Monday, January 31, 2011

Loose Tiles

I have spent a large portion of my life working in restaurants. Aside from cooking and serving food the most common activity in a restaurant is cleaning. When cleaning there are two approaches that are often taken; you can clean what people can see or you clean what is dirty.

When we clean what people can see it can produce a nice looking restaurant. The tables are clean, the counters are organized and the bathrooms shine. However below the polished surface we can find dirt. Move a plant and find an army of dust bunnies. Brush your hand across the underside of a table and find a message written in braille made of old gum.

On the other hand when we clean where it is dirty people may not notice our efforts but these hidden disasters are not waiting to be discovered.

One day in a restaurant I was managing we noticed that there was water spilled in the back room near our ice machine. We had an employee with some free time mop it up. A few minutes after he was done there was more water. Back he went to mop again, this time with instructions make sure to mop under the ice machine. Again a few minutes later the floor is wet. This calls for a deep investigation. Is the ice machine leaking? Has the drain hose been pulled away from the wall? As I knelt down to take a look I noticed water pushing out from below the floor tiles.

Beneath the ice machine we discovered a cracked tile, well discovered is not the right word since we had known it was there but had not bothered to move the ice machine just to have one tile replaced. Yes the ice machine had leaked and that water had slipped down below the tiles. It ate away at the grout and loosened an entire section of flooring in our back room. If we had put out the effort to replace one tile we could have saved the time, energy and money it took to lay an entire new section of floor.

This same principal applies to making changes in our lives. We can work on the things that others notice or we can work on the things that no one sees but which contribute to the mess. We can fix the floor so that the changes to the outside are solid.

Friday, January 28, 2011

New Battle

I have a new goal. I have had a long painful relationship with bills. I forget to pay them. I commit myself to more payments then I can manage. At the moment I am fortunate. I have a small number of bills. Now that I have an income the next step is to master paying the bills I have now before adding more. As I have taught myself to be in the habit of going to class and of blogging every day I need to learn the habit of bill paying.

This means overcoming a certain amount of fear. Fear that can stop me from opening a bill because I don’t want to know how much more debt I have to carry. The fear of not being able to pay the bill. I can do this. This is my new battle field. Once I take back this battle field I will be able to face any other aspect of my financial life with my head held high.

This is an important battle for me, it scares me but I know I can win.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


The process of personal growth is not always pleasant. As we look into ourselves and take stock of what we want to change we usually have to confront the parts of ourselves that we do not like. As the work of growing and changing commences we have to push ourselves out of the places where we are comfortable. We put ourselves at risk of embarrassment, we give up some of the things we like and we acknowledge the mistakes we made.

Why do we do it?

There are many answers to this question but what they all boil down to is the comfortable place we are in is not comfortable enough. This can happen in two ways, either the behaviors that have made us comfortable no longer satisfy us or we see that there is somewhere we could be more comfortable. Either way there comes a moment where we realize that things must change if we are going to be happy.

In this moment we can find new ways to cover up the problem or we can suffer the pain and hardship of change and growth.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Forest Navigation and Avoiding the Easy

Money. My relationship with money is changing. I have started to get paid for something I love to do, and I have some income coming in. I feel as if I am standing on the edge of a dark forest. This forest is full of pitfalls and traps and I have never made it successfully from one side of the forest to the other. I get lost, turned around, stuck in swamps and bogged down. The forest separates me from fiscal responsibility, the ability to mange my money, cultivate savings and support myself in the lifestyle that I wish to live.

To create a safe path for myself through this forest I have to learn how to use the tools I have and create some new ones. These tools include budgeting, frugality and not giving in to easy.

Not giving in to easy may require some explanation. Let's look at the example of fast food. It is quick and easy to buy. You can go from hungry to full in a few short minutes without the work of preparing a meal. However, you pay for that ease in the nutritional value of the food you consume, the quality of the food and the cost. I can make a good burger and iced tea with a green salad for under $5 at home and be just as full. Giving in to easy means doing what is simple rather than smart. It is not the denial of self for denial's sake that needs to be the focus, but rather on not building the easy path habit.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Limitaitons and Challenges

In all our plans for growth we will run into limiting factors. Classes cost money, jobs require transportation, eating well requires having the money and time to buy and prepare the food. When we start planning what we want to do we need to take into account these limitations. Recognizing these limits is a key to making realistic plans.

One of the keys to protecting our confidence is to keep our plans realistic. When we set our sights too high we find ourselves set up for failure. We need to be able to build upon successes to build confidence and to succeed we need to set realistic goals, and we need to stick by them. We also need to set challenging goals so that we can grow.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Up From the Ashes Tool Time

When I first started the blog one thing I wanted to do was share online tools that I like, that I find helpful or useful. I have not done this in awhile and almost all of the ones I have found have been to-do list programs. Last week I found something new and interesting to play with online: Thoughtboxes.

This website is simple but not simplistic. The idea is that you can create trains of thought, 3 of them for free or an unlimited amount for $15 fee. Each train of thought starts out with a title or a general description of the idea. Below that is a space where you can create sub-ideas and within those sub-ideas you can organize notes.

For example I have used it to sort out stories I am working on. I can lay out the main points of the story in the boxes and then gather the quotes I have that support that point. This way for a technical story I can quickly see what areas need more research or which need the voice of an authority on the subject to lend credibility to the story.

So far the interface on Thoughtboxes is easy to use; point here, click there and type in that space. Ideas can be rearranged with drag and drop ease or discarded with two clicks of the mouse.

Like any online tool it does require creating the habit of use, but unlike a to-do list it does not require daily maintenance. Instead it is another tool in the tool box for getting one's thoughts organized. Pull it out when you need it, otherwise let it be.

Friday, January 21, 2011

An Update From the Rollercoaster

So the rollercoster has taken the first drop, made the turn and the ride is getting fun. I have a staff at the paper that is willing to work and not afraid to ask questions. What they do not know about reporting, we can teach. That is, after all, why we are here.

Now I just have to prove that I am capable of editing and herding cats to create a paper.

This is good stress, the sort that drives me to do better, to do more and grow. The key is to maintain the balance, keep the stress good and keep moving forward.

Now I just wonder what the first loop is going to be like.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Hothouse Effect

To grow as a person, to change our lives we must turn out vision inward, however if the person we are sculpting ourselves into is not able to survive in the world, then our efforts are lost. The changes we create in ourselves cannot be delicate constructs; instead they must be able to survive the storms of social contact, the earthquakes of peer pressure and the terrors of doubt and bad days.

By creating new behaviors that can survive outside the greenhouse of our private space but also in the wild garden of the world, we will find successes. To do this we need to own our behaviors not just in the places we control completely but also in the places where we travel.

For example: eating habits. My first semester back to school I was in the habit of having a doughnut for breakfast every morning. They where cheap, tasty and easy to obtain on campus, but not healthy. During my second semester I worked on eating better. However I worked on the greenhouse principal of just bringing good food into my house, but not worrying about what I ate outside the house. I did try to cut back on doughnuts and for the first three weeks or so I did ok. Then convenience took its toll and I was back in line every morning waiting for my ring of chocolate covered goodness.

I had created a good habit that only served me at home and not always even there. All I had really done was limit my options at home. I had not worked on creating a habit that would last, I had not changed my behavior at all. Trying to live in a hothouse doesn't make for permanent change.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Walking Our Own Road

We all travel this world together. This is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is the company, the lessons and the interactions that we have with others. The curse comes from the miscommunications and the potential to judge ourselves against their accomplishments. As we walk along the trail, others turn off to travel a different route that leads them through different experiences than ours. We lose sight of them only to come upon them again later when their path comes close again. They may have suffered hardships or accumulated riches while they have been out of our sight. We may want what they have. We may think we should compare ourselves to them. We are wrong.

The problem of judging ourselves against their success is that we may not define successes the way they do. We must succeed in a way that will satisfy our wants and needs. We must face our struggles and learn how to be who we are. Without this success will be meaningless. Without knowing what we want we will only get the things that we are told we want, the things others want for us. This does not buy happiness.

We must define ourselves in our own hearts. We must succeed on our own terms. We need to walk our own road.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Keep Jumping

I feel like a video game analogy this morning. A classic type of video game is the platformer. Here the concept is to move through a maze of platforms gathering items and killing enemies. There is a lot of jumping and precision timing to get through levels. To continue to be successful we need to keep the platformer in mind.

In our struggle to be successful we fight our way from one ledge to another. We dodge, we duck, we make progress. Soon we find ourselves where we want to be. When this happens it becomes easy to relax and get sloppy. One way to avoid this is to keep our eyes always on the next platform, the next spot to jump. Keeping our forward momentum going we can avoid complacency which tends to cause us to lose our balance and walk off the platform we have gotten too. Our quality of work slips as does our attention to detail.

By always preparing to make the next jump, to make it to the next safe place, we can keep our selves on task, on target, and growing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Notes From the Rollercoaster

A new semester starts at school tomorrow. I have had a full month of break and it has been nice. It feels like things are going to get very busy for me, the rollercoaster of life is clacking away as we pull up to the top of a big drop. The first hill and turn will be the toughest. If I can keep up with everything through that, life will be fine.

To keep up I will need to do two things. Work efficiently and make sure I have free time.

I have already talked about blocking out time in our schedules. I just need to remember to do it.

The other aspect, working efficiently, will be more of a challenge. Part of the problem for this is that I do not know what resources I will have to work with on the paper. The staff at the Oak Leaf will be fairly green with only a few experienced reporters and editor coming back.

Once I know what resources I have I can create a solid effective work flow. My guiding principal in this must be "Quality over Quantity." I need to do as much as I can do well, and not try to do more just for the sake of doing.

Wish me luck . The roller coaster is about to reach the top of the hill.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Find Yourself in the Interpretation

I have a story to tell you. It is a story about communication.

In the town where I go to school there is a certain statue. A polished ring of metal supported by an inverted "V" of dark rusted steel and from behind it rises a thin tube of metal bent at an angle just before where it would pass through the ring. I pass by this statue often and it says something to me, but in a language I do not understand. It is, however, insistent, grabbing my attention, making me look at it, wanting to understand what it is saying even though I do not find it aesthetically pleasing.

One thing I have come to realize is that whatever it has to say to me is really a reflection of myself. This is a purpose of art, to show us something not just about society, not just to provide beauty but to help us learn who we are. Our reaction to a juxtaposition of shapes arranged in 3d space can call forth something from inside us that we did not know was there, spark a thought, create inspiration, but in the end it does all of this within our own being. It does not matter if the artist intended the thought to be placed there.

Looking at art and understanding what it means to us is a path to better knowing ourselves. Take some time this weekend and visit a museum, look at art and think about what it says to you rather then what you are told it should mean. Find yourself in the interpretation.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Communication Problem

The problem with communication is not that it comes from what we say but from what we hear. Communication happens at the point where a listener interprets the words he is hearing. Why this is problematic is that we do not know what connections exist in another person's mind between words and emotions. Even worse. we quite often do not fully understand these connections in our own minds. On top of that the problem becomes worse because the method of delivery of the information may be a problem; how things are said, tone of voice, reception of the information, all of these things may act as a trigger to negative reactions from our listener.

What we can do on our end is be aware of how the listener is reacting. It is like playing a game of minesweeper, some words may make people tense others may not. For example, when someone tells me the same thing over and over again, especially when it is a request for me to do something,I feel like they don't trust me to get it done. This is not the other person's problem. They feel that something is important and want to make sure they express it, but that message is not the message I hear.

We can all improve our communication skills by being aware of how things affect us as well as how they affect our listener. This awareness will allow us to get the message we have across to the other person rather than inadvertently delivering the message they expect to hear. It will also allow us to catch ourselves when our own reactions are getting in the way of what is being said.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Talking To Myself

"If the truth can be told so that it is understood it will be believed"-Shaman, Re:Evalution

This line has been going through my head again and again for years, but more so lately. I have wanted to talk about it here but have not, until now, seen how it relates to personal growth and changing who we are into who we want to be.

Here is the realization I had while fighting with my cat about where it was ok to sit on the bed - next to me, not one me - when I am writing. We need to speak to ourselves in a way that we can understand if we want to change who we are. We need to find the words, the symbols and the context that not only motivates us but converts us to a new way of being. The conversion I am talking about is a fundamental shift in how we perceive ourselves. When this happens our definition of our identity changes and we will begin to act in new and different ways.

Finding a language which we can understand is not easy. Success comes from self examination and at looking at the darkness and light of our own actions. Once we have begun to learn it, it is a powerful tool.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Through not Around

Part of success is being prepared, being ready to make changes and being ready to move when the opportunity presents itself. We have to also be willing to recognize what is a good opportunity and what is a false dream that will sidetrack us, destroy confidence and continue a cycle of disappointment.

We do this by knowing with clarity and certainty what it is we want. Wanting pain to end is broad and there are a number of solutions that may achieve that goal, but if a solution does not lead us to a place that we like we will just find new pain. If an opportunity presents itself and looks good just because it is a way out of the current pain we still must weigh it against future pain.

This is not to say that we should not act but, rather that we should act with caution to make decisions that bring us closer to where we really want to be rather then away from what hurts. This is one key to living: move towards what you want, not away from what you do not want. Some times what we need and want to be truly happy comes by going through the fire. When we circle the fire to reach where we're going we may find that what we are looking for has moved and we are left singed and with nothing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Small Bags

Let's talk about baggage. Not the heavy suitcases we carry around with us filled with our past, but the back packs and messenger bags that are stuffed full of our attitudes and expectations. What we have in those bags has a direct impact on how our day will turn out.

Quite often the difference between having a good day and an ok day, or an ok day and a bad day can be attitude. When we walk into work expecting to be miserable it is very likely that we will be miserable. On the other hand if we change our mindset even a little, say from "this day is going to suck" to "I will make the best of it" we can transform our experience. Our attitude dictates what we notice. If we are expecting to be miserable the hard, annoying moments of the day resonate with our attitude and make it stronger. If we have a better attitude the same is true, we note the good parts of the day.

While attitude can be a tightrope we have to walk, actively balancing between the attitude we want to have and the one events push us toward, expectation is the center point of the seesaw. We tend to find our expectations realized and positive as long as we keep them under control, balanced at the center of the teeter totter. When we over-expect from a situation there is a greater chance that it will fail us. Think about movies: the next big hit is coming and you are excited to see it and while it may be good, how many times does it live up to your expectations? With this in mind it seems like having low expectations would be safer. The problem there is that once we meet our expectations we tend to stop trying; we have what we came for so why bother doing more? We need to set our expectations high enough that they push us, but realistic enough so that we do not become disillusioned.

By keeping our expectations realistic and our attitude aimed at the positive we can shape our days and control our moods.

Friday, January 7, 2011


To successfully manage our confdence we need to have a realistic grasp of both our ablities and our limitations. Confdence is based on knowing what we are capable of and knowing what we are able to accomplish. Though confdence grows when we explore the edge of our abilities, we need to be aware of the limits of what we can do sucsesfully. Quicksand is quicksand is quicksand. Something may look safe, but on closer examination it may be a trap into which we will sink. There are traps to confdence like that. Things that look doable at first glance but which can collapse under us. To avoid quicksand traps we need to know our limits and the skills that are required in each specific situation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Protecting Our Confidence

I have said it before and I will say it again: confidence is the foundation of success. It is also true that success breeds confidence. That said, the easiest way to become confident is to start succeeding, which is why I advocate starting with small changes and working up to larger ones. But this being said, moving forward with success is all well and good, but what happens when we stumble? What do we do when we have a set back, or a plan does not come together the way we want it to? How do we protect our confidence?

  1. Don't Stop. Let us take as an example going to the gym. We set ourself a schedule of going every other day and stick to it for the first week. Then we miss a day then another. We start to feel that we have failed. The most important thing to do is to start going again. If we stop working to achieve our goals the flow of missed opportunities and untaken action will erode our confidence. So the first rule for protecting your confidence is, keep moving in the right direction.
  2. Discover Your Obstacles. There was a puzzle game I used to play where a number of mirrors where placed in a box and when light was shone into the box it would be reflected out a different opening. The object was to try and determine where the mirrors where. Once you knew where to find them then light entering the box behaved the way you would expect it to. Personal growth is like that. As we start to run our race we find that we run into walls and get knocked on our asses. This happens because we do not know the walls are there. We have three choices when this happens. We can sit on our asses and complain about how much the fall hurt, we can get up and run into the wall again or we can find a way around the wall. The first two will work to destroy confidence by creating an attitude of I can't do that. The last will teach us about who we are and the barriers we make for ourselves.Once we know the barrier we can tear it down or move around it. Second rule for protecting your confidence is know your limits and know how to work with them.
  3. Set Smaller Goals. Sometimes we aim higher than we are currently capable of reaching. I do this all the time with bike rides. I go farther than I can, then have trouble (call for a ride) to get home. We can protect our confidence here by building up to the large challenge. By breaking it down into smaller sections we are training ourselves to be able to take on the whole in one shot. By creating smaller tasks within the larger, each accomplishment is a victory, each building block we add towards completion is another bit of confidence gained. Rule three, when a problem is too much find the small parts that make it up and focus on those.

Confidence is a vital resource in personal growth; we must cultivate it and protect it as we try to achieve new things.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Just a quick note from a busy day today. I have reached a milestone in my plans to change my life. My first story for will be published at 9am today. This represents a major move forward for me in becoming a journalist. It has taken just over a year to get here, and there is a lot more change that needs to happen, but progress is being made. You can read the story here.

A bit about It is a hyper local news service made up of a number of different news rooms each focusing on one town or neighborhood.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Do Not Stop

There is something to be said for natural talent. It can make starting and learning something easier, but it does not make you the best in your field. There is something to be said for intellect, but being smart does not guarantee success. Skills can be learned, knowledge can be gained but to do that we need perseverance.

The ablity to keep working when things get hard, to press on when we are tired and to keep fighting when we feel beaten is the surest path to success. If we do not falter in our efforts to change, to grow, to hold to those New Year's resolutions, then we have no choice but to succeed.

Think of that - as long as we keep working and trying and do not give up the only outcome we can expect is success. We have no reason to fail unless we fail ourselves. The going may be slow, we may feel like we are walking in place, but as long as we keep picking up one foot and putting it in front of the other, as long as we keep pushing we will make it. Slow is not failure. Stopping is.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Poblem and a Solution

There are some lessons I seem to never learn. One example is that I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew and then push myself to do it. After it is done I have to waste time recovering from all the extra effort I have put out.

What I did

To preface this is a scenario that has played out on at least three occasions so you would think that I would have learned by now. Here are the facts: I own a bike, I do not work in the town where I live, I do not have a car and I do not ride my bike often. So with this in mind I have on several occasions when I could not find a ride to work decided it would be a good idea to ride my bike. It is 7 miles to work and I work early in the morning. If you do not ride a bike often the seats can be uncomfortable for long rides and the muscles you use are rather different then the ones you use to walk. By the time I get to work I am already tired and just a bit late and still have to work my full shift.

What I should be doing

Start riding my bike more often. With training and practice I should be able to make the 7 mile ride without many problems. I do need to start with shorter daily rides to condition myself and build the muscles used in riding a bike. There will be other benefits from this as well, a good source of exercise and generally greater mobility around town.