short-lived though. It only lasted a couple of years and that work went the way of an organizational down-sizing.
What followed has been a protracted season of being “a warm body” and “filling a hole/need” in whatever came along in life and community. Don’t hear me deny the importance of such serving, because there are times when helping in this way is exactly the right thing to do. Still, it’s not how we are meant to frame our lives over the long-haul.
A few months ago, I wrote a series of blogs on Jon Acuff’s book Do Over. He writes in such a liberating way about, essentially, picking a lane. His book is a “how-to” in getting back your life and getting on with it.
Picking a lane isn’t about just operating out of your strengths, abhorring any task or process that doesn’t show off your abilities. Picking a lane is about honing your craft, building your expertise, showing up in your giftings. It’s not about being a knower but being an insatiable life-long learner.
If the job you loved is gone or forever altered, pick another lane.
Don’t allow your current work/life situation reduce you to something other….to someone you are not and never were. Don’t let age, opportunity, personality squash your passion. We do not have to be side-lined (or defined) by getting older, being an introvert (just for instance), having a hard boss or a confusing work situation. Since this recent cancer diagnosis, I have more clarity, hope, and optimism about finishing strong… Hearing Lin-Manual Miranda’s story has heightened my resolve all the more.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Here’s the thing about Hamilton. I think Hamilton was ready to die from the time he was 14 years old. I think what he has is what I have, which is that thing of, “Tomorrow’s not promised. I gotta get as much done as I can.”
Charlie Rose: It’s not only good acting. It’s not only good music. People are saying it’s transformative.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: It’s certainly changed my life. But I think it’s because when great people cross our path, and I’m talking about Hamilton here, it forces us to reckon with what we’re doing with our lives, you know? At my age, Hamilton was treasury secretary and creating our financial system from scratch.
Charlie Rose: And building a country?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Yeah. I wrote two plays.*
Picking a lane…that’s what I’m doing. More to come…down the pike.
Walked away from the computer at 8:00 last night…best night of sleep I’ve had in a long while.
Alex Cavoulacos, productivity expert and founder of The Muse, wrote a Fast Company piece on establishing the habit of turning off screens at 11:00pm each night. A night owl, Cavoulacos discovered, in forming this habit that she: 1) could actually do it, 2) prioritized her work better, 3) finally found time to read, and 4) slept better. “Turns out that I inadvertently stumbled upon a trigger habit: I was reading more, sleeping more, and spending more quality time with my husband. All of this led to me feeling less stressed and better prepared to start each day. All in all, a huge positive change in my life, all thanks to a single new habit.” Check out her whole article and fascinating video here.
Tanya Lewis, a science journalist, went even farther than Cavoulacos in restricting her screen time. She writes, for Business Insider, that, for one week, she avoided screen time from the time she got off work until she went to bed. That means no TV or Netflix, no checking her phone for directions or searches of other kinds, or just out of boredom, and no tablet time for any of the above. What she discovered was how hard it was and how dependent to screen time she had become. She did start reading books again during that week. She also found that when she avoided screens, getting to sleep was easier. The most fascinating thing she noted was how much more social she became without the distraction of screens.
Anybody remember the old days, before wi-fi and smart phones? And the cable went out because of a storm? We would actually light candles and snuggle together on the couch, play games together, be silly, and talk. Special times worth re-creating with a screen fast.
How about our health? Is there any evidence that all this screen time, especially at night, affects our health, over our lifespan? For sure. Read Power Down for Better Sleep by Heather Hatfield on WebMD. She quotes fatigue specialist, Dr. Mark Rosekind, “One of the most simple but important reasons technology affects our sleep is cognitive stimulation.” What we are watching on screens late at night revs up our brains and stirs us up physically. This stress (positive or negative) can create a flight/flight response, resulting in our body’s release of cortisol – bringing on a state of vigilance rather than the restfulness needed for sleep. Add to our body’s “high alert” status the blue light of electronics. Hatfield reports how this light passes “through the retina into a part of the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that controls several sleep activities) and delays the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.” To my sleepless, techie friends and family: it makes sense, right? Put it (screen time) to rest.
[Damon Beres in a Huffington Post piece, writes how “reading on a screen before bed might actually be killing you”. He points out the health problems that can result partly from inadequate rest (obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease). He also points to blue light filters that can help if we can’t imagine avoiding screen time at night.]
“Visual activities, like staring at a screen or even driving, continually narrow our field of view to a smaller box-like zone right in front of our eyes. Our brains learn to categorize everything outside of this box as a distraction not worthy of attention and get good at filtering out anything not right in front of us. By developing sustained attention in the central view, our peripheral vision suffers, and our view of the world slowly contracts. The field of view in humans decreases as we age. Over time, a person becomes immune to noticing life’s visual surprises, and their eyes move less often. As a result of these self-induced neurological changes, our brains and bodies get conditioned not to pay attention and not to react to the unexpected.”
What does that mean for us? You have probably already seen this in action. Our attention is drawn in, fairly fixed, on our screens. We miss what is happening around us. One day I’m going to write about situational awareness – as a personal safety issue as well as a sharpening discipline to appreciate life around us. This whole addiction to screens that is prevalent today will take the rest of the world out of our view, so to speak, if we’re not careful.
Speaking of the family…our children – I will just post these quick reads about little ones (and teens) and how so much screen time affects them physically, socially, and developmentally. We fall into these habits with our children, but we can also pull ourselves, and them, out of the same.
What’s your takeaway from this? I personally want to strategically narrow the screen use in my life. Writing makes screen time an occupational hazard but I love those screens way too much outside of blogging. Thanks to Chris Bailey’s A Life of Productivity and his book about his productivity project, I have already made some changes. No Facebook on my phone, as one change. Still have a long way to go.
Bottom line: I don’t want to miss the people I love, in the flesh, and I don’t want to miss the real world…and lastly, I don’t want to miss truly experiencing God…because of this surreal, burgeoning habit of screen time. So…I will leave you for now. Well-rested, hopefully. Sweet dreams.