Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Put Your Mask On First

If you've ever been on an airplane, you've heard this phrase as part of the safety demonstration. No matter how often I fly, it always jumps out at me. As parents, we are, in general, conditioned to meet our children's needs first, not our own, so to grab oxygen for ourselves first, before assisting our kids or someone else's seems, well, just wrong. Yet, as I came home tonight, so consumed by thoughts of work and work drama that I was barely able to concentrate on my kids' questions about course selection and birthday details and Minecraft, I had a sudden understanding of the flight safety instructions. On the plane, if we don't ensure our own oxygen first, we may be unable to help those needing our assistance. Is it so surprising, then, that in life, when we don't resolve our own issues, we are not much help trying to resolve our kids' issues?

Perhaps when we sign on as parents, we agree to put our children's needs first. I would venture to say that most of us do, most of the time. But as my work--whether changes in it, intensity of it, or lack of it--seems to take center stage, far more than it did when I had a full-time, long-term job, I am, little by little, learning to "put my mask on first." These days, I allow what went on with me to matter, sometimes before listening to what happened to my kids. These days, I'm taking a few moments to decompress before jumping into my role as Chief Negotiator, or even delegating some of the negotiating responsibility. These days, I'm grabbing a nap on the weekends if I need to and grabbing a coffee in the morning if it feels good. Sometimes, these things mean my kids need to wait a moment for their "oxygen masks." Most of the time, these things make me better equipped to give them the "masks" and a whole lot more.

I imagine that the airplane safety instructions were developed based on years of studying human behavior and health needs. As for my own instructions, I've just looked around a little and realized what works. And sometimes, that means putting my mask on first. So that I am really able to offer assistance to others.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Love When You Can, Cry When You Have To

It's not that there's been any crying. I just kind of got this Dan Fogelberg song stuck in my head, and it occurred to me that it actually applies to a lot of things. You see, aside from loving and crying, many, many things happen in a day, in a week, in a month. Work and home situations, both expected and not, both desirable and not, seem to surround us, forcing us to process more than it sometimes seems is possible. How, then, do we do justice to everything? How do we survive the ups and downs of work? How do we manage the tasks, both significant and mundane, of parenthood? How do we keep a household running, despite things that break and schedules that change and challenges that, well, challenge us?

It seems to me that the most efficient (and successful) method must have a little of this lyric to it. In a freelance life, sometimes there is no work, other times, too much. So you work when you can. In a family life, there are schedules and emotions to be managed. So you stress when you have to. And, of course, in either life, you're best off when you let yourself do the things you can while you can and allow yourself to cry over the things you need to when you need to.

I find myself writing quite often about control and about the things we can do to feel just a little more in control of our out of control lives. Maybe Dan Fogelberg had it right--to gain some feeling of control, perhaps we simply start with "love when you can, cry when you have to."

Monday, March 2, 2015

Directed By Kids

My daughters wrote and directed a play--a musical. Not a "big musical" (for all of you Aladdin fans out there), but a musical nonetheless, complete with choreography, multiple young stars, and flowers for the directors at the end.

Obviously, I am proud of them--who isn't proud when her children do something worthy of note (it should, actually, be noted that their brother was one of their comic actors). But what makes them and the event blogworthy is not my pride in their accomplishment. It is, rather, what I learned from them in the process. You see, my only real participation in making the show happen was picking them up after rehearsals and, as the parent of a performer, making sure their brother arrived in his correct wardrobe. They interacted with twenty or so kids and those kids' parents. They wrote and rewrote. They negotiated conflicts and hurt feelings. They came up with movement that could happen in a small space. In essence, they provided a manual on management, which included...

1. Create something you're proud of and you believe in, and then invest in it.

2. Gather people who will believe with you.

3. Allow input, but not so much that you compromise your idea.

4. Give praise, not just criticism.

5. Listen. And communicate, even when you think you might be saying things people already know.

6. Understand that your team comes from all over--different team members will respond to different things.

7. Enjoy what your team makes of what you started--without them, it would still just be words on a page.

8.  Learn from the missteps, and, if necessary, step just a little differently next time.

9. Clap for your team and yourself at the end--who doesn't appreciate a little applause for a job well done?

This weekend, thanks to my daughters, I learned some things about good management that, I would venture to say, could be pretty useful in a lot of grown-up spheres. Turns out you can learn a lot when you're directed by kids.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

In Control of the Out of Control

I find myself in a variety of situations these days where I can't change the circumstances--where I have no control over things that matter, just the ability to react or scramble or simply do whatever the situation requires. That's probably true for most of us. There's a lot beyond our control, whether we like it or not.

So, how do you maintain a feeling of control in your life, when circumstances try to force you to give up control? A few of my favorite methods...

1. Grab on to a project with a beginning and an end. Whether it is a three minute video that needs editing or a kitchen cabinet that needs organizing, you can take on the task knowing that you will see a result, one that you can control, and not five years from now, but today.

2. Teach yourself a new skill. There is nothing like taking a little control of your path for counteracting the feeling of having no control over your path.

3. Say "yes." Or say "no." You can't always control the circumstances, but you can feel a lot better if you control your reaction to them.

4. Focus on what you can change, not on what you can't. There is nothing more debilitating than slamming up against a brick wall over and over. Not only does it give you no visible results (except, perhaps, a whole lot of bruises), it saps the energy you could be using to create or to learn or to move on.

5. Remind yourself to control the things you can--the dinner you put on your table, even when you can't control who shows up and eats, the fiscal choices you make, even when you can't control the flow of the finances, the actions you take to make things clearer, cleaner, and more organized, even when you can't control much of the chaos that surrounds you.

I accept (well, at least some days) that there are things--many of them--beyond my control. These days, I'm focusing on what I can control. And if I focus hard, it turns out I'm a lot more in control than I thought.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Work That's Not Work

Today, in among piecing together b-roll clips for the news and business shows on which I work, I edited a two-minute package about Leonard Nimoy. For close to two hours, the world buzzing around me virtually disappeared, as I worked to piece our limited available clips and pictures together into a worthy tribute.

Now, I am not, and have never been, a Trekkie. But ever since my high school history teacher, who most certainly was a Trekkie, incorporated Star Trek into a number of his lectures, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner have been on my radar. As I might have felt with the obituary of any accomplished person, I had the very clear feeling that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. While there is always a rush to create something for immediate air, I was determined that this was a rush that I would control. I could be aware of the time, but not to the point of slapping something together, just so I could move on to something else. If I was going to do this, I would do it justice.

When I was done, and the piece aired just twenty minutes later, I understood for a moment the idea of work not being work if you enjoy what you are doing. Sure, a job and a paycheck matter--a lot. But for those few hours, I forgot about the job and the paycheck, and simply focused on the work. And as I emerged, and moments later, saw my "work" as others were seeing it, I couldn't help but be grateful. Because once in a while, we get the opportunity to do work that doesn't feel like work. And once in a while, that feels as good as a paycheck in our hands.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Just Keep Looking

Did your mother ever tell you "just keep looking" or threaten "if I find it first..."? At my house, it's usually "let's clean up, and then we'll find it." There may be things that simply disappear off the face of the earth (or into the depths of the vacuum cleaner), but many things actually are findable. It just takes a little belief and a lot of persistence.

And thus went my day today. I needed a "beep" sound effect, and after some searching, I found one. I needed an transition effect I had never used before, and I explored assorted options until I found one. I needed to tell a story, and after typing enough different key phrases, I found my words and pictures.

We do a lot of searching in our lives. Whether it's finding a lost earring or sock in a chaotic apartment, the best school for our child, the right job (or the place that will hire us) or the best living space, we are always looking, sometimes to the point that we just want to give up, and settle for what's already found. What I learned a little today is that when you keep searching, you often do find exactly what you're looking for, and maybe even a little more. So, while it's not always possible to belabor our searches (we can always wear a different pair of earrings if we can't find the lost ones), it can be very satisfying to hang in long enough to find just the right thing.

There are times when I feel as though being on job searches has really primed me for looking in general. The job market doesn't make for easy finds, and success often requires a rare degree of persistence, and a huge amount of belief. But if we are willing to keep at it, sometimes the search pays off--in an interesting job, and perhaps in some self-discovery along the way.

So, wear different earrings or mismatched socks if you need to give up searching for the missing ones. As for everything else, perhaps Mom was right--just keep looking. You might find what you're looking for, and even a little bit more.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beating The Clock

I am a deadline driven person. While I am fairly diligent in general, there is something about a due date on the calendar or a follow-up email that pulls it together for me. The tricky thing is, all of the dates and emails tend to come at the same time, meaning that almost all the time, I am faced with a finite amount of time to accomplish a seemingly infinite pile of projects.

So, how do you find more time in your time and generate more results than seem actually possible? Believe me, I am no expert, but I've learned a few things...

1. Blast through the easy stuff early, and quickly. When you're up against a deadline, there's no room for the little stuff, whether that's emptying the dishwasher or taking a shower or answering emails.

2. Trust your alarm clock. It may not seem like your friend when it wakes you in the dark, but it is your best ally in finding more time in your days.

3. Accept that there will be pain. Giving up doing what you want may be no fun, but finishing what you need to because you gave up a little here and there is well worth it.

4. Focus. Focus harder. Shut out the world. Not easy, especially when, believe me, the world is quite eager to join you. It won't be forever, and the world will still be there when you're done. Really, it will.

5. If you need an extension, ask for one. I can't tell you how many times I've raced, only to find out that I could have had a few extra days. You're rarely the only one with a busy schedule. Use that fact when you need to.

6. Do your best, and then let it go. Belaboring one deadline project will just put you up against the deadline for the next. As I used to announce when I AD'd, "moving on."

Hard as I've tried, I have never succeeded in stopping time to give myself more wiggle room to "do it all." The key to meeting deadlines is not changing time. It's simply changing your relationship with time--in other words, beating the clock.