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Monday Motivator: Celebrate Your Way. Let Others Do the Same

This story appeared on my Facebook feed yesterday. I’m not sure how factual it is, but it’s one of those stories that should be true if it isn’t:

A mom bought a Christmas stocking for the family’s cat. Her daughter said, “Mom. Why did you buy that? We’re Muslim.”

The mother said, “But we don’t know what religion the cat is.”

It seems every year that there are holiday wars over some of the weirdest things. People argue about when to put up decorations, when to put to take them down, and even how much decorating is too much.

Here is my take: Do what you like as long as you’re  not hurting anyone else.

So if you want to put up your decorations on Halloween and keep them up until February, go ahead. If you want to take your tree down on Christmas afternoon, go ahead. If you want to put up five hundred inflatable Santa Clauses in your yard, go ahead. If you are a traditionalist and don’t observe Christmas until Advent is over, go ahead. And if you don’t celebrate at all, go ahead.

I have a fairly laissez-faire approach to the holidays. I sing Christmas and Hanukkah songs with equal abandon. And everything from the ritziest to the tackiest decorations make me smile. To many of our students, I say, “Have a great break,” because they are actually gone longer than the holiday period. If someone says “Merry Christmas,” I say it back. If someone says “Happy Hanukkah,” I say it back. If they say “Happy Holidays,” I say it back.

I have no desire to extinguish someone else’s joy.

However, if you are one of the people who has put up five hundred inflatable Santas, please reinflate them after a cold night. Right now (and you know who you are ), it looks like a giant Christmas massacre took place in your yard.

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Monday Motivator: Give Someone the Benefit of the Doubt

St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote that we “ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it.” It seems like an obvious idea to me: You give someone benefit of the doubt until there is no doubt left.

But it seems to be a hard skill to put into practice.

On a group Facebook page, I’m always reading someone’s complaints about a rude employee at various stores and restaurants. (Fast food places are a particular target.) Now no one wants to be treated rudely, )although the fact that someone is upset enough to post on Facebook might be a good topic for the future). But what if we applied Ignatius’s advice?

  • This person seems rude. But maybe it’s her first day, and she’s simply overwhelmed.
  • This person seems rude. But what if the guy before me was a real jerk and upset her? And now she’s about two seconds from crying?
  • This person seems rude. But what if he just got a phone call from his kid’s school and he’s now got to make arrangements for child care?
  • This person seems rude. But maybe she’s just heard the 500th Christmas carol over the restaurant’s loudspeaker and she can’t take any more.

You get the picture. Who knows which interpretation is the right one? But why do we jump so quickly that the person before us is rude, obnoxious, and needs to be put in his/her place?

I’ve tried to take Ignatius’s advice for years now. And some people will say that I don’t stand up for myself and get disrespected. But this is my response: I get to treat such interactions lightly. When my order comes, I’m thinking about my food and not how I was treated. So I enjoy my food.  And then I move on. Which frees up my mind and heart for the rest of the day. And I have no need to vent on Facebook and get other people riled up.

And that, as the commercials say, is priceless.

Monday Motivator: Make a Gratitude List

Here, in no particular order, are the things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving week:

  • a short work week
  • a chance to see my family
  • colleagues who both inspire and challenge me
  • a boss with humor, kindness, and vision
  • health
  • Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet for a weekly reminder that people will go out of their way to help others (and cute kittens).
  • all the books on my to-read list
  • the fact that Jane Austen existed and wrote books (and that people made good movies out of her stories)
  • that someone came up with the idea of mixing raspberries with chocolate
  • the daily chance to help students achieve their goals

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday Motivator: Use the ‘Edit’ Mode

On October 28, one of our college’s beloved colleagues and one of my best friends passed away. Although Pam had retired several years ago, many faculty and staff had fond memories to share with each other. Stories of her generosity, kindness, and humor abounded.

One of my earliest memories of Pam is from my third year at the college. I was going on a trip to England to visit my grandmother. I had saved up a hundred dollars in coins, wrapped them, and planned to take them to the credit union to swap them out for travelers’ checks after work. Unfortunately, someone came in my office while I was in class and stole them. A few hours later, Pam appeared at my door with a personal check: “I can’t let some horrible person ruin your trip.” No amount of protest would dissuade her. She had made it her personal mission to right that particular wrong.

Of course, in a thirty-year friendship, things did not always run smooth. She was constantly running late, and I would sit smoldering in a restaurant because “something had popped up at the last minute.” Or she would cancel some activity because work had piled up.

In an episode of “Everyone Loves Raymond,” the title character gives a speech at his brother’s wedding reception after his mother ruined the wedding. He talks about the ability to edit out the bad stuff. And that is a skill worth cultivating. For there will always be bad stuff as long we keep hanging out with other humans.

Yes, her running late was part of who she was. But only one part. The laughter far outweighed the annoyances:

  • After dinner before a concert, we’d both gone to the bathroom. When I came out of my stall, I was stunned to see her head, with its perfectly coiffed hair and flawless makeup, sticking out of the bottom of her stall. Always prone to claustrophobia, she had not been able to get the door open and was trying to escape. After I helped her out, she made me promise not to tell anyone. I did. When I got to work the next Monday, I found she had already told everyone.
  • In her car, she told me about this new band she loved and was playing their new CD for me. After about thirty minutes of talking with the music in the background, I realized something:

“Pam, all these songs sound very much alike.”

“Oh, it’s the same song. I have it on repeat.”

“How are the other songs?”

“I haven’t listened to them yet.”

Pam was a wonderful colleague. She was a great friend. I miss her terribly.

 

 

Monday Motivator: Celebrate Fall

In the South, the seasons rarely follow the calendar, and I can remember both Thanksgivings and Christmases that were uncomfortably hot. So for those of us who love the season of fall, we have to be ever vigilant because it can come and go in a matter of days.

But it is here now in Tennessee. The leaves are turning. The temperatures are such that wearing boots and cardigans makes sense. I can take a walk without being covered with sweat upon my return.

Now, in Nashville, the temperatures might easily be in the 80’s next week. So while we have autumn here in our midst, take time to appreciate the season:

  • Go for a walk, maybe in a park and let the leaves crunch under your feet.
  • Rake some leaves and then let the kids (or yourself) jump in them.
  • Go ahead and enjoy a pumpkin-spice latte.
  • Make some soup.
  • Get the newest book by your favorite mystery writer and read away an afternoon.

Happy Autumn!

 

Monday Motivator: Bite Your Tongue

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. — Mark Twain

It is better to keep your fingers off the keyboard and let people think  you are a fool than to type a comment and remove all doubt.– The Jolly Librarian

I belong to a community Facebook page. I wanted to find out where was the best place to buy homegrown vegetables or find a good handyman. Instead most days, I am inundated with people complaining about service at a restaurant or turning fairly benign discussions into political rants.

One day, when a discussion became especially egregious, I couldn’t resist and made a comment. I learned a hard lesson. On this particular page, once you comment, you can’t go back. All day, I kept getting pings that someone else had made a comment on the discussion. Most people were not replying to me. A few people did reply, and they were not there to have a serious discussion (Yeah, I know. What was I thinking?), but to make fun of me, be funny themselves, or make a totally different point and had mistakenly posted as a reply. It was a tiring day.

But I learned my lesson. Now, unless I think the person truly wants my input, I bite my virtual lip and keep my fingers off the keyboard. When folks share an article, I look at the source. If it’s heavily biased, then I know they don’t want a discussion, so I keep my fingers off the keyboard.

A wise person once said, “You don’t have to attend every argument to which you’re invited.” That saying should be made into a pop-up for every time we log into Facebook or Twitter.

By the way, I’m still a member of the neighborhood group because I still need that handyman.

 

Monday Motivator: Admit Your Weaknesses (at least to yourself)

Last week, I hired someone to clean my house. I’d been thinking about it for years because I simply hate to clean. (It’s okay if you judge me. I judged myself.) In fact, the only time I clean is when I look around my house and realize that if I suddenly died, people would talk more about my dirty house than mourn my passing.

Friday afternoon, I came home to a clean house. A very clean house. After appreciating its loveliness for a while, I realized something: Not only do I not like cleaning, I apparently am not very good at it.  Even when I gave my house a good cleaning, somehow there are still streaky mirrors, cobwebs in corners, and dust in places that I swore I had dusted.

I don’t like cleaning. I’m not good at cleaning. And, for the time being, I can provide a job to someone who does it well. So I’m going to stop worrying about it.

There is something liberating about admitting you don’t do something well. Because once you do, you can make another plan: improve your skills, stop caring about it, or give the job to someone else. In fact, often during my career, I’ve had more problems with people who simply won’t accept that they can’t do something, continue doing it, and forcing other people to clean up the mess.

I think we all should be more open about our weaknesses. Because, in most cases, that’s all they are: weaknesses, not sins.

 

 

Monday Motivator: Never Discount Luck

My friend Maria and I met for coffee yesterday. A little sheepishly, she mentioned that she might be getting a new dog. Maria has a soft heart when it comes to dogs that are not treated well, and she has a series of neighbors who have not treated their dogs terribly well. Down to one dog after her old “men” Porter and Nio died, she declared herself content. But the neighbors added more dogs, one a little terrier that had come from a hoarding situation and was not socialized at all. The neighbor couple then broke up, and no one was terribly excited about keeping the un-socialized, un-housebroken, hyper terrier.

So I wasn’t terribly surprised when Maria sent a text last night of the dog in her kitchen. Right now, she’s fostering to see if she can get her in adoptable shape.

But my story is not about Maria. It’s about luck. For every Pixie (the dog’s name), there are thousands of dogs who will live miserable lives tied to posts out in the country or get run over or attacked by coyotes. Others will be euthanized in shelters. Pixie is lucky.

I read a book recently that talked about a college professor who started life in Victorian England as a factory boy. One of his supervisors noticed his intelligence, took an interest in him, and his life changed. It’s a wonderful story, but I couldn’t help think about the other boys and girls in that factory who were not noticed and went on to totally different lives.

Hard work is surely important. So are persistence and grit. But I think we’re a little naive, maybe even hard-hearted, if we don’t admit that luck has something to do with success as well.

Monday Motivator: Don’t Hate Data

In his book Finish, Jon Acuff tells the story of a guy who’s trying to lose the weight. The man is quite discouraged because the pounds are not coming off. Now that he’s in his forties, he bemoans that it’s just harder to lose weight than it once was.

Acuff is skeptical. Memories are slippery things, and we humans like to give ourselves every excuse possible for not achieving our goals. I have to agree. I have known some folks for more than twenty years, and they’ll talk about that wonderful time in the past when weight loss was easy. And I don’t say anything (because, generally, I don’t like getting punched), but I’m thinking when was this mystical time? When you were a fetus?

Acuff’s answer. Use data. Now don’t tune out here. He’s not saying that we need to do complicated statistical analyses every time we set a goal. But we do need to use the information available to us.

If we want to lose weight, then let’s track how many calories we’re eating per day and the amount of exercise we’re doing. We’re probably going to find that our weight has more to do with those two things than with our age.

If we want to retire with enough money to go on a trip around the world, we need to check how much money we’re spending and how much we’re contributing to a retirement fund. And based on that information, we need to make changes or decide that a trip is not in our future.

It’s not hard to use data. But be forewarned. Data can be a bit of a buzz kill. It makes you live in the real world.

Monday Motivator: Fail Fast, Fail Cheap

One of the reasons for the wild success of Silicon Valley companies is their willingness to try new things, to provide their employees with time and support to experiment. But according to Eric Barker, another reason is their belief in failing fast and failing cheap. Basically, when an experiment fails, they don’t spend a lot of time wringing their hands or trying to convince themselves they can make it work. They don’t throw good money after bad. They cut the cord, take what they’ve learned, and put resources into another project.

I’ve heard this story about Silicon Valley many times, and every time it’s told, people are all enthused and say things like they wished their own companies were more like Silicon Valley. But like many things, the enthusiasm is more theoretical than practical. In reality, we become attached to things pretty quickly.

It’s not just giant corporations or bureaucracies that have trouble letting things go. It can happen to any of us. I know students who have failed tests due to ineffective study habits. So what do they do? Double down on those same ineffective study habits.  And then they’re surprised when the results don’t improve.

But we all do it. I once started a graduate degree in education. I knew immediately that the program wasn’t for me. Still, I didn’t want to be known as a quitter. I took another three classes before I finally acknowledged that I had no interest in that particular program. I started over in an English master’s program, and I was much happier.

No one wants to be a failure. But a lot depends on how you define it. Quitting something can be a failure. But failure can also be holding onto something when you should have moved on long ago.