Sometimes you have to get out of your head

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When Lara and I were running our business together, we started buying Leonie Dawson's journals to help us think about the previous year and plan for the new year. I've stopped buying them now because I never really have time to finish them and that bothers me irrationally. They're great tools to get you thinking about how things went, what you'd change and how you want to move forward. I did best with it the first year we got them. 

But my favorite part was a really short section that asked for a list of five things to do when a break is needed. The concept of identifying a finite list of ways to get out of work mode so I could return to a more productive head space was kind of revolutionary for me.

Since I'm going through my 52 Lists for Happiness in my own little way here on the blog, I immediately thought of that list when I came to the assignment about things that help you get out of your head. So, here goes:

  • Stories are the best way for me to turn off all the noise around me. I can escape into a book and let everything else fall away. (I try not to let it fall so far that the laundry doesn't get done.)
  • Music is so healing. I can be frustrated or mad and a fun song with a great beat will take me to a whole new space where I can relax and stop stressing.
  • Those days when you're hyperventilating and wondering how you're going to manage situations, there's nothing like having a chat or a glass of wine with a good friend. 
  • Taking a long walk helps me wake up when I need a jolt of coffee. And it can help me get out of a room so I can get out of my head when I really need to.
  • Movies and TV shows that have great storylines can be just as effective as a book for providing a vehicle to another world that doesn't share the same worries.
  • Getting immersed in creative writing can get me well and truly lost in another world. Unfortunately, it's not such a great way to pause work for only a short time unless that means hours or days.

I'd love to say I knit or crochet to escape, but I'm not consistent at practicing or even good at either one. I do both on occasion anyway. The jury's still out on whether such crafty activities are true escapism for me. I think I might be entertaining a fruitless idea that I'll one day be somewhat decent and grow to love them. I probably need to embrace my non-crafty status and stop buying yarn.

Please throw your own suggestions for getting out of your head in the comments - anything that works for you might help someone else. (Like moi.)

Doing the things I'm really good at is the dream

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I've been having conversations with family members over the holidays about life and what's been going on here in Ottawa with the Wilson crew. Some have been a little out of the loop because I've had some big changes that came with big time commitments and I haven't been good about keeping them up to date. (Fortunately, they're forgiving folks.)

The discussions I've had all led to questions about how I'm feeling about my current employment situation. I get accused of having a lot of jobs. If I included every single one on my resume (even the now irrelevant ones), yes, it would be a lengthy list. But I've stayed for as long as 6 years in one position. Also, I'm 40 and I work in tech, so "lifers" aren't that common. That said, I like to think about the future and how I want my career to look 2-5 years down the road. That's my version of pursuing the dream.

My favorite football team (okay, the only one I ever actually pay any attention to) just got a new coach. I found out that he's had some criticism that this is his third job in a year. No doubt, for a football coach, that's unusual. But then I found out that he said FSU has been his dream job. (He even wanted to play at FSU, but they didn't pursue him.)

For me, the narrative of that story changed completely as soon as I found out how much Willie Taggart wanted to be part of the FSU football program. He's been a class act since day one on the job and he led the team to another bowl game victory so they could finish out the season with a winning record - 41 years in a row, baby! He's off to a great start.

I can relate to what he's done. I started a job in August 2016 that I really loved. "Writer" became my professional title, not just a label I applied to myself. The role had potential to grow in ways I was excited about. And I was having a great time doing interesting work and getting valuable experience. When changes happened in that situation this past summer, I really struggled with the loss of all that potential growth - I just didn't see how I could take the next steps in my career in that company.

The struggle eventually led me to shift my thinking and look at my situation objectively. First of all, I couldn't let my discouragement about the changes poison my day-to-day work. So, I let that shiz go as much as possible. Sometimes it was a minute-by-minute choice. Then I had to figure out what I really wanted. A good friend helped me plan how I could take action to find the right next step for me. That was the point when I started seriously opening my mind to possibilities.

The next opportunity came along within weeks. The potential growth I was seeking with the job I took in 2016? That became a reality in 2017, though not at the place or with the people I thought it would happen. But that's okay, because it's so much better to be in the right place at the right time in the right role than to be loyal to something that doesn't work for you.

I'm good at building. I assess, make observations, figure out a plan, and execute. I love the intensity as you figure out what works and what doesn't. I don't even mind occasional late nights putting out fires. But I want to know that the end result of what I'm doing is valuable and appreciated. I want to be challenged and learn as I work. And I found a role that lets me write while I expand into other areas that I'm good at as well. So, I'm ridiculously excited about the future.

Looking back on 2017, it was a year of big changes. For me, for my little world, for all of us. If 2018 goes like 2017 has, it's gonna be a really fantastic year. Bring it on.

There's always a reason: Why you need to know your limits

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Back in 2012, a friend of mine, who happens to be editor of a local magazine, asked me to interview and write a story about a local speech pathologist who's doing some great things in her practice. After talking with her, I realized that a lot of what she does is rooted in one simple phrase:

There's always a reason.

Nearly 5 years later, that's the advice that sticks with me the most out of every little thing I have learned or been told about autism and helping my son learn how to navigate this world. I wish it was so internalized that I never forget it, but I'm not quite there yet. However, I'm starting to plant that seed in Brandon now.

We went to Costco one weekend a while back. My motivation was slightly selfish. I'd been wanting a Costco-sized vat of coconut oil, but Matt kept coming back saying they don't carry it anymore. It didn't seem possible that Costco would drop such a popular product so I made a rare appearance at Costco to check Matt's assertion.

Yes, I totally insisted we go to Costco on a busy Sunday afternoon just because I wanted a vat of coconut oil. Motivation is a funny thing, people.

Turns out I was right about Costco not getting rid of coconut oil. There on the right, just before we entered the gauntlet of people waiting for a cashier to check them out, was the object of my desire. I was tempted to buy two - yanno, just in case Matt's hunt and gather skills weren't the real issue. But I resisted.

With our mission accomplished, Brandon decided he was hungry. I'm pretty sure it's a conditioned response for him. He actually said looking at all the food was making him hungry. But I think at least part of it was knowing that Costco hot dogs are just on the other side of the cash.

Matt braved the line while I took Brandon to get food. 

We sat down after prepping B's hot dog and drink, surrounded by people filling their bellies after the harrowing experience of going through Costco on a Sunday. If they did a study, they'd probably figure out 99% of the people eating at Costco after shopping are stress eating.

It was noisy. However, there was one contributor to the noise that stood out from the rest of the din - a little boy who was around 6 or 7 years old. He was loudly and consistently upset for about 15 minutes. And Brandon noticed. Well, everyone did, but there were no dirty looks at his mother or the little guy that was having a rough time. 

Brandon made a couple of comments about how loud the "baby" was being. (He never actually looked for the source of the noise.) So, I told him that places like Costco and other big stores can be really hard on people - especially kids - because of the fluorescent lights, ambient noise and the sheer volume of people and things to look at. 

I told him about the time several years ago that he himself got tired of walking around and just laid down in the middle of an aisle and refused to move on. He'd had enough and couldn't cope with all the sensory information coming at him anymore. He didn't know how to say he was overwhelmed, so he communicated it in the only way he knew how: He stopped.

As an adult, I still struggle to recognize and stick to my limits. We get caught up in all the things we have to, need to, want to or should do and forget that we also need to stop the constant flow of information and other sensory stimulation in our brains so we can recharge.

Life happens and we keep plugging away because that's what we do. Kids haven't picked up that skill and, in a way, I hope Brandon never does. I'd consider it a great success if I can teach him to respect his own limits. For now, I'm working on teaching him to recognize them.

I've had a lot of extra stress that I've plowed through for months and I'm pretty exhausted. And I know it's impacting me because I have been sick at least once a month this year. But I've done very little to address the real problem. I just keep going.

But there's always a reason.

Whether it's a kid screaming in the middle of a crowded, busy store or an adult experiencing life stress, we all need to be compassionate with each other and ourselves.

I re-learn this lesson pretty regularly the hard way. Don't we all?

Filling days with happy routines

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I recently changed jobs, and the switch means my 5-minute commute is now 30-40 minutes. That's a big jump, but it's kind of awesome. The only thing I didn't like about my 5-minute commute was that it eliminated my best opportunity for me-time with audiobooks. I've always been a voracious reader, but life happens and it's hard to find the time. For me, the commute is the perfect time to get through non-fiction books, particularly on business topics. 

When I was noodling on how to position a product, I listened to Positioning. When I was struggling with how to explain a complex but important concept, I got inspiration from Made to Stick. And one of Jim Collins' stories in Good to Great reaffirmed my choice to leave my last position. Some days I need something fiction to get lost in because my brain needs a break from absorbing information and generating ideas. Occasionally, I switch on my favorite playlists so I can give a concert in my car.

Having a longer commute creates some logistical challenges, but I try to take advantage of every moment of that time to prep for my day and unwind from it when it's over. The routine - provided I'm not rushed - makes me happy and less stressed. 

Life is too busy not to have routines that inject some amount joy into each day. I love getting my first cup of coffee in the morning. That first sip is the best, too. 

Sometime last winter, my colleagues at my previous job started sitting together regularly at lunch and I looked forward to that routine. It made hard days better and gave us all a break from the grind. This one was good for our whole team, especially since we were dealing with so much change.

It's amazing to see the impact of a simple routine when you're going through change.

One routine I practiced when I was younger, but has fallen away was something I learned from my fifth grade teacher. She once told me that she loved to wake up on Saturday mornings, have a cup of tea, a hot bath and read. I still think that sounds divine, but I haven't done it in years. I might have to revive it before it gets too cold. 

I like having happy routines that are also comforting and calming; they're a safe space in each day, week or month. 

What makes me happy right now

 Coffee, daisies and a book to read. A beautiful combination, don't you think?

Coffee, daisies and a book to read. A beautiful combination, don't you think?

Happiness is one of those things that we're programmed into thinking is a life goal. Do what makes you happy. Don't worry, be happy. Live happily ever after. Happiness is...you fill in the blank.

I like feeling happy, but I also get how fleeting an emotion it is. I've learned to appreciate the depth and breadth of feeling joy - whether I feel happy or not. But happiness isn't something I'm going to turn away when it comes.

There's never going to be a list of things that make me happy that isn't topped by my family. Matt is the most kind, caring, funny, supportive husband. He's the yin to my yang. I'm messy; he's not. I'm a daydreamer; he's not. I drink wine; he doesn't (more for me). I don't like to vacuum; he does. I meticulously sort, fold and hang clothes (when I get to the laundry); he doesn't. I read and sing; he doesn't. I'm not into video games; he is. We also agree on a lot of things - both trivial and critical. 

When Matt walks through the door at the end of the day and smiles, it lights up my world.

Brandon's so much like Matt, it makes me smile. He's got his dad's quick wit and my tendency to tease. It's a combination that keeps us all laughing. But Brandon's also one of the most genuinely sweet children I've ever known. He's still an affectionate cuddler who isn't afraid to tell anyone how much he cares. I hope he hangs onto that as he gets older.

Every time I get a hug from my little guy, my cup of joy gets filled up.

I've spent the last few years focused on writing and stories, so I get immersed in story practically every day. The medium doesn't matter. I love a good story in a song, a book, a TV show or movie, pictures and more. I even make up stories in my head starring strangers around me. Most of those stories get lost in a vault buried deep in some unknown tunnel in my brain. This isn't a bad thing.

Stories help me see new perspectives, explore new ideas, and occasionally escape from the monotony of life.

When I was a kid, I used to think once you finished school there was no more learning. Back then I didn't think this would bother me in the least. "No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers' dirty looks," sounded awfully nice. But somewhere along the way, I realized how much I liked learning and I just kept doing it. There's so much interesting stuff in the world to learn. I want to soak as much of it up as I can.

Learning makes me a better writer and a better human.

I'm also blessed to have so many truly wonderful people in my life, from my family to friends to colleagues. Life is rich in unmeasurable ways when you're surrounded by so much good. Also, coffee. And daisies. Daisies are such a happy flower. :)