Breakthroughs

Covid Crisis Silver Lining - Permission to Say NO.

It has occurred to me that this awful covid pandemic crisis could have a silver lining.
 
No, not that more people work from home, but that's true.
No, not that we're all more aware of how we spread our germs - all kinds - but that is a good thing.
No, not that we've figured out how to better appreciate time spent at home, but that is cool.
No, not that we've all learned to bake banana bread, but I won't complain about that.
 
The silver lining I'm thinking about is that this crisis offers us a stock/standard reason to say NO to some things...to get out of some commitments...to make changes we've wanted to make but have thus far hesitated.
 
Have you noticed how tolerant we've all been with each other during this time (not all, but many)? When people say they're having a hard time focusing, we say, "it's understandable." When people lament that they weren't able to meet _____ expectation, they get empathy and support. People get it - this is a weird time. We're in flux.
 
Sidebar: After I was first diagnosed with cancer, I got all kinds of grace and understanding when I backed out of things or changed commitments, or changed my mind or goals. It's understandable and was warranted. This is what loving human beings do for each other.  AND...every now and then, I played the "C-Card" to make a change that I would otherwise have been too self-conscious or guilty to make. And while you might be thinking I was being a manipulative person, using my disease to garner unwarranted support, hear me out. If I was no longer committed to something or still inspired to accomplish a goal, I should never have felt bad about making that change. But sometimes we do feel weird, because we don't want to disappoint others. But here's the kicker, people are often more disappointed when we aren't straight with them about what's really important to us and - perhaps - what is no longer as important.
 
Back to covid. It's a great time to take stock of your life and identify and changes that you've been wanting to make but have hesitated. Use the current situation to provide a bit of cover, to make it feel less weird. I LOVE this idea and have already implemented a couple of changes. Several more are in the works. And the lovely thing is that these changes will set me up to experience a more fulfilling and misadventurous life. 
 
What might you STOP, START, or CHANGE that would make a big difference?
 
Repeat after me: You know, this covid crisis has turned parts of my life upside down and I've been thinking about what it all means or should mean. And what I realize is that _____________ (this is where you say, what you want to stop, start, or change).
 
And this is all true and authentic. This crisis, like any (even like being told you have cancer), has made us all take stock a re-think some things. Let's use this opening to act upon what we know is best for us now.

Break Apart to Surge Forward

Untitled design (8) copyIn Anthony Brandt's TEDxHouston talk, he shared how creative endeavors involve bending, breaking, and/or blending. If you're interested in creativity, I recommend you listed to Anthony's full talk. 

This weekend, I'm contemplating the breaking apart part. Knowing some of my habits and assumptions are fairly ingrained, perhaps breaking some of them are in order. 

Like the spider plant pictured here, we can become root-bound and stuck. Stuck in our thinking and ways and stuck with beliefs that no longer serve us. Still alive but not growing. The antidote for the spider plant, and perhaps us, is to clear away some of the hardened roots and reimagine a freer way to exist. This task involves some risk.

The planting exercise was one of my weekend mini-misadventures, but it's also a pretty good metaphor for what we all can try to make leaps forward in progress.


When We're Relentless

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I admire those who simply MUST do X (and X is a good or decent thing) and ensure they do X even when barriers make doing X hard or near impossible. Case in point. David Sedaris' commitment (obsession) with racking up huge numbers of steps  on his Fitbit.

And by huge, I've learned that Sedaris routinely gets thirty thousand, forthy thousand, even sixty thousand steps in a day. He's even walked 20 miles in one day. And he loves beating the total daily step numbers of his Fibit pals. 

I first heard about his walking habit a few years ago in a New Yorker story. Then Bill and I saw Sedaris perform and he talked about it there. While getting him to sign a book, I told him I also used a Fitbit. He signed it accordingly (see pic).

That was when Sedaris could walk through his neighborhood in Normandy (or wherever he was). Then the covid crisis occurred. This recent story from the NYT shares how David got his steps in while being home-bound and restricted in NYC. At first, he walked around his apartment for hours each day. Then, when it was allowed, he started walking the New York City streets while wearing a mask.

That's dedication! That's grit! It might be a few other things, but I admire his resolve.

But this isn't a story about steps; it's about discovering something that is important enough that we become unstoppable. What would you put in that category and how might you like the targets of your grit and determination to change?

If you made one small change in the right direction, I bet it would make a big difference. Like the Butterfly Effect. 

For me, I need to get a more assertive hold on my various health issues. I have an appointment with my oncologist in a few hours and it's time to be decisive. I've been dinking around the corners and welcoming delays and inaction (some of it covid related, sure). But this is something that is keeping me zoned out and inactive. Barriers be damned. I'm ready to get this surgery over with and re-health back up to whatever my new normal can be. I've got some projects waiting for my focus and concentration (which is low right now).

Is there something that you could recommit to that would help put things on a clearer track forward


Good Tips from a Serial Entrepreneur about Dealing with Disruption

I attended a Startup Advantage zoom session yesterday that offered a few interesting tips. 

The talk was called, Get Uncomfortable: A Mindset for Innovation and Disruption. It was lead by Randall Stevens, CEO of AVAIL and co-owner of two large coworking spaces.

He related his ideas to a large disruption we're all living through right now: covid-19 and its reverberating impacts. Here are the key points:

Stop, slow down, or change what you can and should. This means that, even if decisions are difficult, we need to adjust some things. And as leaders, entrepreneurs, and community members, it's our responsibility to have eyes wide open and act accordingly.

Tell a new story. You might have a product, service, or skills that could help people and organizations right now - especially right now. Think Zoom. Think NTI technologies. Think grocery delivery services. But to add value and operationalize this capability, we need to tell a new story so that potential users or customers, who might not be thinking this is something they need or could trust, see the potential for how it might add value to their work or life.

Create features FOR the moment. Any disruption - whether broad like covid or specific to one location or industry - calls for some things to stop and new things to begin. What are the services, messages, tools, or features that would best serve the moment? I decided to start this blog at this time partly with this in mind. That people might need suggestions and encouragement for how to best enjoy their lives and careers during this major disruption. How to have fun in a fog kind of thing.

Meet your "customers" where they're at NOW. Things have changed. Needs have changed. Bank accounts have changed. The structure of family life has changed. Recreation has changed. Goals and aspirations may have changed. Don't expect people or organizations to restart right where they were in January. Start thinking about how to best help and serve them based on their current reality.

This is not rocket science, but it is helpful to think about at this time. I'm going to use these suggestions to assess how best to ensure the success of my writing, the Lexington Writer's Room, and my other endeavors. I hope you will, too!


Misadventure: Making Thyme for What Matters

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One of the ways I experiment with making my life more misadventurous is to go against my type and strengths and try something that falls into the category of "things I usually botch." Often fabulously and flamboyantly botch.

Today's story is about a wee thyme plant (pictured above).

I'm a hit and miss gardener. Not much in the way of good instincts, but I've learned a few things that seem to work for me. As a result, we tend to have a decent herb garden each year. If you've read my stuff for a while, you know that my husband Bill does all the cooking. The herb garden is my contribution to our food preparation. And placing pick up orders. 

I decided to broaden the narrow list of things I managed not to @%$* up by one or two but knew I'd need to find a coach or take a class. Not read a book. Have you read gardening books? Most are far too detailed and so boring they make better sleep aids than skill builders. No offense to gardening book writers out there (but, come on...).

I found and decided to take Ron Finley's gardening class on Masterclass. He calls himself the "Gangster Gardener," and was the perfect teacher for me because he cut to the chase and gave practical, doable advice. He talked action, not science. 

One of his lessons was on propagation - making new plants from other plants. Propagation is a 301 level gardening class, and my capabilities had proven to be 101 at best. But Ron made me think I could do it.

I had a dead thyme plant that had been undone by Lexington's cold and wet winter and spring. Poor thing. I had cleared it out of its planter and was about to throw it in the compost bin (another thing Ron taught me to do). I looked at the ugly mess on my planting bench. Was it really all and completely dead?

I decided to try propagating a part of the brown, brittle herb plant. I cut it down to the base and separated a small piece that felt less dead. I stuck the new creation in the corner of one my raised beds. I vowed to talk to it every day to encourage my creation to spring to life.

At first, it did not look promising. The wee twig/plant just sat there. But then, weeks later, I saw a tiny green leaf. And then another. And although I've never really had motherly instincts related to humans babies, I found myself proud of my little creation. I starting planning for when it would grow up big and strong and change our culinary world.

Ron had been right.

Propagation is the slow way to go, though, and after three months my wee thyme plant is still just two inches tall. During this same timeframe, I've managed to plant and kill a dozen other herbs and vegetables (the confidence I gained from taking Ron's class might've gone to my head). 

So while home grown tomatoes, broccoli and melons will not be featured on the Haneberg dining table this year, we will have, in time, very special thyme.

This misadventure has been a circuitous but resounding success (she says with her fingers crossed behind her back hoping not to jinx herself given that much can go wrong in matters involving outdoor gardening). 

What new against-type-and-strength skill shall I try next?


Progress: This could be messy (expect and embrace this).

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Just a short and reflective post today. It's Friday, June 19th - Juneteenth. And while I've known for many years the top line meaning of Juneteenth, I'm glad that my awareness is deepening regarding its modern-day significance.

Today I'm thinking about several big challenges. Racial bias and inequality. Increasing divisiveness. And a terrible pandemic very much affected by this inequality and divisiveness. And there are other challenges that pain me, disturb me, and worry me.

On this blog, I write about misadventures - those times we play full out to handle surprises and barriers. When we tap into strengths we might not remember we possessed. I often apply this idea to fun things - travel or personal goals - like biking across America. 

I think we'll need to offer the same type of grit help to make our town/state/country/society/world better. And like other misadventure stories we'll recall years from now, it will be the full-out efforts we gave and the positive impact we had on others that we'll relish. 

It's ok that things will be messy and unpredictable. That's how progress happens. Human systems are chaotic and trying to predict outcomes when many individuals and circumstances are at play is not a good use of time. Forward movement is highly dependent on, and sensitive to, each of our small actions. It's the butterfly effect in action.

And it's the journey and keeping it moving on a directionally correct path that will serve us best.

Here's to messy progress wherever it is needed most. And here's to each of us figuring out the small and large ways we can best contribute to progress.


Make an Impossible Promise; Bring it to Fruition

Not sure if you're like me, but I break promises I make to myself way more than I fail to follow through on promises I make to others. This is pretty natural, I think.

It therefore makes some sense that if we want to up our chances for follow through, we should make more external commitments.

AND! If you want to amp up the misadventure-quotient (that's a measurable thing*), you can make a commitment to do something, or achieve something, or create something, that seems impossible at the moment that you make the promise. And extra credit if the commitment has teeth - skin in the game - like enrolling in your first marathon, or entering a story writing contest, or putting something at risk if you don't follow through.

Here's a recent example. I've been wanting to create a space where active writers worked together. A cool, enriching, tricked-out workspace filled with literary creatives. This was a tricky idea because most writers don't make very much money and can't afford market-rate office space. Coworking spaces are nothing new, but they're filled mostly with tech workers because they work for companies who can afford the space rental. It was also unlikely to succeed because I was relatively new to Lexington, KY and had not yet developed my writer network. 

Had I started by creating a business plan, with financials and outlined all the barriers, it never would've happened. Instead, I tried the back-assward (technical term) approach.

First, secure the space. I asked the owner of a coworking space to show me some rockin' corner unit space. I told him I wanted that space. It was going to be pretty expensive.

Second, find a couple of writers who love the idea. I then started meeting with a few writers to share the concept and recruit partners. I was lucky to get a recommendation to contact two writers who were at the time barely acquaintances. BUT! We clicked and they loved the idea. They were in.

Three, do the stuff most people do first. When all where all in, we went back and figured out all the things that needed to happen to make this idea a real thing. 

And it's a reality and I'm now the proud board chair for our legit nonprofit org., the Lexington Writer's Room.  We've had some major challenges (covid!) but have created something truly special and better than the impossible vision I imagined. It's 650sqft of literary productivity wonderland, completed with snacks and a high-speed printer. Our member writers are delightful and talented. 

I'm quite sure this would've never come to fruition had I approached the idea using a methodical and logical route. I got BACK to that approach, but not before I was in too deep to wimp out.

Promise, then Figure it Out

Personally, I'm just not motivated or disciplined enough to do things in the correct order. But if I put enough skin in the game, I somehow tap into my ability to make the impossible possible (perhaps this goes back to the 40% rule I blogged about earlier?).

Give this a try and tell me about it. I'm cooking up my next big promise now...

*Not measurable, but you'll feel the power of it.


Taking on a Big Challenge - the Navy Seal's 40% Rule

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To live a more misadventurous life, I need to do more things that challenge me and inspire me to play full out. These challenges could be physical, mental, intellectual, analytical or something else. 

Right now, I'm focused on taking on a physical challenge because the I've suffered from fatigue and lethargy for months and I've lost a good bit of my physical strength. If I wanted to, I could make make some pretty good excuses (health conditions and prescriptions) but going down that soul-sucking road would not be a good use of my time however true it might be.

Here's the mindset I think will be more helpful - I'm much stronger and more capable than I think.

Have you heard of the Navy Seal 40% rule? It basically goes like this. When you think you've done all you can, and you feel like you need to quit, you've only used 40% of your strength and capacity. There's a good discussion of this on the Age of Obsolete blog.

No this is not a scientifically researched number. Whether it's really 40%, 50%, or 30%, I believe that we quit - or feel ready to quit - well before we have to. I reflected on times in my life that I proved this to be true. Here are two vivid and relatable examples:

In 2009, I walked the very hilly Flying Pig half-marathon (Cincinnati) while carrying an extra 80-90 pounds of excess weight. It took me 4 1/2 hours to walk the 13.1 miles and I felt like quitting hundreds of times. There was a mental aspect to this challenge too, because I was keenly aware that I looked much heavier than nearly everyone and I imagined that people were looking at me with pity or scorn (I was embarrassed). I also felt pressure during the second half of the walk to stay a block or two ahead of the sweep cars closing the course and picking up those who'd not be permitted to finish. I made it! And truth be told, I was probably capable of going farther.

In 2014, I completed the 2-day MS 150, a 150-mile charity bike ride from Houston (flat) to Austin (not flat). We'd trained every weekend for several months, and while I was pretty strong, I was still carrying a ton of extra weight. Not so problematic on flat roads, but the hills on the second day were killer. Pain management became an even bigger challenge than the hills. It took everything I had plus more to finish near the end of the pack.

In both of these examples, I got to the end by pushing through barriers and finding a deep determination I didn't know I had. I did it in spite of myself. Sadly, I can remember many more times when I gave up too soon. When I quit at 40%. Those are regrets I have learned from.

My current state of strength and fitness is far lower than it was in 2009 or 2014, so I'm at a different starting point. That's OK.

But the process I need to use is roughly the same. Set a big and inspiring goal anchored by promises and commitments. Rearrange life and habits to move in that direction. Do small and directionally correct things every day to manifest the goal. Go until I want to stop, then go a bit more. Make big requests, when needed. 

I'm tired of being tired and weak and am ready to begin a new misadventure focused on becoming strong again. There will be many misadventures along the way that I will surely relish and remember. 

I'll share more about my thinking and plan over the next two weeks. If you want to challenge yourself in a bigger way, please share your goal in the comments so I can cheer you on.


Ask Catalytic Questions; Make Big Things Happen #breakthroughs

Untitled design (8) copy 3Strictly speaking, a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction. Although they participate in reactions, catalysts are neither consumed by nor incorporated into the products of the reactions. There is just as much catalyst at the end of the reaction as there was at the beginning. Catalysts will not cause reactions to occur, but they will help reactions that would have occurred without them to proceed more quickly or at lower temperatures. In most cases only small amounts of catalysts are needed to increase reaction rates.

Catalysts work by providing easier ways for reactions to occur. In technical terms, they provide alternative reaction paths with lower activation energies.  Every chemical reaction has a certain threshold, known as its activation energy that must be exceeded in order for the reaction to occur. A catalyst does not lower the activation energy of a reaction, but instead provides an alternative that produces the same results with a lower threshold. A good analogy is a bridge over a valley. Without the bridge, it might be possible to cross the valley by driving down one twisting road and then back up another. A bridge allows the valley to be crossed more quickly and with less energy. It does not reduce the amount of energy needed to drive down one side and up the other, but instead offers an alternate way to achieve the same results while using less energy.

Catalytic questions, then, are questions that provoke alternative reactions and easier ways forward. You might not know if a question is going to be catalytic, but you can practice asking more provocative questions and will find that some energize the discussion and enable new or better paths forward. 

During a 1999 flight from New Mexico to Sienna, Italy, I asked my husband the following: "If you could be any place, doing any kind of work, where would you be and what would you be doing?" This question ended up catalytic because it encouraged Bill to express goals he'd not shared, and this started a conversation that five weeks later resulted in us moving to Seattle where Bill started his own company. BAM!

The catalyst does not have to be so life changing to be powerful. Consider these questions, which could be catalytic for some in some circumstances:

Think about what you pull into the most these days. The activity or topic that energizes you. What adjustments could you make to increase the time you spend doing this activity?

Who would you like me to connect you with? (or, let me tell you about Sally...would you like me to connect the two of you?)?

Evangelists are passionate, loyal, and dedicated fans jacked up on caffeine. What would you hope your evangelists do?

In the scheme of things, does this really matter? If you stopped, what would happen?

If you had all the courage in the world, what would you do or ask for?

Embedded in catalytic questions is a deep and authentic curiosity. This is the key, because when we're engrossed in a conversation and curious, we inquire about more relevant topics.

It's fun to ask questions that end up being catalytic. We should all strive to help those we care for move forward more easily. And there's no reason we can't ask ourselves catalytic questions.

What's the question that would open up new possibilities for you?