My Compelling Blog: Part 5 (MNOP)

Welcome to the Year of the Earth Pig!

This week millions of people around the world celebrated the Lunar New Year. According to the Chinese zodiac, 2019 is the Year of the Earth Pig.

Fun searching on Google tells us that “A pig represents luck, overall good fortune, wealth, honesty, general prosperity, symbolizing a hard working, a peace-loving person, a truthful, generous, patient, reliable, trusting, sincere, giving, sociable person with a large sense of humor and understanding.”

Part 5 of My Compelling blog series continues with the letters MNO & P which stand for Molding Novel Outlooks and Perspectives.

Scroll past the pigs to see some new ideas.

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Photo by Steve Smull

Random Thoughts and Suggestions

  • Feeling stuck or in a rut? Break out clay, Playdoh or coloring books.
  • Listen to Pink Floyd’s Animals album.  “Pigs on a Wing” and “Sheep” are two of my favorites songs.
  • Read interesting and thought provoking books like:
    • Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel
    • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
    • The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani
    • The Art of Dancing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  • Listen to podcasts to get more in depth analysis and nuance an various subjects (Fresh Air, This American Life, Good Life Project).
  • Take a different route on your way to work or the grocery store.
  • Read Dilbert comic strips.
  • Instead of making lofty new year’s resolutions in January- try setting smaller monthly goals and objectives.
  • Don’t be afraid to wear silly hats.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Read about another country’s history.
  • Take more time to pet your cats, dogs, or other pets.
  • Ask a young child what they think about a specific subject.
  • Watch classic black and white movies.

 

 

My Compelling Blog: Part 4 (JKL)

Life is a crazy rollercoaster and sometimes you just have to laugh at the absolute insanity of it all.

This is why Part 4 of my compelling blog features the phrase “Just Keep Laughing”  for the letters JKL.   I thought this was more helpful and inspirational than “Just Kidding Loser” or worse yet, the dreaded “Just Kidding LOL”.  Is it just me or do you find LOL to be annoying?

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My Mom’s favorite express was “Live, Love, Laugh” and I always admired her warm smile and jolly laugh. She had a tough life with many challenges but she never let it get her down.

So when the crazy/mean/rude/obnoxious people in this world start making you feel like your head is going to explode, remember Just Keep Laughing!

Plus, as an added bonus, laughing has many health benefits for you, including:

  1. Reduces stress hormone levels
  2. Triggers the release of endorphins
  3. Increases your creativity
  4. Works your abs
  5. Boosts your immune system
  6. Lowers blood pressure
  7. Reduces anxiety
  8. Relaxes you and calms your mood
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Photo by Steve Smull

My Compelling Blog: Part 2 (DEF)

Welcome to Part 2 of my Compelling Blog series where the featured letters are D, E and F with the phrase of: Don’t Encourage Faceplants.

Part 1 began with A, B, C: Action, Bold and Creativity.

Here’s an excerpt from a speech I gave on Jan. 29, 2019 at my Toastmaster club’s International Speech contest.

“In these troubling and turbulent times my serious and solemn advice for you is: Don’t encourage faceplants!

Why, might you ask, am I focusing on faceplants?  Well for one, faceplants are not fun.  In fact, they can be quite humiliating and are often times very painful.

Thus, they should be avoided at all costs!

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How do I know this?

Well after 25 years of mountain biking,  I’ve taken a tumble or two and lived to tell the tale.

I also believe that many important life lessons can be learned while mountain biking.

I experienced one of these painful lessons many years ago while biking in the mountains of southern California.  The Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a beautiful area and I was enjoying the warm, sunny weather.  As a young and inexperienced rider, I was struggling to keep up with the older more skilled cyclists in my group and I fell behind and started to tire.  The trail had many climbs, stunning views and numerous fun and swooping descents.  But after many miles, I started to lose my confidence in my technical skills.  My speed decreased and I lost some of my nerve.   And then I came across a new and scary part of the trail- a long, extended rocky stretch.  There were big rocks, small rocks and everything in between.  My experienced husband glided over the section with ease but at the first sight of the rocks,  I seized up inside and slowed to a near stand still.  I was pedaling so slowly that my front wheel wedged between two of the larger rocks and I endo-ed onto a huge, flat boulder to my right.  I face-planted on my cheek and it cracked.  There was a flash of blinding white light and I knew that my ride was over for the day.”

Here are my 3 Tips for a better, smoother ride:

  1. Don’t let fear, uncertainty or hesitation cause you to stumble or fall. Once you decide to go, commit with confidence and don’t look back.
  2. Momentum is your friend. Keep your speed up and you will have an easier time of rolling over rocks, obstacles and barriers.
  3. Keep your eyes ahead on the trail. Focus on where you want to go.  Don’t focus on where you don’t want to go.  Distractions can be detrimental.

In life, not all the paths we take are smooth, flat and easy.  Sometimes the downhills are treacherous and frightening with obstacles and sudden drops offs.  Sometimes, the ascents are steep and seem to last forever.  Remember to keep moving with your eyes focused on where you want to go and you will dramatically increase your chances of getting there unscathed.

It is my hope that this turbulent tale from the trail can help you remember these tips for a better, smoother ride no matter where the path of life takes you.

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What nice genes you have!

We are all going to die.

This seems to be one of the few things that we humans all can agree upon.

Most of us don’t know when and there’s no escaping the fact that we all have an expiration date.

Over the last few years there is increased interest and availability of genetic testing. As a result, the age old debate of Nature vs Nurture is back on the minds of many people.

The idea that my genes can directly impact my health has fascinated me for years.  I was a biochemistry major in college and I especially enjoyed my genetics and psychobiology classes.

So here I am, pondering Life and Death.  Genetics vs Lifestyle.  Accept vs Adjust.

One of my relatives has a saying, “ You gotta die of something, right?”.

I agree and I just wish it would be of something other than cancer or heart disease!

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The idea to write this blog came to me a few weeks ago and below is the funny story that first made me laugh and then got me thinking.

It all started when my doctor handed me the results from my genetic screening test. I was relieved to see that it was negative for known mutations that can lead various types of cancer including breast, uterine, colon and ovarian.

In my excitement , I happily shared the news with a few of my family members on Facebook.

In a Private Message to them, I wrote:

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Relative 1:  Yay!

Me:  We have good genes.

Relative 2:  Awwww good!

Relative 3:   I had good jeans once, I wore them all the time. I wore them while smoking, drinking, eating greasy food. I wore them while working doing all sorts of things like working with chemical solvents, insulation, paints and while cleaning up messes from backed up sewer pipes. So those jean that were once good are now stained torn and thread bare. But such is life. LOL

For many, Such Is Life is a common mindset and attitude.  This, along with,  Live and Let Live, Don’t Worry- Be Happy,  Life is Short are very popular paradigms.

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The Genetics vs Lifestyle Debate

My genetic test results combined with the PM response from smart aleck relative #3 got me asking questions like:

How much do genetic factors contribute to cancer?

How much of this dreaded disease if out of our control?

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I was surprised when I researched and discovered that only 5-10% of cancers have a hereditary component and that 90-95% of cancers are caused by environmental or lifestyle factors. 

The research and evidence indicates that of all cancer-related deaths, 30%-35% are linked to diet, 25%-30% are due to tobacco, 10%-20% are linked to obesity, about 15%-20% are due to infections, and the remaining percentages are due to other factors like radiation, alcohol consumption, stress, physical inactivity and environmental pollutants.

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Those statistics shows that a great number cancer risk factors are in our control.  But are they really?  Control can be a funny thing and isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Realistically,  what percentage of Americans really want to, or are able to,  limit and regulate what they ingest and how much they move?  

I don’t know about you but I love a good, juicy hamburger every now and then.

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Accept vs Adjust

Do we simply accept that cancer happens in this toxic world of ours or do we adjust our habits in hopes of preventing or delaying it?

Can a healthy diet and active lifestyle prevent cancer?

In our polluted and stressful world,  does any of this really matter?

We are surrounded by environmental pollutants and UV rays everyday, does that extra piece of broccoli really help?

The Good News

Medical studies have shown that yes, you can help decrease your odds of getting cancer through healthy choices and good habits.  Knowledge and awareness of the risk factors have increased over the last four decades.

Protection from sun exposure has improved greatly over the last 20 years with increased availability of broad spectrum sunscreen and clothing with UV coverage.

The Bad News

We live in a toxic and stressful world and there are no guarantees in life.

A high percentage of Americans want to enjoy life and eat and drink whatever the hell they want.   You gotta die of something, right?

Addictions are real and difficult to overcome.  The food and tobacco industries have not helped to reduce in our every increasing desire for sugar, fat, salt and nicotine.

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There is a also a mindset battle that pits “modifying lifestyle” against the “live and let live” attitude.

Like most tough questions in life, there are no easy answers.

All I can only do is what’s best for me personally and try to set a good example for others.

I can work to educate and increase awareness.

But no one likes to be told what to do and the appetite for being lectured and harangued is low in these fiercely independent and freedom loving United States.

Everyone has a Choice.  We value our personal freedom.

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We all make daily decisions on how we want to live and what we put in our bodies.

I have the freedom to live how I want, knowing that it could be positively or negatively impacting my health.  It’s nice to have options.

I also have the power to observe what I see and write about it in this blog.

You have the choice to read my words and either ignore them or take action to change something in your life as a result.

Life is short, right?

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Calm, Steady and Flying Strong

I cautiously boarded a Southwest Airlines flight from Austin to Phoenix last Thursday, two days after the horrific engine failure that took the life of Jennifer Riordan, a bank executive and mother of two.   I quickly found myself a window seat like a normally do but this one was the second row, much closer to the front of the plane than I usually get.  I guess more people were choosing aisle seats that week.

The story of the dramatic emergency landing by Navy veteran Tammi Jo Shults captured my attention and made me reflect on what it means to be a hero. 

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A gift from Angie. Photo by Steve.

The news of the tragic event hit home for me since I have been flying on Southwest in window seats overlooking the engine numerous times this year.   The details of how the plane was forced to make a harrowing and rapid descent after one of the engines exploded in midair was chilling to say the least.

Hero is a word that gets used a lot in the news today and is often associated with masculine acts of strength and bravery.   Stereotypes and Google images bring up muscled men with capes.

Stereotypes Shattered in desert wars and at 30,000 feet

My experience and observations on the battlefield during the first Persian Gulf war were that the women Army officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) I served with in the US Amy were rocks-  strong and solid leaders who were calm under pressure and seemingly less agitated than their male counterparts.

Last week, I was most impressed by the calm and collected voice of Southwest Captain Tammi Jo in comparison to the stressed and strained vocals of the man communicating with her from Air Traffic Control.  The former F-18 fighter pilot was composed, steady and in control of the situation.  Her skill, professionalism and “nerves of steel” were recorded for everyone to hear and I loved it!

And then there was Peggy Phillips, the confidence and self-assured Registered Nurse who performed over 20 minutes of CPR on the battered and severely injured Jennifer Riordan.  There was no question, no hesitation- Peggy just launched into action doing what she was trained to do.

When praised and called heroes these woman replied that they were “simply doing their jobs”. These women were doing what they were trained to do, performing at the high standard they set for themselves.

Yes, Tammi Jo and Peggy did their jobs that day with the strength and the skill of true professionals.   True heroines who were calm and steady and refreshingly humble.

Imagine a world without heroes.   I can’t because I know too many strong, capable women.  Women who are Mothers and above all else love, support and nurture their children. Women who make sacrifices to give their families the best that they can.

The Mothers I know may not be piloting a plane in an emergency landing but day in and day out they work their asses off and make a positive difference in their kid’s lives.  Just like my Mom did for me and my siblings.

Mothers are Heroes.  Women like my Mom, Virginia; my sister, Barbara; my niece, Heather; my sisters-in-law, Shanon and Katie and my dear friends Andrea and Marie.  They all have and continue to impress me.

They are the unsung heroines of the never-ending drama and psychological thriller we know as life.

These heroes may not wear capes but I can visualize a large “S” across each of their chests.    They are more than Super, they are Supreme.

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Mother and child I photographed at a Me Rah Ko “The Photo Mom” seminar in Bastrop, TX

The Super Hero Mothers I know and had the great honor of being raised by may not have piloted an F-18 or a Boeing 737 but they are masterfully navigating, guiding and steering their families under enormous amounts of stress, pressure and sometimes chaos.

It is these women that I deeply respect.  It is to these heroes that I salute.

I thank Tammi Jo Shults and Peggy Phillips for their skills and bravery last week on Southwest flight 1380 for they have rekindled in me the passion and motivation to appreciate and recognize all the calm, steady and strong heroes in our midst.

Thanks Mom!

You Want Me to Change?

 

You want me to change?

What a simple but profound question to ask. What a bold request to make.

Change is hard. Change is painful. Why do I need to Change?

In the spirit of being Agile, I’d rather talk about adaptive transformation. It sounds so much more fun and interesting!

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Looking back in my blog archives, I realize that I have dipped my toe into this topic a few times in articles like “A Tower of Change” and “Dying to Adapt”.  I was having fun with my Tarot cards in late 2016 and the Death and Tower cards kept showing up so I reflected on them and wove them into the chaotic current events of the day.   “A Matter of Perspective” and a few other articles also danced around this difficult and daunting theme.

As I watch the train wreck that has become our nation’s political discourse, I am concerned that people are losing the ability to communicate with each other. How we converse and share information has changed so rapidly and dramatically in just 10 years that it makes my head spin.

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The Facebook and Twitter threads I see today make me wonder, are we able to “change” another person’s mind or position on anything?

As witnessed on social media every day, I don’t see much give and take on ideas where people disagree. I see a whole lot of confirmation bias and reinforcement of one’s existing views and values. I see many instances of digging in on positions and not much changing or adapting.

Why is it so hard to Change?

If I called you live on the phone right now and asked you to describe what change feels like, what would you say?

For me and many others the adjectives painful, stressful and uncomfortable would probably top the list.

The DailyOM blog by Madison Taylor sent me an article last week titled “Anxiety about Change”.   It seems to be on the minds of many people.

Change is Difficult. No Pain, No Gain, right? Every competitive athlete understands this mantra but most people’s default setting is to take the path of least resistance. The easy way and the status quo are like a close, dysfunctional couple and breaking up is hard to do!

At work I keep hearing the words and phrases Transformation, Agile Maturity, Accelerators and Radical Change being used in the context of staying competitive and relevant in the market. Being a disruptive Change Agent is a good thing in today’s world and it is being rewarded with dollars, likes and followers. Adaptive transformation is sometimes critical to one’s survival.

If change is such an important aspect to survive in this world, why is it so hard?

Why do humans usually respond to change with the reflective impulse to resist it?

Most of our major change of life events are made easier and less stressful with rituals and ceremonies that typically involve the abundant intake of food and/or alcohol.

 

Think about graduation parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funeral repasts. These are all times of big and scary change.

 

Evolve or die may seem a bit extreme but is an understood reality in our competitive business and technology world today. Remember what happened to Kodak moments and our once beloved Blackberry devices. They didn’t transform quickly enough and now they are a footnote in history.

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In more tame Agile terms, the iterative process of Build, Test, Inspect and Adapt is a continuous and beautiful flow of events that occurs over and over in short time increments (sprints). This flow makes change easier since it is done is smaller chunks (think baby steps).

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Playdough and Juggling Balls displaying Incremental Change

And if you fail, it is best to Fail Fast and start sprinting again.

I’ll close with the wise words of Ray Dalio from his book “Principles where he states:

“Evolution is good because it is a process of adaption that generally moves things toward improvement.”

“The faster one appropriately adapts, the better.”

I also appreciate Mr. Dalio’s equation: Pain + Reflection = Progress

The question is: Are we ready to embrace the discomfort and potential failure so that we can change and get to a better place?

Are we open to adaptive transformations to get us to a higher level?

None of my questions have simple, easy answers but I do think that if we strive to keep our lenses clear and both eyes open like I discuss in  “A View on Balance”  and “A Matter of Perspective“ then perhaps we can frame our challenges in a new light and take the small, incremental steps to evolve to a different and better way.

Looking at an issue or a challenge from a completely different angle can help us adapt and evolve to improve the situation.

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On the topic of changing other people’s views and opinions on Social Media – upon further reflection, I don’t see this as a reasonable or easily attainable goal and will instead focus on changing myself in the hope that others will see my values in action.

So let’s hear it for real live Adaptive Transformations!

Taken in smaller, bite-sized chunks, change doesn’t have to be so painfully hard.

Fun footnote:

The title of this blog is the chorus of this catchy tune by the group Churchill.

Click here for the fun and  cool video of the song “Change”.

I listened to this tune while writing these words and it gave me additional motivation and inspiration. It greased the skids in my mind and helped me get unblocked. Maybe it can do the same thing for you.

 

Seeing It

What is the reality you most need to acknowledge?

Sitting in a stark, bare-walled apartment with most of my possessions packed in boxes  Churchstaircasehelped clarify my reality last month.  The lack of distractions (no TV, no pictures, no knick knacks) enabled me to focus on what is important and clearly see the challenge (and the monster puzzle) at hand.

Yes, I’m moving again for the 21st time since I graduated college but this time is different since I did most of the packing on the weekends after going to yoga class. These weekly treks to Yoga Yoga in North Austin were not just any class. They were inspirational and dare I say, life changing. The two instructors, Lisa and Kimberly are amazing examples of strong, grounded woman and they helped me more than they know.

When the dreaded day came and I needed to pack the kitchen, I had an exciting new angle and attitude about it.

If you want to resolve something- you have to look at it… really look at it. These were the wise words I heard from Lisa. I was reminded to see things again for the first time, like a beginner entering a yoga pose.

A camera workshop I recently attended in Bastrop, TX, taught me to step back and look at the big picture and to zoom in closely to see important details.

All of the ideas that had been swirling around in my head came together with a simple, yet brilliant principle- “The Oz Principle” to be exact. This book by Roger Connor, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman was introduced to me at work this year and provided simple yet elegant steps to accountability. Like following the yellow brick road to get to the Emerald City, you put one foot in front of the other on and take the following steps:

  • See It
  • Own It
  • Solve It
  • Do it

It coalesced for me in my barren Austin apartment when I focused (no pun intended) on the See It part. I also took out my camera to document the process so I could share it with you in this blog.

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Before I dove right into fixing and solving my problem at hand, I took a breath and a step back and truly viewed the challenge at hand.  What was I dealing with?

What was my challenge that hot and swampy day in the Austin apartment?

I had the dreaded and monumental task of packing the kitchen for an out of state move. Anyone who has moved before knows the feeling that this undertaking brings up and I’m reaching for my Tums just thinking about it.

As I stood back in the small kitchen space of the apartment, I decided that this time would be different. This time I would solve my problem more efficiently and effectively. This time I would see it before I would solve it. I would solve it before I jumped into action to do it.

For my kitchen-packing project, I also used my Scrum Master training to break down the enormous undertaking into smaller, more digestible chunks.

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For fun and because I’m a Project Manager geek, I documented the steps of my exciting, new packing process and have outlined them below.

Here are the steps for quick and easy kitchen packing:

  1. Empty 1 or 2 shelves or cabinets at time and put everything out on the counter or table.
  2. Look, assess and mentally inventory what you have and how many boxes you’ll need.
  3. Determine what goes together from a packing perspective and physically group them together.
  4. Line up your empty boxes.
  5. Pack grouped items into the same box until it is full.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 for remaining items on the counter.
  7. Once the table or counter is clear, go back to step 1 and empty out another cabinet or shelf and begin the Look and Inventory process again ( step 2).

It was like solving a big puzzle and I had fun with it.

Seeing it help me in this endeavor because I was able to take a step back and truly assess what I was dealing with before I acted to fix the problem.

Seeing the reality in front of you clearly and honestly without filters is one of the most difficult things to do since we all have our internal biases and frames of reference.

So while you may not be packing soon for a move across the country, you will be faced with some daunting and complex challenges ( I like to call them puzzles) in the coming weeks or months.  Problems are part of life and it sure is nice when we have better tools and techniques for clarifying and resolving them.

The light bulb went off when I realized that this concept of “Putting everything out on the counter” and Seeing It could be applied to many other areas of my life.

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I guess it’s like dealing with the elephant in the room.  You have to 1) acknowledge that you have an elephant ( or a smelly fish) present, 2) truly see the size and nature of the elephant and 3) honestly assess it and see the reality of the situation.

Viewing the puzzle from various angles and sides is also helpful.  The back side of the elephant  gives you a much different perspective that just seeing the trunk or the leg.

 

So what is the reality you most need to acknowledge?

What puzzle/obstacle/opportunity are you ready to see clearly before you jump right in to solving?

Remember the Oz Principle of Seeing It, Owning It, Solving It and Doing It.

For when Dorothy finally arrived at the beautiful Emerald City to see the Wizard, she had to draw back the curtain to see the true situation before she was able to get back home.