Choosing the Good Thoughts

I’m so glad it’s Saturday. I’m sitting here enjoying the quiet start of a day. The windows are wide open and I hear the hum of crickets and tweeting of the morning birds outside. The sun has risen in a hazy sky, so the air is still cool and comfortable. Lucy and I went for our run a little while ago and saw places where the ground was blanketed in fog. So peaceful and pretty. It did me good to get out and run on a morning like this.

The past week was one of those where there never seemed to be enough hours in a day. The pace at work seems to grow more hectic every week as our current business grows and new possibilities abound. I have my hands in a little bit of everything, from account management to technology to the creative to exploring our ability to dive into new avenues.  And I like it that way. And just when I was beginning to feel slightly overwhelmed and slightly frustrated, there was this response to a project I’m involved in.

20140730 Brilliant b

The project lead’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect with this comment. I was feeling a little put upon because I’d been asked to draft some content for a web page. Writing isn’t one of the things I get paid to do, although I did plenty of it before we recently hired an official writer. I was just to the point this week of wondering why I’m still writing when they’re paying someone else to do it full-time. I have plenty enough other things to do that constitute my “real” job, I’m struggling to get it all done as it is, and nowhere in my job description does it say “writing.” This particular bit of feedback came after the project lead had a look at my words along with our graphic designer’s artistic talents.

Her comment was like a knock on the head. HELLO! I love to write! Why am I complaining about being asked to do it? Shouldn’t I instead be grateful to be given the opportunity now and then? And when I stopped to think about it, I was asked to draft the initial version, because I have knowledge. I know what information needs to be conveyed on this page, thanks to my years of experience with the company. The fact that I was asked to contribute speaks volumes about others’ faith in my abilities. The “official” writer will take my stuff and polish it up with his easy and fun tone, but it’s my ideas that will sit behind his work. Why was I griping about having to be involved? Oh yeah. Because I was letting myself get overwhelmed.

I’m really working to learn not to do that so much – being overwhelmed and anxious. I know it’s not a new concept – that having a peaceful mind is within my own control. I’ve always just assumed that it took a certain personality to put it into action and live that way. And I didn’t think I had that personality. I was hard-wired to be high-strung. But all of a sudden – whether it’s age or life experience – I suddenly get it. I’m slowly learning to reign in my focus. Instead of worrying what tomorrow will be like, or next week, next month, next year… I’m trying to just keep my sights on what I’m in control of right now.

I’m learning that not worrying, stressing and being full of anxiety doesn’t have to mean that I don’t care what happens in the future. It just means that I accept the fact that I ‘m not in control of it. Because of this new mindset, in the past few weeks, I feel lighter, not just emotionally calmer, but physically better as well. It’s like a whole new world has opened up to me. Instead of waking up every day feeling like “same old, same old,” I feel more like, “Bring it on!”

Of course it’s all new to me and I’m reminded that making a habit of staying centered is going to take time. I realized this after falling back into my old ways for a couple of days. I woke up yesterday morning with my stomach in knots and an ache in my head behind my eye. Could have been what I had for dinner the night before, but I like to think it could have had something to do with where my thoughts had been living, and that I’d forgotten for a while that I have the ability to change how I feel, for the better.

I signed up a while ago to receive these daily email messages, recommended by several friends at work. They’re a source of daily encouragement and inspiration. You can think of them as messages from God or the universe or just the guy behind a keyboard who comes up with awesome words to propel readers into their day with a can-do attitude. But I love them and they do my heart and mind good. I know each morning that my daily message is sitting in my inbox waiting for me and I look forward to that point in the morning when I let myself go see what waits for me that day. And no matter what the daily message is, it always ends with these same words:

Thoughts become things… choose the good ones!

It’s so true! I’m learning to choose the good ones, and it’s amazing how different, how much more inviting the world looks when I do.

And in spite of it all, it was a good day

This morning arrived with a dark and heavy sky. The rain was already falling and when I let Lucy outside, it appeared as if it had been raining for some time. The deck, the trees, the streets – everything in sight was drenched. During the brief moments I was holding the door open for Lucy, a cold blast of air snuck inside. Just a little more than an hour later, before I left for work, I could see ice forming on the wooden decking. It promised to be an intense day.

At work, I had my head buried in a ginormous Excel workbook.  I was looking for a few needles in a haystack and was several hours into my task. I’d pinpointed the data I was looking for and had isolated it to its own worksheet when the unthinkable happened. excel error

Uuuuuggggghhhh! NO!

That’s what I get for being too confident. I was feeling pretty good, thinking I was on a big roll. I was getting all impressed with myself for tackling such a big problem in so much less time than I’d imagined. (I’m pretty new to this particular work. I like it and have a knack for it. But I need to learn to be patient!)

Had I saved my work? Not recently enough to let this roll off my back. Microsoft Excel was trying to recover my document and I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Fifteen minutes later when the recovery progress bar seemed stuck at about 10%, I went in search of an IT guy and made him look at my screen.

“PLEASE tell me you can do something,” I pleaded.

“Eh,” he said. “If your document is really big, your system probably just doesn’t have enough horsepower to recover it quickly. Just leave it be. Hopefully it can be saved. You can work on something else while you wait.”

So I sat at my desk and willed my document to recover, but it didn’t appear to be making any progress. I knew I’d saved my work at about the half-way point. I’d learned enough by running my process the first time that I could figure out how to shortcut my work to get to the same results. So I went back to it, setting up match formulas and filtering results.

Just as I’d pinpointed all of my “needles” again, the original document recovered.

Save your work! How many times have I heard that warning? Next time I might actually remember. I think this lesson was painful enough to make it sink in.

During a brief break, I glanced outside to see that it was still raining. It was coming down steady and sideways. Later in the day, the snow began.

I buried my head again in more Excel stuff. By quitting time, my brain felt like mush and the outside world had become a winter wonderland.

The drive home was slow. The freeway was a slushy, sloppy mess and the snow seemed to be shooting from the air at my windshield. But I made it home safely. When I’d pulled into the garage, I had the strangest experience. I could hear a chorus of birds singing from the tree in the front yard. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine the color and warmth of spring. Except for the sound of cars slicing through the frozen muck out on the street.

We joke about the never-ending winter at work and among friends. Earlier this week, while discussing yet another forecast of snow, my pal, Lori wailed dramatically, “How will we go on?”

We all laughed, but really, I know we were all thinking it. “How will we go on?” This is crazy!

I’d be better off if I had an attitude like Lucy’s. She doesn’t even know or care what month it is. Snow makes her happy, no matter when it arrives. Maybe I could learn a thing or two from her.

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Then again, Lucy licks her butt. What does she know?

Happy Work

I like the work that I do. Oh, sure the job has its share of monotony – routine procedures and reports that have to be done week after week. And there are frustrations too, enough to keep things from getting dull. But there’s also enough variety and challenge to keep me happy for forty hours a week. I love to become so engrossed in a project that it keeps me digging, researching and documenting until I’ve failed to notice the clock approaching quitting time.

What I really love about my job, though, is once in a while, something really fun comes along. I received an email today from our CEO. Several years ago, I was involved in a company sponsored workshop involving storytelling as a sales method. One result of that workshop was that the CEO began to see business potential in my writing skills. Now, every once in a while, he invites me to contribute to a project with my writing.

There were actually three of us who received today’s email. The subject? A writing/thinking exercise. My interest was piqued. As I read through the instructions, I found myself excited to rise to the challenge. This is what I really like about our CEO. He’s an idea man; a big dreamer. Every successful company needs at least one of these. And he’s good at getting us “detail” people excited about the dreams and ideas so we can help make them reality. His email introduction continued to intrigue me.

Would each you, he said,

  • Read the little story below from an interview with Nora Ephron – a movie screenwriter and novelist – fyi – one of her most famous screenplays was “When Harry Met Sally”.  
  • Then read the attached brochure.
  • Then write me a headline – what is the primary point of the brochure?

 Ground rules:  

  1. Please do not discuss with each other or anyone else.
  2. Can I have your headline by 3:00 pm tomorrow?  

He then included the following excerpt from an interview with Nora Ephron.

What about teachers? Were there teachers who were pretty important to you?

Nora Ephron: Yes. I had a couple of great, great teachers. The teacher who changed my life was my journalism teacher, whose name was Charles Simms. I always tell this story. I love it. I had already decided that I was going to be a journalist. I didn’t know why exactly, except that I had seen a lot of Superman comics. Lois Lane and all of those major literary characters like that, but Mr. Simms got up the first day of class, and he went to the blackboard, and he wrote “Who, what, where, why, when, and how,” which are the six things that have to be in the lead of any newspaper story. Then he did what most journalism teachers do, which is that he dictated a set of facts to us, and then we were all meant to write the lead that was supposed to have “who, what, where, why, when, and how” in it.

He dictated a set of facts that went something like, “The principal of Beverly Hills High School announced today that the faculty of the high school will travel to Sacramento, Thursday, for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Speaking there will be Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, and two other people.” So we all sat down at our typewriters, and we all kind of inverted that and wrote, “Margaret Mead and X and Y will address the faculty in Sacramento, Thursday, at a colloquium on new teaching methods, the principal announced today.” Something like that. We were very proud of ourselves, and we gave it to Mr. Simms, and he just riffled through them and tore them into tiny bits and threw them in the trash, and he said, “The lead to this story is: There will be no school Thursday!” and it was this great epiphany moment for me. It was this, “Oh my God, it is about the point! It is about figuring out what the point is.” And I just fell in love with journalism at that moment.

I just fell in love with the idea that underneath, if you sifted through enough facts, you could get to the point, and you had to get to the point. You could not miss the point. That would be bad. So he really kind of gave that little shift of mind a major push. I just fell in love with solving the puzzle, figuring out what it was, what was the story, what was the truth of the story.

I could feel myself smiling as I read through the email. I wasn’t just smiling on the inside; I was actually, physically, fully smiling. As much as work is something I have to do, I love that it can also be something I really want to do. I love the fact that for someone like me, who in person tends to be a bit reserved, who at one time earned an unwelcome reputation for being “meek,” can be recognized for having not just adequate skills for the job, but an actual talent. I love that something I love to do can wind its way into something I have to do. And I love that I work for people who recognize talents in their employees and give them opportunities to feed them.

challenges in lifeI immediately dropped everything else (because I could afford to do so today,) and read the brochure for the company’s newest endeavor. Before I was finished, words and ideas for a headline were floating around in my head. I began to write them on my notepad, but my fingers couldn’t keep up, so I opened up a blank Word document and let the thoughts spill out onto the keyboard. Funny thing is, I am terrible at coming up with titles for my blog posts, but for this project, I had trouble deciding which of my ideas I most wanted to submit.

I think the big guy knew I would be excited to jump right in with his project. I sensed someone standing behind me in my cubicle and turned to find him standing in my doorway.

Did you get my email, he asked?

Sure did, I said. I’m working on it now.

I couldn’t help adding, This is fun!

We talked a bit about the fact that When Harry Met Sally was a favorite movie for both of us. He asked how I was doing with his little project. I told him I had a bunch of ideas and could send them before I left for the day if he wanted. He seemed excited by that, but I told him I reserved the right to send more ideas, if I had them, before tomorrow’s deadline. He had no problem with that.

I hope that one of the ideas I submit might be just that thing that the CEO is looking for. None of them might be. Two other people are brainstorming ideas of their own and submitting them.  I might have to settle for simply learning from them instead of having the “winning” idea. Either way, I’m just really glad to be asked.

Miracle

From my place in the cubicle farm, I could hear Lori answer her phone.

“Well, hi-eee,” she exclaimed! “How are you?”

Clearly she was excited to hear from somebody. I returned my attention to my work, but a few moments later, Lori poked her head into my cube as she was breezing by on her way to the front entrance.

“Lisa’s here,” she whispered loudly.

I stood up and wandered out to the open area in front of my cubicle watching Lori make her way to the locked entrance doors.

“Lisa,” I asked? “She’s here? Now?”

“Yes, right now!”

I looked around as Lori waited to meet Lisa at the door. It seemed everyone was busy at work. No one was milling around. I wanted to run through the office and spread the news that Lisa was here! But I waited. I didn’t want to disappear just as Lisa was arriving.

Lori was opening the door and there she was. Lisa was here! Lori was explaining how she wasn’t going to hug Lisa because she’d just come down with the cold virus that’s been making the rounds. I’ve long since put my share of viruses behind me. I wasn’t holding off on the hugging.

Soon word had spread that Lisa had arrived and my coworkers had formed a circle around our unexpected guest. Every face held a beaming smile. Everyone was clamoring for a hug. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that not a one of us was sure we’d ever get to see Lisa again.

She looked beautiful! I was struck by how bright and blue her eyes were. I don’t know why I’d never noticed it before in all the years we’ve worked together, but her eyes were striking. In a way, she reminded me of a cancer survivor. But it wasn’t cancer that robbed Lisa of her hair. Her long brunette locks were gone due to the brain surgery that was necessary after she suffered a brain aneurysm in late November. Her hair was just beginning to grow back in, no longer brunette but salt and pepper gray. Again, I was struck by how beautiful she looked.

She told us her story and everyone was murmuring about what a miracle it was that she stood before us today. In a more private moment, I asked when she might come back to work. She thought two weeks, if all goes well between now and then. I told her how much we’ve missed her and her eyes welled up with tears, not for the first time. She said what a gift it was to be standing there today and the word miracle came up again.

“I don’t know why me,” she sniffed, wondering out loud why her life had been spared.

“Why not you,” I asked?

“Because there are so many others whose lives have been cut so short. It’s not fair.”

I didn’t have any words for her at that moment, but just reminded her how glad I was that she would be able to come back to us. Some of us are close friends around the office, but we don’t make a habit of getting too emotional. But today, the professional boundaries were set aside for a while as happy tears were shed and hugs abounded.

After Lisa left and the excitement died down, it wasn’t long before it was time to pack up and go home. Only then did I begin to realize why her. I’m sure there are many reasons why she’s still on this earth. One of them might be to remind us that nothing is a given. As I thought about Lisa, I realized, I’m not entitled to anything. What’s important is not whether I have all that I want in life, but that I can appreciate all that I already have.

Do you believe in miracles? I do. I saw one today.

Positively

Ever notice how negative people can be?

My company has just undergone some big changes. We were recently acquired by a large, successful and reputable corporation. And as a result, we’ve moved to a new location not far from where our old offices were located. Our first day in the new place was the day after Christmas and since then, I’ve noticed a lot of discontent. I’m hearing a lot of complaints. The cubicles are too close together. There’s no longer an office manager which means  that when there are visitors or deliveries, everyone is expected to lend a hand with receiving them. The water filter/ice machines haven’t been installed. It’s too loud. It’s too cold. There aren’t a hundred restaurants within walking distance like there were when we were downtown. We’re not all sure where to find all of our office “stuff” just yet. So much of what was familiar for so many years has changed.

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People are frustrated. And I get it. I do. There have been some hitches as we try to get settled in the new office and figure out new policies, systems and websites. Change isn’t easy for everyone. Some who had nice, big offices in the old place have had to downsize to smaller offices. Some who had offices before have been downgraded to cubicles. Even for those of us who are accustomed to the cubicle environment, there are adjustments to make. There’s no longer a white-noise system to help minimize distractions. We can hear everything going on around us. Everything is new and different.

But I am a bit taken aback because what this change means for all of us is job security, which has been in short supply for the past few years. It means resources to grow our business and the chance to make something big of our products and services. So we have to make a few concessions. I just don’t think that all this negativity is helping anyone to acclimate, so I’d rather we all just make the best of it. A negative attitude just makes the workday drag on. It seems to me that finding the positives in all this change will make a better working environment and brighter days for everyone.

I much prefer positive people who can look for the silver lining in any situation, not just at work but in life in general. A positive attitude goes such a long way in making others happy and helping them to want to pay it forward. And this is probably what attracted me to the blog of Steve Harper, aka Mr. Ripple. Steve has made a career out of his ability to connect with others and make a positive impact.

And also, he’s promoting a post that I wrote about a piece of my work life, so that alone moves him right to the top of my favorites list! :-) I have to say, it’s quite an ego boost to have someone come along and say, “I like what you wrote. Do you mind if I use it?” NO, I don’t mind! What are you, crazy?

Steve has written a book called The Ripple Effect, about “how one simple action can dramatically affect the lives of friends, family, colleagues, customers… even people you’ve never met.” And if you like, you can hire him to come speak about his beliefs in “the power of positive connection.”

Seems like I should figure out a way to convince the powers that be to have Mr. Ripple come pay us a visit! And, you know… if you have similar needs, or just want to read something that will help you improve your relationships, go check out Steve’s website yourself!

Do I.T. Guys Like Chocolate?

I had a phone meeting with a coworker today. He’s in IT.

Generally speaking, the people of our IT department march to the beat of a slightly different drum. I’m no longer surprised at their odd habits. One of them sits cross-legged in his chair during business meetings. He also walks around in his socks at times. Another wears cargo shorts during the warmer months. He either wears the same pair of cargo shorts every day, or he’s got five pairs in the same color. One of them seems to collect his empty pop cans on his desk for days and weeks on end before finally cleaning house. The IT people speak a language that the rest of us don’t always understand.

And IT people enjoy privileges that many of the rest of us do not. They get to work from home a lot. Hence the reason I was having a phone meeting with my IT coworker today as opposed to an in-person meeting.

I set up this meeting yesterday. I have some reports that need to be built. I documented the specifications and created some mock-ups and I provided these to my IT coworker yesterday.  I asked him to look over my documents and be prepared to discuss with me whether what I was asking for was possible and if he could build the logic for these reports within a specific and rather short time frame.

My IT coworker called me this morning, as agreed, but I missed his call. We played a bit of phone tag before finally connecting. As I began to talk with him about my reports, he seemed confused and a bit distracted.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just so tired today. What are you asking me about?”

I was slightly taken aback. What was I asking him about? Didn’t he remember the only reason I had asked him to call me? Odd.

I explained that I was referring to one of the two report examples I had sent him yesterday. He said that I mentioned the examples in my email but had not actually attached them. I was pretty sure that I had, and I quickly looked through the Sent Items in my email account, finding the original email and attachments just as he said, “Oh here they are. You did send them. I’m sorry.”

Again he apologized for being so tired and “spacey.”

I’m not easily annoyed by my coworkers and I particularly like this particular coworker. He’s smart. He does his job well. And for an IT guy, he communicates pretty well with those of us non-IT kind of people. It’s unusual for him to seem so distracted, tired and “spacey.” But I found myself wondering about his exhaustion. Was he up late with a sick kid? Was he up late with his wife? (OOPS! None of my business. Shouldn’t be wondering such things.) Was he up late hanging out with friends?  A part of me wondered how long the work-from-home gig can last if those who enjoy such privileges can’t wake up enough to function during normal business hours.

My IT coworker did seem to come to life a bit as we talked though, and was able to give me his perspective and some promising feedback on what I was asking. He told me he was going to look into some stuff and discuss a few things with someone else and would follow up with me tomorrow or early next week. I figured that was best. I figured he shouldn’t be making any promises when he was having such a hard time focusing and staying awake anyway.

We hung up with me envisioning him lounging in his home office in his pajama pants, hanging up the phone and leaning his head back on his chair. I pictured his eyelids drooping sleepily, a pile of beer bottles in his recycling bin from the poker game with his buddies last night.

Later in the day, I heard another coworker mention feeling sorry for the IT guy I had met with. Something about him starting his work day really early. I suddenly remembered that along with the perks enjoyed by the IT people, such as shoelessness, there are a lot of drawbacks, such as working long past normal business hours, working weekends, and having to make deployments at midnight.

It turns out that my coworker hadn’t been up late with his kid or his wife or his poker buddies. He had started his work day at 3:00 a.m. in order to make sure a very important report was run so that many others could do their jobs when they arrived at 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. today.

I was too quick to judge. I hadn’t said anything to my IT coworker about the impression he’d made on me. I didn’t talk about it with anyone else. Still… I thought it. And I should have known better. Now I’m the one feeling sorry … and really grateful to be surrounded by people who are so dedicated to doing a good job, especially when expectations are always high and expressions of gratitude are often forgotten.

I’m thinking maybe I should make amends for assuming the worst about my IT coworker. A little token of appreciation, without explanation, of course because that would just be uncomfortable. But something. Any ideas?

Footwear Impaired

I notice people’s footwear.

When I’m walking from my parking ramp to the office, I look at feet. If people could hear the thoughts in my head, they’d hear judgments.

I LOVE those boots! Wonder where she got them!

I can’t believe someone would actually spend money on those shoes!

Dude, brown shoes do not go with a gray suit. Black shoes, dude! Black!

By the way, I realized today that I would never refer to someone as dude out loud. For some reason though, dude is a part of the vocabulary used in my internal dialogues.

Everyone has tall boots with low heels this year. Why don’t have tall boots with low heels? I need to shop more.

Those heels are ridiculous! Who would willingly spend eight plus hours in heels that high?

Considering my awareness of footwear, it’s no surprise that I have my fair share of pairs. I was going to go around the house and count them, but I just don’t feel like it. I can tell you, off the top of my head, that I’ve got four pair of fashion boots, three pair of athletic shoes, three pair of slippers, (some of which are actually worn outside of the house. I say if they have a rubber sole, they qualify as shoes.) There are several varieties of slip-on, slide-on type shoes, a few pair of heels and I won’t even try to count the flip-flop and sandal varieties.

You’d also think, considering my awareness of footwear, that I’d not make the mistake of breaking footwear fashion rules, such as wearing brown shoes with black pants or white socks with dark shoes….

…or wearing two different shoes to work. All day long. Without noticing. Without anyone noticing, or at least admitting to noticing, thank goodness. I’d have obsessed and died of embarrassment a thousand times over if I thought anyone had caught on to my blunder. I got all the way home and took them off, picked them up to put them in the front closet, and then… Hey, something’s not quite right here.

Yeah. I really did.

The one on the left is brown, though it’s such a dark brown it’s sometimes hard to tell it’s not black. Which is dangerous when someone is leaving the house in a hurry on a Monday morning and not paying real close attention to the subtle differences between brown boots and black boots. And yes, my pants are long and would have covered up the fact that the buckles are placed differently on the boots. But there’s a decorative seam on the front of the brown one that doesn’t exist on the black one. Good thing my feet sit under a desk for most of the day!