Oh the places you’ll go…

Child's drawing of an airplane
We all live in a green aeroplane, a green aeroplane, a green aeroplane…

I found myself once again jammed elbow to elbow with strangers several thousand feet in the air as our airplane rocked like a cork upon the water. So began yet another glamorous business trip, this time to America’s heartland. I guess that when I told my boss earlier this year that “I’m not the biggest fan of business travel,” he heard “I haven’t traveled enough.” Clearly, frequent flyers are exposed over time to something mixed in the recirculated air.

Upon arrival, I took one step out of the sliding doors and was nearly knocked down. I can deal with humidity. To call the air that met me outside the airport “humid” is like saying a tsunami is wet. Accurate yes, but the word just doesn’t do it justice. (According to Google translate, in Zulu, wall of water is translated as Udonga amanzi which for some reason feels more appropriate.)

A van, probably white when factory new but was now more ecru, pulled up. I assumed it was the hotel shuttle, however, wasn’t entirely sure as the logo was beginning to peel from the vehicle’s side. The driver came around to help stow my bags. “You’re the only one today, so feel free to sit up front if you’d like,” he said. Eager to get my lungs out of the oppressive air, I jumped in.

As we turned down unfamiliar streets it occurred to me that I had willingly hopped into the kind of van one might see in a movie’s kidnapping scene. I glanced at my driver. The cuff of his long sleeved shirt was rolled down, exposing a large tattoo. The look didn’t exactly boost my confidence.

Oh, I can hear my mom now as she reads this…

A couple of stop lights later I arrived at the hotel safe and in one piece (see mom – no need to worry about me at all!) There were only a couple of cars in the parking lot. Either I was arriving well ahead of check-in, or most people were staying at home after the holiday weekend. It reminded me of the empty hotel from The Shining (if I saw a pair of creepy twins, I was out of there).

I was told my room was ready. My room was ready. The room across from me? Not so much. Large fans whirled in the hallways while a radio blasted classic rock from the other room. The door was wide open and I could see that it was in the process of being refurbished from top to bottom. I decided I’d rather not know what kind of hi-jinks must have taken place on that side of the hall.

Between the fumes and the easy jams, I decided to vacate my room while the workers finished for the day. I decided to try out the gym (see mom – I do occasionally make healthy choices). One of the footplates on the elliptical machine had given out, the backrest on the stationary bike was set to permanent recline and the treadmill sounded like a chainsaw (the ‘art’ in this ‘state of the art’ facility was still in the surrealist period). Perhaps I should run outside. Rain began to pelt the windows. Perhaps not. I was motivated to work off some holiday excess, but not that motivated.

Image from my actual expense report

I ventured downstairs to see what this fine establishment might have in the way of dining only to find a small mini-mart stocked with frozen meals instead of a restaurant. Sigh. I grabbed a dinner and returned to my room. Sometimes you just need to call it a night.

And unlike my last trip, I slept like I did back in the time before kids. It is amazing how a little extra rest helps your mood. The food might have been less than ideal, and the accommodations worthy of the term economy, but, I’m not really complaining. I’ve been on worse trips.

It comes down to the people I meet along the way, and all people this time were friendly. Especially my tattooed driver, who, in addition to being exceedingly polite was living in this city/fishbowl to be closer to aging relatives (and wasn’t scary at all). It was a good reminder not to judge based on appearance. I would have preferred to stay at home, but it was an experience. I may not get to travel like the rich and famous, but as I’ve said before, at least I get to keep my miles.

Once stung, twice equipped with repellent

Meet Mr. Yellow Jacket (129 of 365) (EXPLORED!)
Meet Mr. Yellow Jacket (129 of 365) (EXPLORED!) (Photo credit: rimblas)

When I was a teenager, I was attacked by a swarm of ground hornets while hiking with a group of friends. I never even saw their nest. Someone ahead of me must have inadvertently stepped where he or she shouldn’t have and by the time they had flown to the surface in a rage I was the closest target.

A very short time later, areas of my body had swollen up like baseballs. I found my way on an express route to the emergency room.

I have a healthy respect for stinging insects of all kinds. I don’t squish them just for the crime of being bugs. I understand that the outdoors is their world. I try to remain calm and motionless when they are near, or avoid them altogether if I see them in the distance. I don’t bother them if they don’t bother me.

But when they try to build a nest in my porch, or more recently, move in underneath my children’s sandbox, I have to do something about it. I am no longer passive or kind. I don’t want to find out the hard way that my allergy has been passed on to my children. Or worse, that their reaction might be more than moderate.

At that point I have to make it clear to those insects that their continued presence will not be tolerated. Those that survive the lesson should move on to more welcoming ground.

“Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. I am kind to everyone, but when someone unkind to me, weak is not what you are going to remember about me.” – Al Capone.

I self published my first novel, and have been debating whether or not this was a path I would like to take again for my second. I’ve been reading about how little new authors can expect from large publishers and how aspiring authors are now asked to provide some potential publishers with a business plan and marketing plan in addition to the manuscript. I recently read an article entitled Publishing 3.0 detailing the rise of the authorpreneur. While the term authorpreneur may sound like one of those celebrity mash-up names, I find that it is completely appropriate in this instance. To be a successful self published or indie author, you do have to have an understanding as to what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Like writing professionally, entrepreneurship is hard work. It too requires sacrifice and long hours, but with different results. Purchase orders are rarely aesthetically pleasing. But for an entrepreneur that first order is a work of art, one as beautiful to behold as a published novel with its glossy cover. It gets framed and permanently mounted on the wall for all the world to see.

Entrepreneurship can be at times a wonderful thing. There is something deeply satisfying about watching the business that you helped start grow and thrive. Whether you are your only employee or have a larger staff, it is both rewarding and terrifying to know that their ability to care for their families is because of what you’ve put in place.

But unfortunately, an entrepreneur is still not entirely in control of his/her own destiny. There are always going to be people out there who look upon your success with envy. They either want what you have, or are afraid that you have the ability to take something away from them. They will attack in ways you never saw coming, especially if they believe you aren’t paying attention.

During this time you have to keep in mind that these attacks are actually compliments. They are a testament to your ability and your achievements. They are recognition that what you have done has been noticed. You have to be the bigger person. Stay true to your values and out of their domain. Walk away if you can. Ignore them if you can’t.

That is until you have been stung one too many times and they mistake your kindness as weakness, your willingness to turn the other cheek as acceptance, and they threaten your baby’s life.

“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”
― Patrick RothfussThe Wise Man’s Fear

At that point, let them keep their compliments. It is time to hire the exterminator and bring out the bug spray.

Mistakes happen, but life goes on

I recently finished reading Jessica Bacal’s Mistakes I Made at Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect on What They Got Out of Getting It Wrong. I was intrigued by the title and drawn into the promise that the book would feature, well at the risk of repeating the obvious, women in power admitting they had made mistakes. 

Admitting a mistake in the privacy of your own office is hard enough, but these woman were asked to detail their mistakes with the understanding that the interviews would then be published, and available to be read by the public for all of eternity. Or as long as the book remains in print, whichever comes first. For that reason, I couldn’t fault the few who chose to play it safer with their stories than others.

As way of saluting their bravery, I’ll return the favor.

Wasting Money
Wasting Money (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

When I was first starting out in my career, I was given the task of instructing our purchasing department as to how much material to re-order for an upcoming build.  Simple, right?

The challenge was the material had to be bought in huge reels sold in volume and then cut into smaller pieces by a third party. The third party then re-spun onto smaller spools measured in square feet, before shipping it to the manufacturing facility where it was cut at third time into rectangular slivers measured in millimeters.

I knew how many end parts we needed to build, which told me how many slivers were required, but I needed to work out what that usage translated into terms of reels.

I failed this particular word problem. I may have misplaced a decimal, or I might have miscalculated exactly how much film could be wrapped around the spindle of a large cylinder. It doesn’t matter. All that mattered was we wound up buying years’ worth of material with a no return option based on my recommendation.

Embarrassed by my blunder, I wanted to take it out on the supplier. I asked them why didn’t they question why we were suddenly ordering several times more than we typically did. Their answer was, they just thought our business was booming. In other words they took the money and didn’t question their good fortune.

AWESOME ... TPD Officers Placed On Leave After...
(Photo credit: marsmet463)

Fortunately, I managed to keep my job. We found a space to store the excess without too much impact on our bottom line. Eventually we consumed the material, but until that day, at least in my mind, it served as a monument to my huge blunder. Rest assured, I never repeated that particular error again.

People will say you should own up to your mistakes, but to do so you have to do more than just admit to them. You have to break down the elements making up the blunder and figure out a way to turn a short term awful experience into an experience worth learning from.

I became more willing to ask for a second opinion if the numbers just didn’t seem to add up, and better about referencing past transactions whenever possible. Additionally, I became more aware of my individual impact on larger business decisions. Taken together, the lessons I learned by this one major blunder helped me develop the skills I needed to advance through my company’s ranks.

Reading about mistakes is a good way to learn a lesson, but occasionally it is best to learn the hard way.

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Cleaning out the closet and other personal pruning

The weather seemed to be finally on the upswing again which meant it was time once again to revisit my closet to ensure that my warmer weather garments were within easy access.

As I looked through the hangers it suddenly hit me that there were still items I had owned years before I had ever met my husband. We celebrated our tenth anniversary last year and didn’t exactly rush through the dating process, so these items could almost be described as vintage!

My husband complains about our closet size. Yes – please note that my husband is the one who thinks we need more space, not me. So why was I holding on to these items which essentially are just taking up space? It is not like I can wear them anymore, they are either too small, too revealing for work or too… err… young (that last one was hard to admit).

Club Belo 80s Fashion show San Diego
Club Belo 80s Fashion show San Diego (Photo credit: Network23 Photography)

I supposed I’ve held on to them for so long out of sentimental purposes. When I was sixteen years old I looked outstanding in them, and I knew it. Putting those garments on was like wearing confidence. I didn’t have bills to pay. My only responsibility was to keep my grades up and occasionally take out the garbage. I wore them during some of my best outings with friends. Getting rid of them now felt the same as admitting that those times were long gone and would never come again.

But, as I hovered in indecision, I had to realize that whether I wanted to admit it or not, time had advanced. I had grown, my friends had changed, and the cloth was not only faded but actually stank a little from lack of exposure to fresh air. If I did magically drop a dress size, I would want to reward myself with a brand new wardrobe, not be forced to wear my own hand-me-downs.

Clothing Donation
Clothing Donation (Photo credit: jazzijava)

As I began to throw the clothing on the growing donation pile, I felt free in a weird way. I still had the memories of those good times, but now I had all this open space that I could fill with something new, not just a poor copy.

How often do we continue to look back at the things we used to do and try to force a repeat just because the product, process, or program one time fit us like a glove? The market changes the same as the fashion industry and our waistline. Sure the trend might come again, but what worked for you or your company’s growing years rarely will still work the same way for you or your company’s established years. Product offerings, processes, and programs should be evaluated just as routinely as clothes in the closet.

How often do we as authors cling to clichés, a scene, or phrase we positively loved writing, but text which serves no useful purpose in the final product? I know all to well how much it hurts to hit the delete key when you have a certain word count goal in mind, but it has to be done. Imagine you have time for gardening. If you want certain plants to grow and bear fruit, you have to occasionally cut away the errant shoots.

There is a saying that nature abhors a vacuum. Provided you create an opening, something new will come around to fill it. It may very well be as good a fit if not better for the person you are today, the business you are trying to grow, or the story you are trying to write, than what you had.


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Applying the flywheel and avoiding the doom loop beyond business

Several years ago, I picked up a copy of Jim Collins’ Good to Great, a business reference on why some companies thrive while other companies fail. In it, he made a number of great observations supporting the premises that the enemy of great is not bad, no “Good is the enemy of Great.” He speculates that because we preceive ourselves as being good at something, we can be lulled into acceptance of the status quo rather than incentivized to improve to the point of greatness. At least when we recognize we are downright awful at something we know to either quit altogether or seek additional help. With good, it is too easy to say, ehh.. it is good enough.

His book is really focused on the business world, but as I have embarked down the path of authorship and grown as a parent, I have found that many of his observations and tips for moving away from being just good enough to get by have applications beyond the office.

One of my favorite chapters in the entire book was on the topic of the flywheel and the doom loop. I’ve paraphrased a bit, but the two concepts can be summarized by the following steps:

Tunnels of Time
By fdecomite (Tunnels of Time) via Wikimedia Commons
The Flywheel

  1. Take a step forward consistent with your goal
  2. Verify Results
  3. Cultivate an audience of fans
  4. Build Momentum
  5. Repeat steps 1-4.

The Doom Loop

  1. Receive disappointing results
  2. React to results without understanding why the results were what they were
  3. Over-correct with new direction, new program leader, new event, etc
  4. Lose your audience & fans
  5. Repeat steps 1-4

The concept of the flywheel is simple, by taking small but determined steps according to a plan we grow a network of supporters which therefore makes repeatable success easier as it becomes nearly self-sustaining. A real life example is this: I am not a runner, but was talked into joining my husband on a 5K. I didn’t just show up for the race, I trained for weeks leading up to the event. At first it was just me putting one foot in front of the other. A successful day was merely getting home without walking most of the way. Then my family started to ask about how I was doing and suddenly I felt compelled to force myself to run just a few yards longer than I had the day before. On the day of the race, there were crowds of people shouting encouragement and offering water. I ran the entire way without stopping.

The doom loop is just as easy to understand. One of the bloggers I follow recently wrote of how she just received her first negative review. I can only imagine how devastating that must have been for her after working so hard. She easily could have gone on the defensive and lashed out at the reviewer. She might have caught herself questioning whether or not to continue to pursue her current project. In either case, the reaction could have cost the author her readers all together. Obviously creating a future of additional disappointing results. She did not do either of these things. She stayed clear of the doom loop and is most likely stronger for the experience. I wish her continued success.

I have found that writing in addition to working a day job and parenting is much like training for a race, except that this one is closer to a marathon than my little 5K. I have to pace myself to avoid injury and/or burnout. As long as I keep putting one foot (or in this case – one word) in front of another. Provided I keep watching my steps, I know that there will be someone just up ahead with a cup of cool water shouting encouragement. I will avoid the doom loop. I will finish this race.

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