Smart advice from a successful woman

blog isaacscherylbooneLast week, I wrote about the importance of sharing our setbacks and challenges with other women, and this week I’d like to add to that one very successful woman’s advice to high school students.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (best known for the Oscars!) spoke to a student audience where I am a teacher, but I found her words encouraging and inspiring for people of any age.

The film industry is a daunting one to break into, but Boone Isaacs decided her passion for movies made all the hard work worthwhile. She started at entry level, but she gave every job her all, telling students the best way to make headway in a new career is to make yourself indispensable.

A lot of top executives make it sound like they were destined for greatness on one long trajectory of success, but I appreciated Boone Isaacs’ honesty in stating that she flitted from job to job until her mid-twenties because she didn’t know what she wanted to do.

“Every experience matters, the bad ones as well as the good ones,” she said. “The bad makes you appreciate the good and realize what you don’t want.” Nothing you’ve done has been a waste because it is all essential in creating the person you are today.

She also openly stated that she still struggles with maintaining a positive outlook, saying that her first instinct is to tell herself why something won’t work before rewriting her mental script to a more positive message. I find this tremendously reassuring: If someone who has gained this level of career success has her doubts, it makes it seem normal for me too.

She told students that even though she is asked all the time about barriers in her field based on race or gender, the biggest issue is the obstacles we create ourselves.

“People put up their own barriers, such as ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not smart enough,’ but the barriers that you create, just know that you can also take them down,” she said.

My favorite quote in her hour with us was “Why not me?” No matter what you are dreaming of doing, instead of thinking how audacious it is to imagine yourself achieving your most far-off goals, say, “Why not me?”

Photo credit: http://www.oscars.org/about/board-of-governors

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start. 

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This is why women need each other

“I feel like I don’t fit in.”

“There are a lot of days it’s a struggle to even get out of bed in the morning.”

These are statements from beautiful, accomplished women who look like they have it all. I was astounded to hear them confess that things aren’t always awesome for them, but it was exactly what I needed to hear because those are thoughts I’ve had at various times too.

I had the pleasure of recently attending a women’s workshop where we got to share our victories and setbacks of the past year, and the most helpful part for me was hearing other women admit that sometimes it’s a real trial to reach their goals. Two steps forward and one step back? Sometimes it’s more like three steps back and one step forward!

Blog Men are From Mars picI just finished reading Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray. Certain things suddenly made sense when he said that when women have problems, they merely need to be heard and validated to start feeling better. We don’t need someone to come in and fix it, nor do we expect that. Just the release of being able to say honestly what’s on our minds helps us let it go and move on.

I feel like I spend most of my life skating on the surface with the people around me. “How are you?” “Fine.” It helps me to know that when I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t have my act together, even the most polished and professional among us also struggle sometimes to reach their goals.

Photo credit: stock photo by Serge Bertasius Photography at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away. Divorced mom Adrienne gets pregnant after fooling around with a lonely mortician. He wants to marry her and raise the baby together, but she has other ideas. 

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The paper clutter disaster that was dragging me down

FullSizeRender (4)Everyone who knows me knows I am super-organized. At work, I can pull out any file, piece of paperwork, or email you might need in a minute or less. I’m compulsively on time, and everything goes into my calendar.

But beneath the veneer of the put-together version of myself was the stress caused by a teetering mountain of papers covering half of our dining room table that got scooped up and shoved into my bedroom closet when we needed the whole table. Coming home from work to look at that overwhelming stack of bills, receipts, school papers, and who-knows-what was disheartening. Every night I said I’d deal with it and every night I threw the day’s mail on top of the pile and ignored it for another day.

I made it a goal for this year to once and for all tackle this little nightmare and, yes, this new year’s resolution took more than two months to cautiously say I think I’ve got it licked. I reached the point where having to shuffle through months’ worth of papers to find the form my son needed for school the next day or to remember to pay that bill on time felt worse than the daunting work of fixing it. “Filing” for me meant periodically throwing out papers that were no longer relevant and sorting the rest of them into some semblance of priority.

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I took an entire day from breakfast til dinner to salvage my sanity (and our tabletop). I started by sorting everything into piles (school, tax receipt items, upcoming bills, etc.). Things that needed to be filed but didn’t need ready access got put into my office filing cabinet. I made a few files for papers I expected to be filing regularly in the upcoming months.

I bought a cute fabric box that fit on my new writing bookshelf (because I’m girly and I feel more inspired to put things away in a cute box than a metal filing cabinet). Every day I put in any papers that can’t be recycled, and once a week I have to deal with everything that’s in the box, whether it’s filing to the office filing cabinet, making an appointment, paying a bill, or whatever else might be in there.

IMG_5831I’ve felt such a load lifted from my shoulders in the past few weeks as I come home from work to see a beautifully clear dining room table, ready for family dinner. I feel at peace when I look at my file box, knowing it never has more than a week’s worth of papers in it.

I’d love to hear what you’ve done to lighten your own load. Please comment!

 

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away. Divorced mom Adrienne gets pregnant after fooling around with a lonely mortician. He wants to marry her and raise the baby together, but she has other ideas. 

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Give respect to your passion

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What’s the thing you most wish you could do, but it means so much to you that you put it off or push it to the side? What’s that one thing you want, but you’re afraid it will get ruined forever if you don’t do it right?

For me, it’s always been writing. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White was the first book I remember reading that filled with me with longing… if I only I could write like that. Then I read White’s The Trumpet of the Swan and swooned. In the years that followed, there were many others. I recently finished reading Me Before You by JoJo Moyes and had the same experience.

For many years, writing fiction felt like a fragile bird’s egg I held in my cupped hands. The idea of breaking that egg caused me to avoid my truest passion by majoring in journalism and starting a career in nonfiction because it didn’t seem so precious to me. I loved the creative outlet that news and feature stories brought, but there was a desire in my heart that wouldn’t die, telling me to go ahead and write a novel.

I finally did so a few years ago, and as I work on my second novel now, the same fears dance around in my head. What if this is the one that everyone hates? What if even my friends think eww, but don’t want to say it to me?

I’ve decided to put away those fears once and for all. I don’t need them telling me what not to do anymore. The fear of writing manifested for me in a lack of time and organization to devote to my craft. Sure, I’m a single parent with a teaching career, and I don’t have a lot of time to write, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. What I found is that I was often putting everything else ahead of writing, even things like scrubbing down the refrigerator.

Instead of having an office for my writing, I used the side table in my dining room to throw my writing notes in with a teetering pile of kids’ schoolwork, bills, and other papers that have varying levels of priority. I wasn’t giving respect to my passion.

I may not write in an office, but I recently made my writing more official by devoting a small bookshelf exclusively to my notes and files, my copies of Writers’ Digest, and the binder that organizes my work-in-progress. The boost of knowing there’s a physical space in my house devoted to writing has fired me up to keep at it, day after day. Instead of hiding my writing with the rest of my household detritus, it has its own orderly space.

What can you do to respect your passion? Make a space, even if it’s a little one, so that you can see the evidence of your biggest, fondest dream every day. Don’t hide your passion in the corners of your life.

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices.

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It’s okay to relax sometimes! (I keep telling myself)

I can feel the sludge building up in my brain – too much to remember, to-do lists piling up on scraps of paper along with all the reminders in my phone. I start feeling overwhelmed, and rather than getting more productive with more to do, I get less productive because I don’t know what to do first.

I’m learning, slowly, that when I start to feel this way, following my body’s instinct to slow down makes sense. I’m used to telling myself I’m lazy if I’m not productive. I feel proud when I have a day that I keep busy all day without wasting time, but it’s an impossible standard to meet every day, or even most days.

If you look up “wasting time,” you’ll find numerous articles that extol the benefits of downtime for increasing creativity and productivity, qualities we’d all like more of. I notice that my days go better when I have a novel or a favorite show to look forward to at the end of the day. Those few minutes of escaping from the churning in my own head refreshes me. I spend all day handling and managing information, coming home to deal with more of it, and by the time I go to bed, my head is spinning.

The constant busy-ness affects my kids too. Sometimes my older son says, “It takes me forever to fall asleep because there’s so much I’m thinking about and I feel like I’m forgetting something I’m supposed to be doing.” This makes me feel bad, because although it may be good preparation for adulthood, this is not what it should be like to be a kid.

Not only that, but I feel so grateful to have the option to relax. I think about men, women, and children all over the world who spend their waking hours working to provide enough food for their families. I am extremely fortunate to have the luxury of time that I can use as I please.

Lately, I’ve been longing to find ways to unwind without feeling guilty. One goal of mine is to return Sundays to a day of rest, rather than a day to finish household chores. Last Sunday, it was sledding. As my boys and I were bundling up, I was thinking of all the stuff I could be getting done while they were out of the house. I was sort of grumbling to myself that I didn’t have time to have fun. But when we started racing down the hill, I remembered what it’s like to let go of everything and be in the moment. I am so glad I went with them. How many more times will my boys want me to go sledding with them? How many more years will my body be able to take the abuse of falling off a sled and rolling down a hill? I’d much rather have memories like these than looking back on these years as ones in which I completed all of my self-assigned tasks.

I’m hoping that Sundays will carry over to weekdays as well…that a few hours of playing and putting the to-do lists aside will make me more focused and less resentful when there is work to be done. I started by building a fire in my fireplace and taking the time to watch the flames and listen to the crackling wood. Instead of sorting papers or folding laundry, I just sat and enjoyed the fire.

Cheers to you and I having fun this weekend!

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices.

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How writing down my goals helps me achieve them

Write It Down, Make It Happen, by Henriette Anne Klauser, provides many different ways to approach reaching your goals. I like the variety of techniques and how concrete the lessons are, as well as how focused and well-organized the book is. Each chapter illustrates a different person’s story and how the technique in that chapter helped manifest goals. The chapter ends with a “Now You” summary recapping how to employ that technique. I find a lot of journaling advice to be too corny or unfocused; in contrast, Klauser has a warm and friendly tone, without coming across as New Age silly. She seems like a very practical person.

Klauser is an advocate of the belief system that writing down what you want helps you become clear about what exactly you want, why you want it, and how to achieve it. When we write down our goals, we become more attuned in our daily lives to unlocking the steps that will help even major, seemingly impossible, dreams come true.

I appreciated that this book doesn’t require you to follow an overwhelming “system.” There are no worksheets to fill out or daily journals to keep or other exercises that would make me feel like a failure if I didn’t complete them. You can pick up any single chapter of the book and do something useful with it.

Here are some of her ideas that I’ve used to achieve personal goals:

  1. When you write down what you want to achieve, it starts to make it seem more “real” to you, and therefore you becoming willing to ask others for help in achieving your goal. Being open about what I want has helped me connect to people and learn about opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. I’m writing a novel about massage therapy, step-parenting, and multiple sclerosis. Most writers keep their novels close to the vest – we are told that talking about the plot dissipates the energy we’d otherwise put into writing – but I find the more I share, the more people show up in my life to bring information or other support. After asking for help, I had great conversations with people who were experts on all of the above topics, and it got me moving in a better direction with my novel.

 

  1. Sometimes you think you must have a certain outcome, but you realize later there was an essence you needed, not the particular outcome. Writing down your fears and desires helps crystalize what you really want to have in your life and when it’s not happening, you start to see the things that block you from getting there. In my own life, I felt like I couldn’t handle taking my kids on a trip alone, even though I’ve wanted to do so for the past few years. I had never traveled without a husband, mother, or mother-in-law. I felt like my family was “incomplete” without a husband. I wrote about these feelings several times and realized that if I can handle taking care of my kids at home, I can take them on a trip. The three of us are a family! You should have seen my hands shaking just before I clicked “confirm reservation,” but now we are all looking forward to an awesome vacation and my confidence is growing, knowing I will be doing something I’ve never done before.

 

  1. Writing down your goals teaches you patience. I am not a patient person. I have a seemingly calm exterior, but inside I am churning with aspirations. I have high standards, highest of all for myself. There were times I seemingly failed at different things, only to realize through writing that I wasn’t ready to achieve those goals. One memorable story in the book was about a woman who waited years to find the husband of her dreams. She wrote letters to her “soul mate” long before she ever met him, and in the process, realized how many things she had to fix in her own life to be ready for this soul mate. There are still areas in my life in which I feel like I’m failing, but this perspective helps me realize it’s not a “no,” it’s a “not yet.”

 

  1. Writing is a good place to express your fears (and then let them go). There have been many days where I felt emotional and unfocused. Talking with others only led me to be argumentative and feeling even more disconnected. When I sat and wrote instead, I could vent everything I may not have wanted to really to say to others, and then release it. The good part was to look back on this writing later when I was feeling calmer and see how the tumblers started clicking into place. My writing would start off as a bunch of disjointed ideas and start to gel into more coherent thought as I processed the ideas jumping out of my head.

 

  1. Being thankful to others brings many returns. One of my favorite parts of this book is how gratefully the author expresses her thanks for the people who have helped her, and for the chapter in which a teenage girl wrote letters to God asking for help in various areas of her life, but always starting first with praise and thanks. Klauser’s writing reminded me that one of my goals is to practice “literary citizenship,” or open gratitude to writers I admire. Klauser has a bibliography that includes other books similar to her topic. She is not trying to hoard the market on setting goals through writing, and she writes about several other authors whose books paved the way for hers. I do not expect tit-for-tat promotion, but I do believe in the abundance of the universe – that if I do as much as I can to help the authors I love, some of that love will come back for my writing as well someday.

 

I started my blog for this week on a totally different topic, but I wasn’t feeling enthused about it and the more I wrote, the more it sounded like a pathetic, whiny rant. Who needs to put that out into the universe? Writing through my stress helped me get to a place of gratitude and optimism (and I’m hoping a blog you find much more useful and enjoyable!).

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices.

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Amazon |  Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks |

Kobo Books | BAM | IndieBound | Powell’s

 

 

 

What a month of yoga did for a regular person…

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In a rare fit of consistency, I decided to practice yoga every day for a month. I am not a yogini, but an average, works-out-a-few-times-a-week kind of woman. I told myself that I would commit to just 15 minutes a day, nothing crazy. In the process, I started to feel better physically (less tension in my neck and shoulders, no more back twinges) and I learned some new things about what I could accomplish.

  1. I can make a new habit. Doing yoga every day taught me that if I can do this every day, then I can do other things every day too (like write, read to my kids, make sure the dishes are done before bedtime). It gave me confidence that I can build other little habits into my routine. My drive toward self-improvement sometimes gets out of control, but keeping my expectations modest actually boosted me up rather than left me feeling hopeless, like I did in the past when I’d get overwhelmed trying for things that were big, long-term commitments (writing a book, running for a half hour straight) without breaking them down into manageable chunks.
  1. I can be realistic. Last January, I tried to do yoga every day, but I made grandiose plans. I was going to build up to an hour a day and I was going to be doing the advanced classes and be able to master every pose in the yoga app I was using. This time around, I didn’t make any promises about what I’d accomplish from doing yoga, just that I’d do it. Better done than perfect, I say. We are always taught to focus on our desired outcome, but sometimes the goal is so far off that it can feel overwhelming. If I keep this up, maybe I will get to advanced-level yoga, but even if I don’t, I’m still reaping the benefits of daily practice. The rest would just be cool party tricks anyway.
  1. I can follow a schedule, but I don’t have to be rigid about it. Generally, I go through a cycle of classes: strength, relaxation, combination, flexibility, repeat. But sometimes I feel really tired and crummy, and I give myself permission to do the easiest routine (the relaxation one, of course!). Because I’m a teacher, most of my day is pretty much set into blocks of time, and that regimentation carries into my home life as well. But I learned with my commitment to 15 minutes a day of yoga that sometimes I’d have to do it in the morning, sometimes at night, and sometimes I’d have to skip something else that day so that I could still have time for the yoga.

Some days yoga has been life-changing, and others, it’s just another thing to cross off on my to-do list, but no matter what, I’m feeling better.

If you are interested, the app I use (for the iPad) is called Yoga Studio.

The picture is me in lizard pose, and by the way, doing yoga does not look as sexy as it feels.

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices.

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Amazon |  Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks |

Kobo Books | BAM | IndieBound | Powell’s