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.

Theory about Staplers

I have this mental image of staplers at the office supply warehouse. As they are being packed in a big box, they can’t help but express their excitement about going out and making a contribution to the world of paper.

“No one will lose page 8 because of me.”

“I’ll keep that report together, and my owner will get an ‘A.'”

Then one of them happens to overhear their destination: a college library.

The excitement turns to wailing and gnashing of teeth. For they have all heard the stories.

And, yes, yesterday was the first day of classes. And already one stapler has given its life to the cause.


Monday Motivator: It’s Always Someone’s First Time


A few weeks ago, I stopped to fill up my car. The station had gone to a new credit card machine, and you had to slide your card in a different way than before. I put in my card and received the message ‘card not read.’ This is not what I wanted to see, but I wasn’t surprised. My card is old and grumpy and doesn’t like certain card readers. I put it in again. And again. After the third time, I asked for help.

The attendant came over and pointed at the picture description of how to put in your card. “I did that,” I said. I showed him. He was less than impressed. I turned the card over, and that irritated him even more. Again, he pointed out the directions. I pushed the card in one more time, and thank the heavens, it worked. He walked off.

But as I was filling up my car, his voice floated over to me as he talked to another customer. Words like “can’t read simple directions” and “how hard it is to put a credit card in a slot.” Now, it would be too much to say he damaged my self-esteem. After all, I know how to read directions. And I have a lot of experience using credit cards. Still, I was glad to get out of there.

I think I know what happened. Since the changeover at the pumps, this poor man had been besieged by folks who couldn’t get the hang of the new system. I was probably the fiftieth person who needed help that morning. And he was frustrated.

But here’s the thing. It was the first time I needed help on the system.

This is one idea that I try to keep in mind as each new semester begins. Yes, I may have answered the same question twenty times. I may not want to walk over to the printer AGAIN to show someone how it works. After all, I’m tired. My bunion hurts. This is the first time I have sat down in the last hour.

But then I remember: It’s the student’s first time asking the question. And the way I answer is going to affect how he views the library, maybe the entire college. So instead of caring about I feel, I put myself in the student’s place. How would I want someone to respond if I didn’t know how to do something?

And despite my fatigue and my bunion, the answer is obvious.

Monday Motivator: Rocking the Eclipse

Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul. — Victor Hugo

Today was the total eclipse. Like many people, I had fretted over this day for a while. What would happen if it rained? What if my glasses didn’t work? Or I lost them? Would my eclipse t-shirt arrive in time? Most of all, what if the eclipse turned out to be a disappointment?

Let’s face it. By the time you reach my age, you have learned that the event does not always live up to the hype. But nature did not disappoint today. The light right before the totality is something I will never forget, and I now truly understand why our ancestors associated eclipses with the supernatural.

If I had been alone at my house, the eclipse would have been special. But I was lucky that my college made an event out of it. We joked and laughed. We snacked. We took goofy pictures of each other in our glasses. And when the sun disappeared, there was a second of communal silent awe before we broke into applause.

It was special. And a great start to the school year.

Monday Motivator: And Then Suddenly It’s August

It’s hard to believe that August is upon us, and, while some friends and colleagues are either on or about to leave for vacation, many of us are feeling the inevitable ending of summer.

To be honest, summer has always been something of a disappointment to me. As a kid, I remember waiting all year for summer vacation, only to find it mostly boring, and then missing it as soon as I returned to school. Summer was like a beautiful myth whose reality never quite matched up to its description.

And this summer has been no exception. I had hoped to take every Friday off to work on some personal projects. Then, due to unforeseen circumstances, we were short-handed most of the weeks. But even on the few Fridays I managed to stay home, I made little progress on those projects.

I think I’m just going to have to admit it: I’m not a summer person.

Still, my thirty-day projects were a success. I’m still writing every day, and my office has been totally decluttered (except for the stuff that Charles still has in my closet). So I won’t judge my summer as a failure. It’s just that, in May when the weather is cool and the days are pleasant, I overestimate my energy during the hot days of July and August.

Still, whether your summer has been glorious, boring, or disastrous, tomorrow is still an opportunity to begin again.