Monthly Archives: January 2012

A List

Today I learned…

That getting up early — hard as it is sometimes — is the best way to jump start my day.

That uncertainty about the future makes people feel anxious. Staying in a moment is difficult.

That getting a package in the mail never fails to make my day brighter.

That coming home to an empty house with no notice makes my heart stop.

That our dog is ridiculously affectionate and loves us without question or limit. I want to love like that.

That I am becoming a better curler.

That forgetting my hat in this weather can lead to frozen hair (yikes).

That giving and getting hugs never gets old, no matter how young or old you are.

That I am grateful, each and every day, for my health and happiness.

That I really am an optimist.

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Marinating

This is one of my most favorite words in the personal vernacular that Husband and I share. Yes, we use it as it’s supposed to be used, in terms of marinating some piece of protein before it is cooked. In our world, on lazy weekend days, the kind where you can’t even remember if you’ve taken a shower or not because it’s just too cozy to stay in jam-jams all day, we “marinate.”

The marinating started when we woke up to catch the latter half of the Australian Open final, an epic battle between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. In the end Djokovic prevailed, but suffice it to say that there were no definitive “losers” in the match in the sense that both men left their greatness on the court. All of their training — physical and mental — was put to the test in a ridiculously high-level five-set challenge. Since I am not a tennis player, I can only imagine what it takes to go against someone solo while staying mentally tough. At least in a sport like golf, you are ultimately playing against the conditions of the course, and the same goes for skiing: you against the mountain. Though the match had to come to an end, I was actually in awe for a bit afterward in thinking about what it takes to become an elite athlete, or an elite whatever, for that matter.

Later in the day, I came across an article posted on Facebook: “15 things successful CEOs want you to know” (yes, that lack of capitalization is correct). I include it here because these various successful business owners have answered my question:

As a young CEO of a growing company, I find that the most valuable insight I’m gaining these days has been from other CEOs. Certainly this realization isn’t revolutionary – YPOEOMindshare and a host of other organizations are set up just for this kind of knowledge exchange.

But who has time for that? This is a social media world. We’re live in 140-character sound bites. So I decided to ping my favorite CEOs via Twitter to see what kind of wisdom they could drop on me. Here’s the great advice they shared.

Daniel Ek, CEO, Spotify

Figure out what the top five most important stuff is, focus relentlessly on that and keep iterating. Less is more.

Dennis Crowley, CEO, FourSquare

Don’t let people tell you your ideas won’t work. If you have a hunch that something will work, go build it. Ignore the haters.

Sarah Prevette, Founder, Sprouter

Just do it. Get it out there, absorb the feedback, adjust accordingly, hustle like hell, persevere and never lose your swagger.

Sarah Lacy, CEO, PandoDaily

Follow your gut. it may be wrong, but you won’t regret it if you fail. You’ll regret it if you ignore your gut and fail.

Craig Newmark, Founder, Craigslist

Treat people like you want to be treated. Apply to customer service.

Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO, VaynerMedia

Do work for your customers, not for press or VCs. The end user is what matters long term.

Matt Mullenweg, CEO, Automattic

Only reinvent the wheels you need to get rolling.

Jason Goldberg, CEO, Fab.com

Pick one thing and do that one thing — and only that one thing — better than anyone else ever could.

 Alexis Ohanian, CEO, Reddit

Make something people want. Then give more damns than anyone else about it and you’ll make something they love.

Chris Brogan, President, Human Business Works

Buy @ericries’s book. Beyond that? Build a platform. This is the big year.

Matt Howard, CEO, ZoomSafer

Startup wisdom: The number one job of a CEO is to not run out of money.

Brian Wong, CEO, Kiip

Always be learning from others. Whenever you meet someone, you don’t want something from them, you want to learn from them.

Seth Priebatsch, Chief Ninja, SCVNGR and LevelUp

Something my dad taught me: Ask forgiveness, not permission!

Hooman Radfar, Founder, Clearspring

Give away the wins, own the losses. Your job is to curate greatness.

Alexa Hirschfeld, CEO, Paperless Post

Users and employees are key predictive indicators of a company’s success; press and investors generally months behind.

Got some other great wisdom for your fellow CEOs? Leave me a comment!

Peter Corbett (@corbett3000) is the CEO of the creative agency iStrategyLabs, and is the founding organizer of DC Tech Meetup.

What resounds for me when I read these snippets of advice is that people who become great at what they do are not hesitant. They don’t give in to doubt; instead they stay focused and believe in themselves and the goal before them. When I watched the championship match today, that quality stood out intensely: these men each believe with every single ounce of their being that they were destined to win. So they played like it — they were aggressive and maintained their poise and self-confidence, even when they had to come from behind. Most of all, they each stayed in the moment and let go of the good and bad points alike, because there was always a next serve coming. Are we not all called to live with a similar kind of intention and purpose that guides us forward, even through difficult times?

Of all the above ideas, I love this phrase the most: “Your job is to curate greatness.” Enough said.


Learning to Adapt

The past two weeks or so have been quite a learning experience. I have challenged myself to blog on a daily basis, and on some days I am bursting to set out an idea that has been percolating for a bit. On other days, like today, I find that I have to collect myself and think about the story of my day before I can begin. Thus, the story of my day:

Wake up & shower. Go to a Saturday professional development session (Kagan training, Day 4), led by an excellent international Kagan trainer. Halfway through the day, break for lunch with six other staff members who are also at the training. Wrap up PD and go home with Husband, but stop to get ice cream first. Decompress and watch the movie Miracle. Contemplate why it is that we live in a place that reached -49 degrees today.

For me the thread that links it all together is only one word: adapt. The verb is a synonym for the word modify, or to make something suitable for a new use or purpose, and it also means to become adjusted to new conditions. Moving out of the sunny comfort of northern California and bracing myself for this winter is most certainly an example of adapting. I can’t go anywhere without spare car keys, hats, gloves, boots, and some kind of heavy coat. I even have an action packer in the trunk space of my car with tow ropes, road flares, jumper cables, you name it. Just in case. In California I walked out of the apartment with barely a purse, and certainly never with the thought that I needed safety gear in case of a roadside breakdown. Much as I dislike feeling pasty (oh melanin, how you’re fading) and sometimes irritable for lack of Vitamin D, I feel safe and cozy inside the house with Husband and Pup-pup. Eating ice cream in this kind of cold is even more comforting than usual. I know also that when it gets back to anywhere near zero, or when we move toward 30 above come March-ish, I will be celebrating every single degree of extra warmth and every second of extended daylight. I will never again take summertime for granted.

The Kagan training, from 8:30-3:30 on a Saturday, was also an exercise in adaptation, of re-framing how teachers look at their classrooms. I could go on and on about the principles of this, but essentially it is around building a cooperative learning environment for kids. It requires the teacher to learn a variety of structures and tools, but it is possible to plug in any content from any subject or skill into any of said structures. The result, once the students have become familiar with the structures, can be a rich, collaborative classroom that engages all kids while still holding them accountable on an individual basis. When I heard of Kagan last summer, I thought, eh. Now that I’ve been through multiple days of training, I find myself thinking about how I might incorporate some structures into my 30-minute lessons to help students process information. I’m wondering how I can encourage the teachers I work with to use Kagan structures for a variety of purposes in their own lesson plans. Another adaptation.

Last but not least, we have the movie Miracle. Definitely up there on my list of phenomenal sports movies, like one of those that makes me cry no matter how many times I’ve seen it and know exactly what’s going to happen when. Damn that Disney for playing on my emotions so expertly. For the entirety of the movie, coach Brooks prepares the 1980 USA Men’s hockey team for the inevitable face-off against the Soviet Union — the world’s most dominant hockey team at the time. He teaches them to adapt their style of play to more closely emulate the Soviets in order to attack them; that is, to give the Soviets a taste of their own medicine. Sounds simple enough, but it takes seven long months of training and practice and team-building to reach their point of victory. The new team has to adapt to each others’ personalities; they all have to adapt to their coach; the coach’s wife has to adapt to his fierce work ethic; etc. Adapt, modify, change… in order to accomplish newer and greater goals.

To adapt, in my mind, is to find new purpose for familiar things. To take what you already know and apply it in a new context, under a new set of circumstances. It means regularly being uncomfortable while learning something new, since the learning curve always dips before it rockets skyward again. I think that if Husband and I had continued to live in California, we would not have had to adapt to much other than the rising cost of living. Right now in Alaska, everything is new for me. The winter cold. Curling league. Drive-through coffee stands (which I love). New colleagues. Making new friends. While I’m still in the process of adapting and learning to do as the Romans do, I realize that this is a huge opportunity for growth. And if we are here right now, I trust there is a greater Purpose already in place that we are discovering as I write.


Notes on Stargirl

If you don’t already read Young Adult (YA) literature, or if you haven’t read any since you were a kid, I’d say that you’re missing out. Teaching middle school brought me back to it, thankfully, else I never would have read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, and what a shame that would be. In my mind they are part of the new era of the YA literature canon, and deservedly so. Now that I’m working with a small group of 4th graders who are already proficient readers for their grade level, I find myself exploring YA lit yet again. Before Christmas we read Jerry Spinelli’s Wringer, and currently we are reading another book by the same author called Stargirl. As a part of the book club myself, one of our hard and fast rules is that it is NOT okay to read ahead; it spoils discussion if anyone does so. In my effort to lead by example, I really haven’t read ahead at all, but right now I’m dying to know what happens… and we don’t meet again until Tuesday. (sigh)

One of the skills I am working on with the 4th graders is having them notice their thinking during reading — in other words, be metacognitive. As they read, they are expected to write Post-it notes in their books when they have an observation or make a connection or spot a lovely word or phrase or understand something new or different about a character, etc. Again, as part of the modeling process, I too write Post-it notes, at least when I’m reading Stargirl. We bring our ideas to discussion, which usually leads to more discussion. Read, Post-it, and repeat. The goal is not to come to definitive conclusions about the text or try to come to consensus; rather, we are learning how to think deeply and have thoughtful discussions. It requires practice. Not every person was born ready to participate in a Socratic seminar.

Since I have to wait for a few days for my turn to share at book club, I will do my writing here. Stargirl is an exceptional character. She is a free-spirited, self-nicknamed 10th grader who has been home-schooled up until the point of entering high school this year. She dresses strangely, plays a ukelele, and in general tries to spread love and kindness (in her hippie way) throughout an incredibly apathetic high school population. Leo, the 11th-grade narrator, observes this about her:

Of all the unusual features of Stargirl, this struck me as the most remarkable. Bad things did not stick to her. Correction: her bad things did not stick to her. Our bad things stuck very much to her. If we were hurt, if we were unhappy or otherwise victimized by life, she seemed to know about it, and to care, as soon as we did. But bad things falling on her – unkind words, nasty stores, foot blisters – she seemed unaware of…. She had no ego. (Spinelli 52-53)

This character sort of embodies one of the Four Agreements: Don’t take anything personally. When her peers or the community treat her as an outsider or misunderstand her intentions, it is more a reflection of their own insecurities and fear of the unknown. How could anyone be so empathetic? How could anyone be so sensitive to how others are feeling and desire to show them care? In one of my Post-it note musings, I wrote that she is a very Christ-like figure, in that she starts to be persecuted, yet never stops being kind or giving. She never complains or lashes out at them in public.

While I am not advocating for everyone to wear flowing clothes and sing in the lunchroom, I do think the world could make good use of people like Stargirl, whose actions make me believe that she knows that “shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is a half sorrow.” She’s not a bleeding heart martyr. She isn’t a self-righteous Pollyanna. But she is someone who has a genuine interest in other people and in wanting them to feel happily alive. I would love to have a Stargirl in my life, though I think a part of her lives in each of us if we spend some time looking for her.

Our next book club meeting can’t come soon enough.


Scave

I recently finished reading the novel Room for my own book club this January. The protagonist and narrator is a 5-year-old little boy named Jack, and he is incredibly precocious, thanks to his mom’s teaching. One of their little games is to blend words together into what they call “word salad,” as in scared(y)+brave = scave. Being a word nerd myself, I find this concept to be ingenius, and oh-so-much-more exciting than plain old compound or hyphenated words, like “lifetime” or “aftermath.” Not that these latter words don’t have significance; it’s simply that I love the playfulness of blending two words to create new meaning (and no, I don’t like it when celeb couples get dubbed as a one-word phenomenon). It seems to me to require a little more thought and creativity to say “I’m feeling scave” as opposed to saying “I’m only somewhat afraid.”

I am scave right before a difficult workout.

I am scave when I’m about to have a potentially tough conversation with anyone I love.

I am scave when a major life change is on the horizon.

I am scave thinking about tackling new or unknown projects.

What I like about this word is that it  acknowledges a feeling of anxiety or nervousness but pushes it aside in favor of being bold and facing up to the challenge. By the time I’m scave, I have already decided on my course of action. Butterflies in my stomach is usually a good thing, because if I have nerves then I care enough to want to do something well. (Apathetic people can’t be scave, I don’t think.) In the end, however, I have to love and trust myself enough to know that I am capable of accomplishing X. Maybe in  my mind the -ve ending of scave  simultaneously represents both “brave” and “love.”

In the story, Jack has to be scave when he is attempting to escape from their imprisonment; he is placed in a very dangerous situation and must survive in order to save his own life and his mom’s. All of his senses are on high alert as he works to remember the plan his mom devised and practiced with him. Perhaps when we find ourselves feeling scave is when we are most alive, when we are right on the verge of finding new life.


My Day in Books

“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” -Native American proverb

8:45-9:15 am — 4th grade book club

Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli

 

 

11:00am and 1:00pm — preK and K, respectively, at the end of their lesson on how to calm down

Leonardo the Terrible Monster - Mo Willems

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12:30-1:00pm – 3rd grade, at the end of their lesson on how to deal with peer pressure

Frederick - Leo Leonni

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1:30-2:00 pm — 2nd grade, at the end of their lesson on asking for help politely

Horton Hatches the Egg - Dr. Seuss

The End.


Checking In

In today’s media-driven universe, one of the applications that gives me mixed feelings is “Check-in” (i.e. (Name) has checked in at (Place) — with (Fill in names of friends)) On the one hand, part of me thinks it’s fun to imagine my brother taking his kids to lunch at a certain restaurant, or to Google the new cool hip places where people are eating and socializing in San Francisco or some other city that is not where I live right now. The other part of me thinks that if I really cared to know where you are at this exact moment in time, I’d either be there with you or you can tell me about it later.

In my current position, I have two scheduled check-ins every week: one with my assigned “mentor,” who is a fellow colleague, and one with the principal. And sometimes for fun I check in with the counselor because we work together and I like to talk to her, period. Amazingly, even when I have three different “check-ins” in the same week, the conversations are always a little bit different because by the time I talk to the next checker-inner, something else has occurred in my day or my thinking process that has shaped further what I wanted to share.

And tonight, the President gave his annual State of the Union speech, which Presidents get to do once a year. One big one-way check-in with the American people and the government.

Obviously, this word matters in my life.

I remember vividly the day when the grief counselors came to the high school where I was teaching seven years ago. A sophomore boy had committed suicide the night before, and we as a staff were grappling with that reality after hearing the news from his mom. I remember hearing somebody say the words and not being able to process what that meant. And I sat there in a meeting for about five minutes before I thought I was going to be physically sick. I remember running to an empty classroom, calling my mom, and crying hysterically. I remember repeating, “He’s just a boy. He’s just a little boy…” I just could not comprehend that this person who had been reading aloud his portfolio reflection to our 4th period English class the day before was not ever going to be in my class again, was not ever going to fall in love, was not ever going to know what his future might have been. So the grief counselors came and told us, essentially, that for that day, there were only two questions we needed to continue to ask ourselves: 1) How am I feeling? and 2) What do I need right now? (Be it food, water, a hug, a good cry, sleep, or whatever was the honest answer.) In other words, check in. With yourself. Right now. Because how you feel is important, and you should honor that. And how you feel right now will change in the next minute or five minutes or 24 hours or few days, but keep checking in. So I did that. And when I feel particularly anxious or stressed, I do it then too. I try hard to remember to do it when I’m happy, as well, to acknowledge the feelings of joy that are also part of life.

I don’t think, in our everyday existence, that we do enough checking in. We have lots of to-dos on our daily lists and lots of people to respond to and lots of things left undone, and when people ask us how we’re doing, we breeze by with a “I’m doing good/well” and move on to the next thing. Yet given a little bit more time and a little bit more focused attention that allows for listening, it’s quite liberating to check-in out loud and tell someone how you’re really doing — if for no other reason than to let it go. Now it’s not realistic, of course, to weep on the shoulder of every Tom, Dick, or Harry who says hello. But it is a necessary part of being good to oneself to check-in and ask, “How’s it going?” “It” being life, relationships, work, play, love, goals, the pet, the house, the whatever. Maybe if we gave ourselves more space to check in, then we wouldn’t pick up — or continue to carry — so much of that extra “trash.” How we feel each day, in everything we do, is valuable; more importantly, it’s okay.**

For now, and hopefully for a long while, this space is just one of my checking-in places. To make sure that I acknowledge my own feelings and values and questions. To make sure that I give my thoughts a space to breathe… and if I’m lucky, come to new realizations that maybe were there all along.

**There are typically a myriad of events and small moments that conspire over the period of a day or a few days that lead me to write. Today, in particular, one large part of my inspiration was reading a blog post this morning by Aimee Anaya Everett, a world-class Olympic lifter:  http://www.cathletics.com/blog/blog.php?blogID=1692