The Sky Is Falling!

Chicken Little was sure of it. I am too. I felt it. Didn’t you? Bang. There goes another one. I especially feel this way when I look at news — or read a newspaper (yes I still do that, although I’m not sure why).

Here’s the deal: Chicken Little attracted ATTENTION when she said the sky was falling. But even though she is wrong, that doesn’t stop her from alarming those around her.

Today’s media has a “Sky Is Falling” mentality.  While they’re not usually wrong, they’re rarely telling us about something good that’s happened. It’s probably a good idea to ignore the news. If we don’t know the sky is falling, we don’t worry about it nearly as much, and are able to accomplish more because of it. When something REAL happens, then we can engage.

I like to think about the two main variations on the ending of the Chicken Little story, each providing a strong moral or takeaway (which is what fables are supposed to do). (1) In the happy ending, the story makes a case for standing up for whatever you believe in. It’s okay to be different and a little weird. Spoiler alert for ending #1 . Chicken Little and her friends don’t get eaten by the fox. (2) In the unhappy ending, the moral has to do with the consequences of believing everything you hear, no matter how ridiculous. Spoiler alert for ending #2. Chicken Little and her friends are all eaten by the fox.

I like the happy ending. I want today’s children to understand that being different is a good thing. Yes, you might get eaten, but if getting eaten is only failing, what’s to worry about? Lots of people fail and then rise like a Phoenix from the ashes of their defeat, stronger and more prepared for the next battle. On the other hand, I am very tired of the Media trying to outdo each other with the worst story du jour. The trouble is, there are too many pieces of ugly sky falling about our head and shoulders these days.

Here’s what: I say make today a good day. If you choose to watch the news and see that the sky is falling, decide if there’s anything you can do about it. If not, keep doing what you’re doing, and dare to be different. Be the weird Chicken Little. Run around with feathers flying. Squawk a little. Better yet, make the sky fall. Carve a Steve Jobs ding in your universe and then eat the fox.

 

 

 

Basket Envy

Have you seen it at Costco? It’s almost a sport. People peek over the top of others’ overstuffed shopping carts… on the way IN and on the way OUT! On the way IN they’re saying, “What do I need to look for once I get in?” On the way OUT, they say (I’ve actually heard it), “Oh Honey, look what we missed!” It’s a metaphor for life these days. “Hey, fella, what do you have in your basket that I might want? What am I missing?” Both feed Social Media. What if you miss out today?

What if you do? So what?

Indeed SO WHAT? Don’t succumb to basket envy. You can catch it later.

Clutter

ClutClutterter. It was everywhere I looked. I spent a day (a whole day!) fighting it off, but it rolled right back in like a peeping-Tom wave to a nude beach.

This phenomenon is known in family circles as the “clutter factor (CF).” Here’s the formula:

CF = 

(Number of people in the living unit) to a factor of pack-rat lineage 


(The volume of the clutter container)

Screw the math: If you buy too much stuff, never get rid of it, work and/or go to school, and have a lot of busy people under one roof, your Clutter Factor is high. My husband said I obsessed over it, but then, I saw it, he didn’t. (Neither did the boys.)

When the kids were home, my husband and kids focused on their work, their studies, their music, and their hobbies. I worked, too, but I railed at the insufferable encroachment of detritus as the work/school week wore on. On Monday, it seeped in the back door; by Tuesday, it washed through the living area; Wednesday found it sloshing into the bathrooms; and on Thursday, it surged into the bedrooms. By Friday, we were neck deep in it, barely able to crane our necks above it to carry on a conversation. Newspapers, laundry, homework, music, bills, projects, books, invitations, purchases, and pets whirled and spun through the churning sea of our busy lives. Weekends sighed in hopes of stemming the tide. Sometimes they succeeded. Sometimes they didn’t.

The Clutter Factor had (and still has) a companion that lurks shamefully in my very own personality. This sin sister is what I call the “Project Factor.” I own this one. I have three to five projects besides work on the front burners at all times – volunteer stuff, hobbies, things to write, things to read, and more. Because all of these contain anxious due dates, their associated files and piles dot the house like seagulls at a picnic. I am a contributor to the clutter! There, I said it.

To overcome the reprehensible clutter side of myself, I invoked my alter ego, “Buffy the Clutter Slayer”— who is still alive and well. Buffy wields trash sacks and Goodwill bags, and tears as if possessed through the house. Her ruling mantra: “If I Cat_Clutterhaven’t seen it move in the last five minutes, it’s clutter and it’s history.”   We lost a cat one year. She was too slow.

One summer, Buffy and I cleaned out the garage in a flurry of self-righteous de-cluttering. My family didn’t speak to either of us for three weeks after that: Buffy threw out their valuable stuff that they hadn’t used since we had moved in. Buffy wanted to move. I said we had to stay. Good lord, we’d have to corral the stuff and box it. I didn’t have the energy!

Here’s the deal: Our clutter defined us, and tried to control us, but with Buffy around, it shouldn’t defeat us. Some days, I actually reveled in our clutter: it told me we were busy and doing. I didn’t trust people whose houses were too clean: they weren’t supporting the American economy, I’d argue.

The very next day as I looked across the burgeoning heaps, I grabbed myself by the collar, pulled myself just an inch or so off the ground and said, “Civilized people don’t live this way.” I strained toward civility as Buffy cleaned out a drawer. I wondered if I would ever live a Spartan, monkish existence, wearing a robe with no underwear, and murmuring all day. I wondered if that would make me happy. Probably not. I wondered if it would be okay to have at least one clean room. One? Okay, I’ll take a closet. No? Then, give me a drawer. I’ll take anything.

It’s a lot of stuff!

Those days are gone. Well almost. The kids are grown and out of the house, but their clutter remains. And while it’s contained in the attic and the garage, mostly boxed with labels, waiting to move on to the next phase it’s still here! I don’t miss the clutter in the house, that’s for sure. But when we’re feeling like we need a fond reminder of what it was like to have noise and craziness filling our space, Buffy and I go up to the attic and look at what remains. It’s a lot of stuff. We sigh. And then we shake our heads, with thoughts of the cat we lost. After we clean up a little, we check to make sure our new dog is still around, we give each other a high five and walk through the house, mostly clear of clutter.

Oh… but don’t look in the guest room closet, please.

 

Seeing With Fresh Eyes

Everyone from marketers to writers to web designers needs Fresh Eyes. Find out why and how.

Seeing with Fresh Eyes

I don’t like to edit. Well, I like to edit other people’s stuff, but not my own. I like what I write. Or I wouldn’t be a writer. That said, everyone needs someone to edit their work.

 

EVERYONE. (Including moi).

Fresh Eyes are other people’s eyes. Or they’re your own eyes after a good night’s sleep.

Fresh Eyes are your eyes after 24 hours away from the project. Maybe 8 hours. Or 2. For longer works, Fresh Eyes, if they’re your own, require time and a blink-worthy dusting (think powdered sugar here) of amnesia.

Stephen King says Fresh Eyes are needed between book drafts. In his writing craft memoir On Writing he says, “How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks.”

Fresh Eyes could be called “vu-jà dé” … (I stole this from Adam Grant’s TED Talk at minute:second 10:57 into the talk. Thanks Adam! J). It’s like the opposite of déjà vu, where instead of already having seen it before, you’re seeing it for the first time.

Fresh Eyes bring someone else’s perspective into your life, onto the project.

Fresh Eyes sing new tunes and bring new rhythms.

Fresh Eyes understand there are more ways to approach the problem, write the story, paint the picture, take the photo.

Fresh Eyes are untainted by prejudice. Fresh Eyes are unclogged by confirmation bias.

Fresh Eyes are often “focused” by listening ears and open hearts and reading out loud.

Fresh Eyes are gifted by a willingness to admit you’re wrong. A possibility that you made a mistake. The welcoming of another opinion, instead of an anxiety about being criticized.

Fresh Eyes are not fearful, nor are Fresh Eyes to be feared. They are your friends.

For your writing project, your film, your new product, your idea, your company, or your invention or daring marketing scheme, take a moment and a deep breath. Take two steps back, or take a walk around the block. A trip around the world. A night away. Take in a movie or a play. Read a book.

Then return with Fresh Eyes. And when “Did I really say that?” escapes your lips, you can thank us. Or thank Stephen King. He’ll be glad he could help. I’m sure.

Artwork by Katie Phillips

 

Practice Makes Perfect

Winners AND losers practice 10,000 hours.

What does “Practice Makes Perfect” mean? Most people think it means that if you do something over and over and over, your skill (whatever it is) will be perfect. It will not, of course, but one can hope to achieve as close to perfection as possible. Piano players à la Practice Makes PerfectVladimir Horowitz, basketball players like Michael Jordan, authors, painters, gymnasts, race car drivers, surgeons, repairmen, typists, dancers—everyone that wants to excel at something—has to practice. 

Winners Practice 10,000 Hours

To come in first in a competition, to be paid for their work, and to generally reach the pinnacle of their craft or sport or profession, winners practice and continue to practice even after they’re “good.” Why do they call it a medical practice, a dental practice or a legal practice? Because those licensed professionals have to keep practicing to continue to be skilled to their high levels of satisfaction. In his 2011 book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.

There’s a catch, though.

Losers Practice 10,000 Hours Too!

Continue reading “Practice Makes Perfect”

Original Content

“Thou doesn’t want to be stoleth from… right?

What is original content? Original content is unique music, inventive lyrics, one-of-a kind words or works of art that come from our true selves. I love synonyms. Here are some synonyms for the word original: authentic, initial, first. But the more interesting synonyms come in the second layer, as in taking the word authentic and drilling down to the lower levels for the synonyms of authentic: authoritative, accurate, convincing, legitimate. Powerful words, no?

Original Content
Image by Katie Phillips

 

On the opposite side of the writing mountain is the word plagiarism. Plagiarism is the ‘wrongful appropriation’ and ‘stealing and publication’ of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work.[1][2] I’m citing Wikipedia here. See? It’s okay to use other people’s work if attribution is given.

Furthermore, Merriam-Webster defines plagiarize as follows: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own:  use (another’s production) without crediting the source.

Trend Alert: The ease of copy-paste tempts the weak, but does not give anyone permission to copy, plagiarize or otherwise “borrow” content. Why would people want to do that anyway? Look at the words above: Authoritative, accurate and convincing. They are not my words. The thesaurus says it’s so. People want to present themselves in their best light, so the best way to do that is through original content.

Having an outside writer compose for you is cheating if there has been no mutual agreement. So if someone like Biff Tannen in Back to the Future bullies you into writing their papers for them, that’s cheating. Remember? Marty’s father George McFly wrote Biff’s papers for him. Ghostwriting is different. In that case, the person has knowledge that their words are being written by someone else. In fact, they specifically ask someone else to write for them. See my ghostwriting blog post here.

Believe in yourself and your originality. Make your own content. It’s one of the 10 commandments, isn’t it?

“Thou shalt not steal.”

And for good reason. It’s also related to: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.” Who says their writing is better than yours? You’re the expert!

More to the point: Thou doesn’t wanteth to be stolen from. Right? So don’t stealeth!

To see why it’s great to have original content click here for a link to the Ebook by Kathryn Atkins, “10 Reasons to Hire a Professional Writer.”

IKEA Virgin

Have you been to an IKEA store recently?

Back in 2006, we opened season on sending our last son to college. We went to IKEA. I had heard stories, the sagas of the seasons passing during an IKEA visit, but I thought these people must have been exaggerating. They were not. IKEA makes Costco look like a backyard excursion in comparison to the global circumnavigation posed by an IKEA store visit.

 We were in the store for 5 ½ hours.

It was an experience I did not soon reprise: I haven’t been back in nine years. The store was well organized, well lit, fairly well staffed, and clean. It is also cheap and, the 5½ hours notwithstanding, it saves time, which is a particularly important commodity in a working person’s life. For instance, my husband is a lot of things, but he is not a shopper. IKEA is a store for the shoppers of us, but in reality, it’s a store for non-shoppers as well. Why? Because it gets the entire shopping thing done in one, long, grueling, gut-wrenching, foot-searing, back-aching, self-helping, mind-numbing session. In short, you’re your own decorator, designer, shopper, warehouseman, and delivery boy. DON’T FORGET: Bring room dimensions, or you’ll probably end up back there again!

Also, come to your visit with an empty, large vehicle, room on your credit card, and a couple of able bodied, but skinny people that can heft the furniture pieces, but also squeeze into the leftover crevices in your “personal moving van” to get the stuff home.

It’s 2015 today and as I said, I haven’t been back there. I do remember being impressed by the organization and the high-tech environment nine years ago. Everything had a place. Touch screens dotted the pickup area to help you find your items in their vast find-it-yourself warehouse. Thank goodness for numbers! (Who invented those anyway?) Bin numbers, SKUs and part numbers managed the inventory; employees in yellow shirts managed the flow of parts and people.

The food offering (IKEA knew that they should feed customers who would be spending the better part of 24 hours in their clutches) counter-balanced the vastness of the store’s inventory by its marked sparseness: they were out of three food items. There were, however, piles of suspicious looking signature Swedish meatballs, which they promoted with massive colorful signage, take-home offers, and daily specials. I wonder if they’re always on special just to get rid of them.

The store we visited was 28,500 square meters, or about 306,711 square feet. A typical American football field is 57,600 square feet, so we’re talking about five football fields here. We slogged through the stupid thing at least twice, going back to look at different things so our son could mix and match and create his very own college room décor. I found myself biting my lip at some of his choices, but he was spreading his wings and I was grinning maniacally as the grateful almost empty nester.

So while I used to be an IKEA virgin, I am now knowledgeable in the ways of what was then a brave new retail world wonder. As with that other rite of passage, I feel somewhat sullied, but no longer afraid of the unknown. In this case I have sore feet to prove my passage…

Meanwhile, we did right by our college-bound child. He needed stuff, and stuff they had. Lots. Everywhere.