"But sometimes a person we love, through no fault of his own, can't see past the end of his nose."
So said Mary Poppins about Mr. Banks when explaining to his children why their father was so hopelessly concerned about the wrong things:
MP was trying to lay some truth on the kids, letting them know that what is really important is feeding the birds. Well, actually, the feeding the birds thing is more of a metaphor, because what do you really get out of feeding the birds, besides codependent, fat birds?
For one, you get happiness. You get to help a woman in need. You get to feel good about being a part of another person's world which you can only guess at. You understand that by looking outside your world and engaging in it, wonderful things might happen.
This is the definition of opportunity lurking. You have to look past the end of your nose to find it. In fact, you should not only look past the end of your nose, you must also engage beyond it. Do not get so caught up in building and defending your own little world that you have no interest or curiosity about what goes on outside of it. The more you connect to the world beyond the end of your nose, the fuller you become.
Very often, in college, you are forced to satisfy a list of requirements which will then move you on to another list of requirements, which leads you to the next list. You get so entrenched in this world that you forget that there is something more. Your world is filled with satisfying other people's requirements. But how often in college does anyone ask what you require? That is why it is up to you to do so. There are so many people, events, and opportunities that you miss if you are too busy satisfying other people's requirements.
For instance, do you know who, in a college environment, are the best people to get to know? Those would be the administrative assistants, formerly known as secretaries. I don't care what school you go to, those people, generally speaking, either have the power or know the person who has the power very well. Get to know and be nice to the secretaries. They are little bundles of opportunity, sitting behind the front desk, typing away at some database, quietly biding their time until someone, anyone, takes the time to talk to them. Be nice to them. Form relationships with them. This will come back to you at least one hundred fold, in ways that you might not even suspect.
When I worked at a college in Portland, I knew a student who spent so much time studying and satisfying requirements that he enjoyed very little of what that city had to offer. When he graduated he told me that his biggest regret was that he had not taken the time to get to know Portland. He said it seemed like a great city and he felt like he had missed out because he was too busy with school. He left Portland after four years, not really knowing the city at all. What a waste! Not only did he miss out on a blossoming food scene, he also missed out on excellent outdoor adventures. All of which would have added to his college experience.
He was so busy filling other people's requirements, he was blind to the opportunities all around him. He turned out to be okay, but some people don't bounce back. Some people spend the rest of their lives satisfying the requirements of others after college....because they have been trained to do so. They never see the opportunities lurking beyond the end of their noses.
So, before you start college, or, if you are in college, remember to look beyond the facade you are presented with. Most importantly, look within. Figure out what you want out of those four years. Look for opportunity wherever you go. Pay yourself the respect of answering your own needs.
After four years of looking for opportunities, you will have no problem doing this....looking for opportunities beyond your nose...for the rest of your days. Your life will be more full and you will be happier. Your life will be unrecognizable in the best way possible.
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Failure is one of my favorite topics of all time. I honestly don't know where I would be if I hadn't failed so much in my life. I might be working as a ditch digger for all I know.
Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Either way, handling failure is one of those abilities that will affect your entire life in amazing and wonderful ways. That is because you can fail at almost anything you do. Do you remember the first time you tied your shoes? It was probably after a series of failures. How about when you figured out how to tell time? Pour milk into a glass? Chances are, for almost every simple thing you have ever done, you have most likely failed a bit in the getting there.
But then you started setting your sights on bigger game, dincha? Yeah, you started figuring out stuff like writing, math, and reading whole books TO YOURSELF. All these things most likely fraught with mistakes along the way. As you got older, the bigger the risks you took, the more it seemed, you had to lose. You started becoming acutely aware of the people around you, watching you try. Just waiting to see your failure. This awareness began to affect your ability to throw yourself into anything. For a while, you would give half-hearted attempts at lofty goals, and soon, not even half-hearted. Not even attempts. For the most part, you just stopped trying.
You forgot what was on the other side of failure. You forgot who, exactly, you were risking everything for. You stopped following your dreams for fear of having them slip through your fingers for good. You stopped following your dreams because even though Mr. T can do it, it doesn't mean you can. Well, listen up fool.
There is a way back to the golden road of failure.
One of the huge benefits of the college environment is that you are in a position to fail spectacularly. You can effectively practice failing for as long as you are there, so that when you get out, you will be able to take the big risks. You will take them because you will know what is on the other side of failure. You will take them because you see failure as a part of the learning process, not, as some suspect, the dying process.
As with all soft skill attainment, I have a few suggestions to getcha there.
First of all, remember who you take all of your risks for. That is you. You are the person you risk everything for. If you do not feel like you are worth the risk, then you need a type of help I cannot provide. When you ask yourself, "self, am I worth the risk?" Before the words have passed through your mind, you should be screaming at the top of your lungs, "YES SELF, YOU ARE WORTH IT!!!"
Next, when you fail, try and get something out of it. What did you learn? What can you use to inform your next attempt? Did it kill you? Was it really that bad?
Then, be sure to take notes. Yeah. Notes. This is why: in five years, you will not even remember this moment. This scared-as-shit moment you were so freaked out to face. In five years this will have been your first step. You will look back at it from the top of your unicorn and laugh triumphantly. In fact, I suggest a failure journal, so that when you experience them, you can write down on paper that it did not kill you nor was it even that painful.
After that, keep trying. No matter how bad you fail. Keep trying.
Here is a short list of things you can attempt and fail at in a college environment in no particular order:
This list is in no way exhaustive, but it does give you an idea of the kinds of things you can throw yourself into in college and learn from without having to lose too much. The great thing about college is the captive audience you have. Your fellow students, like you, are not going anywhere, and outside of classes and homework and the occasional binge drinking weekend, what is there? Nothing but opportunity. Opportunity to fail and learn spectacularly. Opportunity to take risks and learn outside of the classroom environment.
If you take these opportunities, you will be ahead of the game when you get out into the world. You will risk failure in your career in ways that will yield great results. You will be ready to get up and dust yourself off after you have fallen. You will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that failure is just a part of the process, and if Mr. T can do it, so can you.
If you know someone who might find this useful, forward it on. OR, maybe just tweet it. Heck, paste a link on FB and see what happens. This might just be the kind of inspirational informational transformational stuff that someone you know needs. Right now.
I am also offering virtual college prep packages. Read about those HERE.
Happy Just About to be Valentines Day. Yeah...it is the new Hallmark Holiday.
Not long ago, a series of events conspired to drive me to scream at the top of my lungs at the man I love and throw my U lock into the garage with as much force as my little body could muster. As I was doing it, I could hear my brain saying to me, "you are your father's daughter."
I was not calm. I was not rational. I was in no place to adequately express why I was so upset, and even when I attempted, the message was lost to the method. It didn't really matter why I was upset, I scared the crap out of my boyfriend. So much that he was not able to truly listen to what I was saying, nor did he want to stick around to work it out.
I grew up this way, with people screaming and throwing shit, sometimes for seemingly no reason whatsoever. I am now 45 years old, and while I have worked through much of my anger issues (and I had many) some still linger, and they keep me from being a more effective communicator. They keep me from thinking clearly. They keep me from growth. They keep me from success.
The greatest thing you can be in a stressful environment, is calm. The more calm you can be, the better your brain will work and the more useful you will be to the ones who depend on you to be so, including yourself. It is simple chance that led me to write this blog the day before Valentine's day, but this chance has presented the perfect metaphor for the best strategy I know to remain calm, and it comes down, as so many things do, to one thing.
Preparation. No matter what situation you find yourself in, there is always a way to prepare. There is always something you can do to set yourself up so that you can handle anything that comes at you. A lot of people will tell you to role play, thinking of different scenarios in which people argue with you, or events that conspire to drive you to do something erratic, so that you can prepare to react appropriately. But this is false information; misleading at best. Because you are focused in the wrong direction.
Instead of worrying about external circumstances or individuals, what you should be focusing on, is you. You must be self-aware, confident. You must see the storm, and not be the storm. To illustrate:
Very often, you are around at least one person who pushes your buttons, be it their ability to back-handedly insult you in front of your boss or give you complisults (that sweater makes your head look much smaller than it actually is!) that you have no time to react to, it is inevitable; for whatever reason, there will be people around you who have the ability to inspire hatred, jealousy, even rage within you. You lose sleep over these people, you lose energy over these people, you lose your life, bit by bit replaying over and over the things you wished you would have said or done to one up them or prove them wrong or reveal them for the bastards they are.
What you are doing is fooling yourself into believing that anything they have done, whether it be directed at you or merely around you, is in any way about you. It is not. At the very most, it might be about their idea of you, but not really about you. Your mistake is getting caught up in what is going on in their head to the point that you forget yourself. You forget how great your life is. You forget how awesome so many people think you are, and you choose to buy into the bullshit.
Don't buy into the bullshit. It is too expensive and there are no returns. Once you start down the path where you believe that you can argue with someone or change someone's mind about you, you have lost your calm, your rational mind. You have lost your ability to control the situation, because the only thing you can control in ANY situation, is you.
There is just one thing you have to practice for almost any stressful situation: focusing inward. It is your job to mind your own business. It is your job to steer clear of the crazy. Personally, I have two mantras that I use interchangeably which help me to stay out of other people's heads and other people's business, even when they try to force it upon me.
For me, those two cover most unpleasantness. When people are engaging in behavior that I find to be ludicrous, hateful, or otherwise disquieting, I implement the first one. When people start to treat me like a doormat, or like I am not worthy of their respect/trust/time/attention, the second one is my go to. I say one or the other over and over in my head, with a smile on my face, because in the end, it is better that I replay that mantra in my head than what they just said or did. It keeps me in check and reminds me that I have my own special brand of crazy to attend to.
My suggestion, if you are up for one, and I can only assume that you are as you are reading this blog, is come up with a mantra for yourself. Make it entertaining, catchy, and something that completely excuses you from taking any responsibility for other people's actions. This is the actual fun part, where you get to create a verbal shield, cast in irony and sarcasm and forged in glory. This is how you prepare. This is how you walk away from situations that could fuck you up.
Celebrate this Valentine's Day by truly loving yourself. Create your own strategy for success. Come up with some mantras that you can say to yourself that will protect you from engagement with Outside Forces. Give yourself the gift of minding your own business, and the rest, as they say, will take care of itself.
If you are wondering, "they" is Hallmark. Hallmark said everything first. Well, everything except my awesome mantras.
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The Value of Criticism
Last week, I talked about a specific kind of communication. The kind of communication that can transform your life into a victory. This week, I will talk about the value of critical feedback, and how it can elevate your work quality, the quality of your relationships, even the quality of your cooking if you are open to it.
Like most people, I learned the value of critical feedback the hard way. Sitting in a room with twenty people, a piece of my artwork (my heart and soul) hanging on the wall, waiting for the critique to begin. This took place three time a week at least when I went through art school. In the beginning, I was defensive. When I heard critical feedback, I would come up with reasons for why I did what I did, how people just didn't understand my genius, and in general, how most of the people in my classes were utter bastards. It took a lot of energy to justify my horrible artwork, but I gave it my best every week, much to the detriment of my creative growth.
Some time during the first year, I noticed that the work of some of my classmates was improving. a lot. People who I considered crap artists were actually hanging work up on the wall that was quite good; interesting, well crafted, and clearly thought out. Way better than mine. Frankly, it pissed me off. So I studied them. I decided to find out what they were doing, and slowly, frighteningly, it dawned on me. All of those people were actually listening to the critical feedback they were receiving, and using the advice in some cases. They were not getting defensive or agro during critiques. In fact, when their work was being critiqued, instead of defending the work, they were asking follow-up questions.
At first I was at a bit of a loss. It was so painful for me to sit through class while people told me everything that was wrong with my work, but then, something shifted. I started to listen in a different way. Instead of hearing insults and put downs, I began hearing helpful suggestions. I started hearing strategy for improvement. It was very slow at coming, but by the second year, I was regularly writing down suggestions and integrating them into my work. By the third year, I was actively seeking out critical feedback. By the fourth year, I had a select group of people I relied upon to be brutally honest with me, and my work? It was transformed. It was in a place it could not have been had I gone through the program alone.
That was the difference. Without critical feedback, I would have gone through the program alone. With critical feedback, I had a team of artists vigilantly looking for ways for me to improve. I had a team. I left that program a better artist, yes, but I also left with a skill not many people have; the ability to seek out and use critical feedback from others. In the work world, this is a rare quality. Having it means the difference between good work and great work. It is the difference between run-of-the-mill and genius. This is in no way overstating this ability; it truly, and in every way separates the little girls from the Badass Ladies.
If you, like me, are not all that awesome at taking critical feedback, I will give you some suggestions to get yourself used to it.
When you are comfortable with this stuff, taking critical comments and feedback from random people becomes that much more valuable, and frankly, welcome. You will start to look at critical feedback as a gift, and the more you are open to it, the more you will improve. You will be in a place you never could have imagined. You will have the perspective of many sets of eyes, the thought processes of many brains. You will be A Force to be Reckoned With.
This, like most other strategies for improvement, takes time. You must be truly comfortable with critical feedback in order to use it well. So get started early. Use every avenue available to you to practice. After a while, that practice becomes part of your life, it becomes automatic. You will start to do it without thinking about it. It will become a part of your anatomy.
This is where your life starts to become something. This is when you start to fly.
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