Thursday, March 26, 2015

Careful, You Might Learn Something

When you have to do something you haven't done before, you're probably learning something.

When you're thinking so hard, it hurts, you're probably learning something.

When you're just about ready to give up, you're probably learning something.

When you think you can't try any harder, you're probably learning something.

When you have to deal, nicely, with people you'd rather not have to deal with at all, you're probably learning something.

When you add a skill to your résumé or your LinkedIn, you're probably learning something.

When you take something off your résumé or your LinkedIn, you're probably learning something.

When you are knocked down, and get back up, you are probably learning something.

When you say "no," when you've always been used to saying "yes," you are probably learning something.

When you say "yes," even if you're not sure, you're probably learning something.

Learning happens in all sorts of little ways, usually when we think we're doing other things. I guess there's still a lot to be learned.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Revisions on Pink

In the production of television, there is a system for making sure everyone involved is "on the same page," literally, when scenes or lines change. Changes, or "revisions," as they are often called, are Xeroxed on pink paper, and if things change again, further revisions come out on different colors. By the time you're done shooting (particularly, in my experience, on a sitcom), the script can be an array of different colors. But if the system has worked correctly, the paper colors have helped ensure the efficient implementation of the revisions.

In life, rarely does anyone give you a colored piece of paper to tell you that things are going to change. If you're lucky, maybe you get a few clues. Or a few minutes of warning. Or a text message. Or an email. And then it's up to you to react, the best you can, in time for the "cameras to roll," "the scene to be captured," and the story of your life to turn out differently than you imagined.

I have often been annoyed by the distribution of pink pages. Either they come just as shooting begins, or they contain tiny word changes that don't seem to warrant "killing a tree," or they radically change a scene that I liked the way it was. But as revisions come fast and furious in life, there are days when I kind of wish I could see the pink pages first. They wouldn't keep change from happening, but they could at least give me a "heads up," at least make it so that everyone around me is reacting to the same pink page information. I don't mind adjusting to change--sometimes a few revisions can make the story better. But every so often, wouldn't it be nice if the revisions in your life came not by surprise, but by Xeroxed pink page?

I suppose, however, that it's up to us to listen for the word changes, and watch for the changes in action. We may not always be on the same page as those around us, but if we keep our eyes and ears open, we can actually manage life's revisions, even without the assistance of a pink page. And hey, we'll be doing our part for the environment--saving a tree and sharpening our adaptation skills, all at the same time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Good At

When I made an educational video, I was struck by how easily the tween girls I interviewed for the video could say what they were good at. Whether it was math or writing or gymnastics (or in the case of one older girl, packing a car), they were confident and unafraid of identifying their strengths.

As an adult, I often find myself trying to be all things to all people. As I make my way through job postings, I stretch my ideas about what I might do and what I'd be good at. As I navigate through parenthood, I constantly revise my skill set to meet my children's needs. But every so often, in one arena or another, I find myself in the middle of a project that simply feels right. Perhaps I am editing a piece that just makes sense, and thus, becomes easy for me to edit. Maybe I am offered work because of my past experience and reputation. Perhaps I start out helping my child with a school project and find that I become attached to it myself. In a world of "trying to be good at," I am suddenly reminded of all the things I am good at, almost without trying.

There is something to be said for always developing new skills, for always trying to find new things we are good at, so that we can add them to our resumes, our LinkedIn profiles, or our "elevator pitches." It's important to be able to speak up for ourselves, much as those tween girls were able to do in my video. But it's also important to value the "good at's" that just are, to be able to own our strengths and to bask in them when we get to use them fully. Some days, we get little reminders of our "good at's." The trick is to use them, to own them, and then to say, out loud, "I'm good at." Even if sometimes, we are the only ones who hear.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Theater Benefit

I was a bead seller in high school. I didn't really sell beads, I just played a bead seller in a school production of Murder on the Nile. My only line was "Lapis, lady, real lapis," and if I remember correctly, I crossed the stage saying that line early in the show and spent the rest of the evening backstage. I never got much farther than that as an actor. The rest of my experience with theater was to be as a writer (a one-act in college) and as an audience member (whatever I can afford, whenever I have the time).

Tonight, I attended a benefit for a youth theater company, Polaris Productions, with which one of my kids is doing her third show. While I was thrilled to hear my daughter and the other young actors perform, I was equally as moved when some of the company's actors and volunteers spoke about what brought them there--how theater had influenced their lives--not just their lives in the theater, but their lives as confident, happy adults. Their one-line beginnings had led them to include theater in their whole lives, and they largely credited theater with making them who they are now.

So often, we--as people and as parents--focus on the long-shot nature of theater (for that matter, of anything creative or daring). Will it pay the bills? Will it get you where you want? Will it be a hard road with little reward? I was reminded tonight that sometimes, in theater, and in life, it's not just about "making it." More often, it's about allowing your creativity and your daring to help you grow, to take you places you might not have gone. Many of the children I watched tonight may not grow up to be stars of the stage. But what they are doing now will help them to be stars in other ways. Did "Lapis, lady, real lapis" begin my journey to where I am now? It's hard to say. But maybe it was the start of taking a few chances--on the stage and in life.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Time In Bottles

The recipe calls for three hours to cook, so we save it for a day when we have three hours.

The job calls for commuting or traveling or being on call at all hours, so we save it for a time when we will have enough hours to do all of that.

The parent-teacher conferences call for midday or early evening availability for just a few moments of discussing our child, so we put them off until we can manage the schedule.

It seems that every part of life is a question of managing our time--of finding or stealing hours where they just don't exist, of choosing what things are worth the time, and what things aren't, of counting hours and squeezing in minutes, just so we can get to everything we need to and a few of the things we want to. Back in high school, when I won an award for "wisest use of time," it was simply a question of doing more than just studying--of investing my energy in things that would help the school community. These days, using time wisely seems to require so much more. If I have the time to help my family or community emotionally, that usually means that I am in no position to help them financially. If I make the time to build my skills or build my base of contacts, that usually means that I am not making the time to make dinner or a clean apartment. In school, maybe it was enough to go a little beyond my schoolwork. These days, "wisest use of time" is a relative term, one that seems to require negotiation every step of the way.

Today, I took the three hours to make the recipe. I stole a few minutes to build a skill and add a contact. For a bit of time, I was there to help my family emotionally. And before I knew it, my time was up. I guess I just thank goodness that the clock starts all over again tomorrow.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tunnel Vision

Sometime mid-afternoon, as I was attempting to plow through a day of screening and editing and job searching, a friend commented in an email about how hard it was snowing outside. I, of course, immediately turned to the window, through which all I could see was white. I had known it was supposed to snow, but though I was home and making my own schedule all day, in an apartment with giant windows, I had not seen the snow. During the many hours preceding the email, clearly I had been so buried in the computer, so immersed in my attempt to unearth new jobs and new knowledge from the screen, that I had never even turned toward the window to see what was happening.

Did I need to know it was snowing? Not really, at least not until I had to go out. But the fact that I could spend such a long time oblivious to the world around me made me worry about what else I might be missing.

When I'm working, I often lose track of the rest of things. Whether it's phone calls to be made or the passing of daylight, or simply awareness of my kids' schedules, it sometimes goes out of the range of my tunnel vision. Perhaps tunnel vision while working is a good thing. Perhaps the focus makes for a better product. But when we're in tunnel vision mode, how much of the really good stuff, stuff that would enrich our view, are we missing? A friend told me this week that one of the big "no-no's" of job searching was staring at the screen all day, believing that opportunities would come out of it to you, if only you sat long enough. Today, as I "discovered" the snow, long after it had begun, through large windows just a few feet from me, I realized how limiting tunnel vision can be. While we are simply focusing, we are actually depriving ourselves of the benefits of the world around us. Our work and our searching can both be enriched by our awareness of that world. We don't live in a screen--why should the decisions we make come only from that screen?

I'm not sure what my near future will hold, but seeing the snow "on a delay" today was a reminder that seeing my future is not just about looking straight ahead. I will be open to far more possibilities if I include the world around me, not just the screen in front of me. The tunnel may be a path to where you're going, but the surrounding view will make things--and you--far more interesting when you get there.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Growing Older, Growing Younger

When my kids were small, and my work was big, we had full-time (well, five-day-a-week) child care. Each morning, before one or both of us left for work, the doorbell would ring, and a lovely woman who cared for our children and managed our apartment would arrive. In the evening, she left us with clean counters and clean laundry and happy, well-mannered kids with combed hair and clean faces.

My kids are bigger now, and many days, my work is smaller. There hasn't been that early morning doorbell in years. I come home to long-day-weary kids and laundry and counters only as clean (or not) as I left them in the morning. We have learned how to manage mostly on our own, but as we have all grown older, there are times when it feels as though we have actually grown younger. We live in chaos some days, because there is no one to unify the many directions in which we move. We live with chores undone because we are too tired or too lazy or too overwhelmed by just getting through. We do the best we can, not bound by keeping an apartment together enough for a daily visitor and not helped by the keeping together work of that daily visitor. So, while we are all growing older, some days I feel as though I am just starting out, learning how to live on my own, discovering what I can do, and what I can't.

When my kids were smaller and my work was bigger, I felt like a grownup--managing safety and early learning and choices for little people who couldn't do that for themselves. These days, with no daily doorbell, and the participation of my now older kids in all the managing and learning and choices (just not the daily cleaning of rooms and counters!), perhaps I'm not growing older after all. Because some days, it really feels as though we're starting out again, each day taking a few more baby steps, every day growing a little younger.