Thursday, June 30, 2011

You Never Know

You never know. As we go through our day we never really know what other people are going through. The driver who cuts us off may be on the way to the hospital. The person who glares at us when we talk loud may have just fought with someone they love. Then again, they may just be jerks.

It does not matter, jerks or a bad day; it costs us nothing to give them the benefit of the doubt. They are part of our story for only a moment, but a smile or at the least the lack of our own glare may help make things better for them.

If we can’t let the small slights, the inconvenience of strangers go, all it does is serve to darken our day. We can work to make others' day better or we can reflect there sorrow to the world.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Time to Launch

Whenever we are working on a project that we do not have complete control over there comes the moment of launch. This is the moment when we have done our part and we have to fire it out into the world for others to see, to use or to react to.

The build up to the launch can be busy, hectic and seem stressful, but the stress of having to wait is even worse.

This can be one of the causes of procrastination. We will keep working, keep fine toning, keep trying to make sure each part is as good as we can make it just to avoid the stress of having to wait for a reaction.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Moving Clouds

As I sit in a coffee shop pounding out these words this morning I am watching a cold June rain splash down on a Northern California shopping center. The cars still roll through the parking lot but the people do not gather at the tables, they duck under awnings and they jog across the parking lot.

Yesterday was a warm if cloudy day, the day before that was bordering on hot. People moved slowly, they stopped they chatted, they lingered at the tables.

Like Northern California weather the weather of our personal landscapes can change quickly, summer to winter in the space of one night, one conversation, even seeing the wrong person can shift our mood. We may not be able to be meteorologists for ourselves but unlike weather we can do something about our moods.

We need to be able to recognize when these mood shifts occur and make sure that we are able to redirect our focus. In other words the incident that changes our mood is like a gust of wind blowing cold rain in from the north. The wind comes and goes but the cloud lingers.

We can take hold of the cloud and move it on. If a sudden bad mood is the rain cloud the things that are right in our life is the clear sunny sky. Moving the clouds, refocusing on the things that make us happy can bring them back.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Look At All Your Tools

Have you ever seen those big, red, rolling tool boxes? The ones with all the drawers? Those are exactly the wrong way to think about how we store all the mental tools we use throughout our day. Our mental toolbox should be more of a workshop with all the tools hanging on the walls where they are easy to get to and, more importantly, easy to see.

With the big, rolling tool box everything gets separated into its own drawer based on the purpose it is used for. We may think of one idea as a writing tool, a second as a productivity tool and another as an educational tool. Really they are just all tools, they are good for different jobs, but they can be used outside of their usual context.

Take a screwdriver for example. The intended use of the tool is to tighten and loosen screws. However, a screwdriver is also invaluable for prying open stuck paint cans, scraping dirt out of a tight space or as a wedge to hold something open.

Another example: As has been mentioned in the past, I play roll playing games. One of them uses a system of aspects to define characters. Earlier today I was wondering why it was so easy for me to develop plots for this game, but so hard to do the same thing for writing fiction. The aspects where the key. This tool could be used to create the characters and places for a novel as easily for the game, and like in the game could then be used to show points of conflict that can lead to interesting stories.

The tool was not made for writing, it was made for playing a game, but it was in my tool box. When I stopped thinking about it as a gaming tool and just thought about it as a tool, I saw another way to use it. Sometimes we have the tools we need to solve the problems we have, we just need to take off the labels and leave them where we can see them.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Unfounded Ambition

Ambition should not be a product of hope but a product of well informed confidence. In other words if we chase down something based on what we hope will happen we are setting ourselves up to falter and fail.

This is not to say that ambition should not take chances, but the chance it does take should be one where we can control the outcome with our own skill and determination.

Ambition that rides on the back of luck and chance is like a child running with scissors, barefoot, in a room full of mousetraps. Sure they might make it safely across, but most likely there will be pain involved. When we are working to change our lives we cannot trust luck to carry the day.

A Moment of Fear Externalized

So the problem with making a plan and taking action on it is that it works. That can be intimidating.

I just got the notice that I have been approved for my Kick Start project. What that means is this, if I can raise the money the Mighty Us happens. If I get the money I can pay my writers, I can build a business and make something happen. It also means I have to be good with money; it’s not mine, it is the company's. I have to get the rewards to my backers. I have to come through.

I think that is what scares me the most. I now have responsibilities to make this happen.

I can do it. I can make this dream real.

Here we go, it is game time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Basic Optimism

I have talked in the past about not getting caught up in blinding optimism. We have to look at the negative, the down side, the possibility of failure in order to see how to avoid it. We cannot walk through the woods at night without going slow and watching for low hanging branches. A low hanging branch is a good way to knock ourselves out.

However there is a basic optimism we must all have. Without it there is no hope and no reason to try. This optimism can be boiled down to one sentence. If we are alive and willing to work things can and will get better.

We cannot blindly hope that our lives will change if we keep doing the same thing over and over again. We have to work, we have to strive and we have to put out effort to change our lives. If we are willing to do that we can make things better, we can make a difference, we can change the world.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Know Your Tells

We all have our tells, those things we do that signal our state of mind, the nervous twitches we don’t realize we have or the smile we can’t keep off our face. But we also have other kinds of tells and learning to recognize them can help to keep us on track.

For example the more frustrated I become the worse I do at keeping my workspace clean. This is an externalization of my inner mental state. The clutter of problems and worries that fill my mind cause me to fill my space with clutter.

This is one of my tells. When I start to see the room sliding into messiness I know I need to look for what it is that has gotten under my skin. When I can’t figure that out, I clean the room. Usually somewhere in the act of tidying up the physical space I find the answer I have been avoiding.

This is the power of knowing our tells. Sometimes if we change the behavior we can change the problem that causes it. The two are connected, the tell and the problem.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Two Ingredients for Success

The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is a matter of two things - how realistic we set our goals and how hard we are willing to work for them.

A goal that cannot be achieved is not a goal. It is a dream. When we hang on to goals that we know are not achievable all we do is dishearten ourselves. We create a reinforcing pattern of defeat that will do nothing but serve to keep us down.

Worse than not letting us accomplish the goals we have set for ourselves, this sort of downward spiral of failure can taint our other endeavours. This makes it harder to accomplish the things that were formerly easy.

To break this cycle we need to learn to set reasonable goals, and we need to revisit the goals we have to make sure they are realistic.

The other thing we need is the willingness to do the work that those goals require. There is no substitute for effort.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Worry About Your Part

An important part of meeting our commitments is to take them seriously. This is true whether the people we have committed to seem to take them seriously or not.

The attitudes that other people put into the projects they ask for help with should not influence how we treat the choice we have made. It can be frustrating when we have committed to help with something and the person we are helping does not seem to be putting effort into it. But we do not know what is going inside their heads. They may feel like they are working hard. There may be aspects of the project that we do not see or understand.

We have to take ownership of the part of the project that we have agreed to do, and if we are unable to do what we have agreed to accomplish, we have to be honest about that as well.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Project Update

The going can be hard but that does not mean the road is not worth traveling. The road to getting The Mighty Us launched is having hardships, mostly because of my desire to have all the stories in and ready to go for Monday.

It looks like we will be pushing back one more week so all the stories for the first issue will be ready to go. But, like any project, the things that slow us down only beat us if we stop working.

So, for the first issue of The Mighty Us, it looks like we will have four columns, a profile an editorial and at least one organization profile.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Burdens and Backpacks

It is important in life to be able to separate our burdens from our backpacks. As we move through life we gather things we hold onto. Some of those things weigh us down, others give us the boost to keep going.

The things that give us the boost, that's our backpack. It helps us keep going and allows us to carry the weight of our responsibilities while still leaving our hands free to get work done.

An example: A part of my back pack is my cat, Sunny. He is there to greet me, to cheer me up and to demand attention. He is one of things that brightens my day every day and gives me enough motivation to keep moving.

On the other hand we have burdens we carry, emotional hurts, frustrations and hardships we have difficulty letting go of.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Surfing the Washing Machine

There are no little problems. There are no big problems. There are just the problems we are currently facing that are keeping us from achieving the things we would like to achieve. Some problems might seem more complex or require more effort to overcome, but any problem that slows or stops our progress is as detrimental as any other.

The hardest problem we will ever face is the one we are not prepared for, the one that catches us off guard from out of left field. These problems will happen no matter how much we plan for them or how much we try to avoid them. They will come from elements outside our control and from the problems of dealing with limited resources.

The only way to deal with these problems is to roll with the punches. When sudden unforeseen problems hit there is often a moment of shock and inaction. We can take that moment of shock, but that is all. We need to learn how to recover, regain our balance and react. The longer we let a problem stop us from moving forward the less likely we are to get started again.

In surfing when you fail to catch a wave or misjudge the way a wave is behaving you may wipe out. This usually consists of being violently flung from your board and tossed into the ocean at the exact point where the crest of a breaking wave is slamming with all the raw force it can muster back into the surface of the ocean. You are tossed spun and pounded in what is sometimes known, at least in my day, as the washing machine.

In the washing machine you do not have a choice about rolling with the punches. You have to find which way is up locating any obstacle, namely your board, between you and the surface and start moving. You only have so much air and only a little time before the next wave comes rolling in. If you do not get moving quickly you do not get moving at all.

The best survival tool a surfer has when he or she is in the washing machine is staying calm. A surfer who is not confident in his ability in the water can panic, loose his or her sense of direction or rush up too quickly and be hit by his own board.

Maintaining our calm lets us react quickly, and the way to maintain our calm is, like the surfer, to be confident in our ability to survive.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Hand or the Boot

There is a trap as we begin to achieve the things we are working for, especially when those things are the breaking of a bad habit. The trap is this - we have seen the change that breaking that bad habit has made in our lives and we can become condemning of others when they indulge the habit we have broken.

While having a certain amount of pride in our own accomplishments is good, everyone is on their own journey. They have their own struggles and their own goals. Because something is a problem for us and we have beaten it, that does not mean that it is a problem for someone else, and even if it is, it does not mean it is the problem they are working on at the moment.

Condemnation does not truly encourage people to change; it just makes them feel bad. It makes them feel they have to hide what they do around others. In other words it can make them feel bad about themselves for something that is not a problem. At worst it makes them resentful of what you have accomplished.

This is not to say we should not encourage people to make good choices, but we should do it through recognizing the positive rather than condemning the negative.

Think of it this way: when we stumble do we need someone to put their boot on our chest and hold us down or do we want a hand held out to help us up?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Go Get 'Em

The more I try to do the “luckier” I become. Every extra task or ambition I actively put energy into the more opportunities present themselves.

There is nothing we can do that beats taking action to change our situation. Planning is good but without action those plans are nothing more then waste paper. All the efforts all the energy to create the perfect plan will get us no where if we do not put it into action.

To actually start doing, we have to set aside many things, our fear, a desire for perfection, and the belief that we will fail. When we start, things will go wrong, our plans will have flaws and we will only do as well as we are able to. However, if we let any of that stop us the opportunities that will arise will never even be known.

Take last night as an example. I was tired, I had been working on a video slide show story all day and had been plagued with technical difficulties. I had agreed to attend an awards presentation and reception for the local bicycle coalition but I was not even sure there was a story I could sell there.

The bottom line was I did not want to go, I wanted to go home and just relax. Instead I went, I put out the effort and discovered something amazing. The reception was hosted at the share exchange, a nonprofit group looking to build community green businesses. One of the features they offer is a membership based shared workspace.

Talking to to Kelly, the person in charge, I found a lot of their values are in line with what I want to do at The Mighty Us. So a bit of effort has led me not only to multiple story ideas but also to a cheap affordable office space for my latest venture.

In the end when we begin a journey we do not know where the roads will take us, where the detours will be or even where we will arrive at the end. But without starting and taking all those side paths we will never even get out the front door.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Failures are a Tool

A good friend of mine told me once “I don’t read your blog because it’s depressing.” While I could see where he was coming from I would still have to disagree.

The things I talk about doing - being honest with ourselves, holding ourselves accountable for our problems and admitting we are not perfect are not always easy. What I do find depressing is watching people make the same mistakes again and again. When we are unwilling to change the way we think or act but are not happy with the life we are living, that is depressing.

Hard work is not fun, if it was it would be hard play, but it is worth the rewards. We have to be willing to work to grow, to recognize where there is a need for growth, and to be honest about that with ourselves. We also have to be willing to admit when we are not doing as well as we would like. These admissions should not be seen as pot holes but instead as guard rails. As we come close to hitting them we can correct our course and find our way to where we want to be.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Reason for Habits

I have over the course of this blog routinely encouraged the creation of good habits as a way to change our behaviors. There is a simple reason this works. It moves the process of making good decisions from a taxing effort that we must continuously make to a reaction that we can perform without thinking.

The process of creating a habit is really about training the subconscious to do what we want it to do. At first we understand the habit or the behavior we are trying to change. We then develop an alternate way of reacting and force ourselves to repeat it.

This creates a precedent that our subconscious mind can use to help direct actions. Each voluntary repetition brings us closer to the point where we can behave the way we want without expending willpower to do it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Updates From the New Site

So this week brings a big push to getting the new site up and running. Playing with themes and getting Wordpress set up has been more of a learning curve than I expected but I think I am getting the hang of it.

As I have been building the site the focus has shifted. Unlike Up From The Ashes which has been about my personnel growth and the insights and thoughts it has spurred in me The Mighty Us will focus more on building community and how strong communities come from strong people.

Personal growth will still be an aspect of the publication but not its sole focus. I say publication because I am not sure how to define the site I am envisioning. The Mighty Us will have multiple writers all with backgrounds in journalism. It will have some level of editorial overview. In these ways it is more than a blog. However I do not really like the term magazine for a solely digital product. And digital magazine feels like a cop out.

I also I have come to the conclusion that I should be striving to pay my writers. While they are mostly young, they are solid writers and they know their craft. They are more then capable of providing content that is worth paying for.

To do this I will be turning to KickStart to raise capital. KickStart is a crowd sourced funding solution for creative endeavors, including publishing. Any help people could give will be greatly appreciated. I hope to have the KickStart page up and ready to go by Monday. I am hoping to generate $10,000 which would cover my operating budget for the first six months giving me time to secure advertisers and still be able to pay my writers, web host and myself.

I am also looking for input on the mission statement for The Mighty Us:

The mission of The Mighty Us is to help provide tools, inspiration and information to help build communities through personal growth and understanding.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Simple Hard Things

~ photo courtesy of q5

We can make the simple easy by toiling up the learning curve.

Simple and easy, two words that are close together in meaning and the ideas they convey, but that should not be confused with each other. It is a difference that becomes all the more important when we give or receive advice.

Things that are simple are not complex; it does not take much effort to teach the process necessary to complete a simple action. This does not make doing the action easy. Simple tasks or actions can become easy with practice and when we have had that practice it is easy to forget how hard they were when we were learning them.

Think about throwing a Frisbee, something that is simple enough to do but hard to be good at when we are out of practice. As we release we have too much angle and the disc goes flying into the ground or way up in the air before reversing course to smack us in the head. But as we learn to keep the disk level and get the hang of launching it with a snap of the wrist it will fly true.

Growing and changing our lives is like that. When we are in the thick of making a change the path may be simple, but that does not mean that it is easy. We should not allow ourselves to feel discouraged when the problems we are wrestling with fly at an odd angle and come back to smack us upside the head. Instead we need to understand that every wrestling match is just one more training bout before the title fight and the title fight is the match we need to win.

This is particularly important when someone tells us something is easy or to just do this or that and everything will be fine. We have to know that from where they are standing, from their years of practice, what we are doing looks simple and easy, however we still have the learning curve ahead of us. We must not give up when the simple things prove not to be the easy things.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Getting Better

It is time to address the weak points in my professional life, at least as I see them. I want to become a better interviewer and better profile writer. There is only one way I know to get better at anything and that is a simple mix of study and practice.

To become good at anything you have to be able to know what good looks like. For me this means reading more good profile pieces. As I look at them it needs to be more than just reading them, I have to dig in and see what the author did and think about the questions he or she has asked to get the story

The other side of the equation is practice, and this means doing interviews even if there is no story involved, and writing profiles when no one else will see them. If I can sell them all the better but what is important right now is the doing.

To move forward we must always be sharpening our skills. With that in mind what are you going to study and practice this weekend?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Doers Do

Just a quick thought for today as it is a busy morning for me.

When I was a kid I would like to sit around the house reading or watching TV rather than going out and playing. My mother would, as others do, try to get me to go out and play or to at least get some exercise. When I would complain that I was tired, at least I think that was my excuse, she would tell me, “Energy creates energy.”

As true as it was then, it is true today. There is nothing like doing to make more doing possible. Call it momentum, call it being focused, call it what you like. If we start working it becomes easier to do more work. As we create the habit of being active we make it easy to be active.

Another thing I have been told is, “A writer writes.” A lot of people will talk about being writers or wanting to be writers, but without the words on the page, all it is, is talk. The only way to do anything is to start, and it gets easier from there.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On Compromise

Yesterday I pointed out the need for compromise in a world of limited resources. But what exactly is compromise and when should we be willing to do it?

Before we go further, there is a negative attitude towards compromise. When our politicians do it they are called weak or are said to flip flop. When we do it we worry that we too will appear weak. So let’s start by looking at what compromise is not. It is not giving in; it is not surrendering what you want in favor of what someone else wants, and it is not giving up. Compromise is not weakness. It is instead the very stone used to build the foundation of society.

Compromise is a method of finding an agreeable solution between two groups with different ideas about how things can be. At the heart of compromise is finding out what is really important to each participant and how those things can be preserved for both sides in the final outcome.

To do this we need to understand what we are trying to achieve in a situation and be willing to listen to what others are trying to achieve. We must also accept that we may not get our ideal solution, but instead find a solution that gives everyone something of what they want.

Start by identifying the things that would be nice but are not necessary, the frills that could be sacrificed to save the dress so to speak. Once you know what those are, look at what you really want again and see what could be modified, what could be changed to deliver the same result in a different way. This gives you areas to compromise on without giving up everything.

We also have to know what we are unwilling to give up, the core of what is important to us in the compromise. What are the things that are so important that we cannot back down without losing a part of who we are?

With that in mind compromise should always be the first attempt we make to resolve conflict. As long as we can reach an agreement that protects those core outcomes we can find resolution.