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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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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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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Amazon |  Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks |

Kobo Books | BAM | IndieBound | Powell’s

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Worst Ways to Start the New Year

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Hi, I’m Adrienne.  Happy new year!  I’m one of those people who gets bogged down by high expectations from the possibilities of January 1.  Learn from my experience as I present to you The Seven Worst Ways to Start the New Year:

 

7. Hung over and in a carb coma.  This was no big deal when I was younger.  But that was before I encountered the TWO-DAY hangover.   Just as our eyesight and hearing tend to get worse with age, apparently so does our liver’s ability to deal with a toxic blast of vodka, chicken wings, and Doritos.  What an awful way to start the new year – full of resolve and too sick to do anything about it.

6. Paying upfront for a gym membership.  I also went to the other extreme… there was that one year when I decided to go to bed before midnight and start the new year right with a grand workout routine.  The tan, fit college girl with blonde braids at my local gym convinced me to sign up for six months because I’d save a good chunk of change over paying month to month.  She failed to tell me I’d lose all that money anyway after I made one visit to the gym, completely overdid it to save face in front of the regulars who work out all year, and then limped home in shame never to return again.

5. Making resolutions for other people.  Sometimes I can’t believe how pretentious I was.  It wasn’t enough to make my own resolutions that I couldn’t keep… I had to make a list for my husband too and post it on the refrigerator.  It reliably gave me something to nag him about, which gave him a chance to ignore me, which allowed me to snap out on him for ignoring me, and well, you know how that goes.

4. Deciding that your entire wardrobe needs to be sorted and organized TODAY.  It’s a scientific fact that I am my fattest self at the end of December.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and eating for hibernation in the fall all lead to me wearing the same couple of big sweaters and pants for a month or two until I rein myself in (with New Year’s resolutions!).  One year I pulled every item of clothing out of my closet and drawers, started crying when I realized how few of these clothes looked good on me, and then slept on the sofa to avoid dealing with putting them all away.

3. Looking at anything that comes from Martha Stewart.  If you want to feel like a failure, you need only check out her lists for keeping a household running smoothly.  What, you missed cleaning out the gutters and wiping down the undersides of your baseboard radiators?  Don’t worry, there are overwhelming lists for every season of the year as well as the BEST way to do your laundry, cook fresh cranberry sauce, and assemble party favors.  Thank goodness she doesn’t delve into the BEST way to rear children, or I’d be suicidal.

2. Making resolutions you can’t keep. I’ve written those lofty lists in which I vow to do everything better without having an action plan for how that’s going to happen.  No wonder it fails.  Goals work best when they are achieved by incremental changes, not complete and instant overhauls.  Our society is always looking for the quick solution.  What else would explain the popularity of shows where people lose a hundred pounds in a matter of months, become professional dancers in a few weeks, or meet, date, and get engaged in less than a season?

1. Doing nothing at all.  For as many times as I’ve failed, I’m still not giving up.  A new year is a chance to reflect on where we’ve been and where we still want to go.  I’m giving up the lists.  I’m not using my day off to make major changes that will overwhelm me.  But I am going to resolve to be more patient and loving and to appreciate the blessings in my life.

Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed, you can read about some even bigger mistakes I’ve made in Giving Myself Away.

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