Choices


This is probably going to make me cry…again.

As I was typing up tomorrow’s post for The Deadly Nightshade my home phone rang. Phoenix area code, and the only person I know in Phoenix is my daughter’s best friend, Casey.

I’ll be seeing her walk down the aisle in just a few short weeks. I consider myself lucky – even though there is three day drive with a 4 year old involved…and that’s just one way.

Casey is like a daughter to me. I’ve known her for over fourteen years now, and she is a good kid with a big heart. But even still, I wasn’t prepared for what she said next.

She said, “I’ve always known that I wanted to grow up and be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted kids, and I would love to homeschool, and have a garden and make a home of my own.” She paused then, “Mom had a different way, but I knew I didn’t want to be like her, I wouldn’t be happy in offices or working for someone else. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and to be home with my kids.” She went on to describe her first garden, that she grew in back of a little rental house on 3rd Street here in town. The tomatoes never did much (too much shade) and most of the harvest never made it inside (she ate it fresh from the vine). She told me of trying to sell little braided bracelets door to door when she was seven.

“I woke up early this morning, Christine, like I normally do. And I was reading your blogs and thought, ‘I want to be like Christine’. And I tried to write it down, but I thought I’d call you instead.”

So, yeah, that made me cry. Big time. It was sweet, and kind, and it is still a bit of a jolt for me to think that I might actually be inspiring others.

It makes me think that, we make choices every day. To help a neighbor with their lawn, to offer a stranger some comfort, or to write words that go out into the blogosphere and that somehow and in some way resonate.

You don’t have to be like me.

But you do have to be a person that you like and that you want to be. I wonder if Casey has any idea how lucky she is to have found that…now…at this young age.

No matter when you find it. Hold onto it. Believe in yourself, in the boundless potential that lies within you. And then access it, wield it to make your world, and the world around you, a better place.

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House work is good thinking time. Especially in the morning before the kiddo is awake and asking me a million questions.

Today I was thinking about little dreams and big dreams and I’d like to give you a few examples…

Belton Brewing Company

At a recent, city-wide garage sale we ran into a couple who were brewing beer in a small turkey fryer in the front yard while running their garage sale. They started talking about the “new brewery that was coming to town.”

We both winced, Dave and I did, because that brewery was supposed to be us. In point of fact, they had seen our website and were expecting us to open this year or next.

That dream was a big one. It started in the weeks following my husband’s sudden unemployment – after over four years with a local industrial computer company. We sat down, we mapped it out, we cashed in the 401k to buy a experimentation size brewing setup. We drew up estimates, made materials lists, scoped out properties, and tried to figure out funding sources. And then the housing crisis hit, the economy hit a monster truck sized pothole, I lost 1/3 of my cleaning biz income, and our dream dissipated into smoke.

Not able to visualize anything past all of the worksheets and plans we had made, we walked away from that dream. It was a painful day.

Dreams of Self-Sufficiency

Recently my husband has been cultivating a friendship with a guy in a local beer store. The guy owns five acres of land and dreams of being self-sufficient – “I want to buy 500-1,000 acres of land and be 100% self-sufficient.” We’ve been ‘collecting’ like minds these days, and he fits into a lot of what we are looking for – DIY, Libertarian, self-sufficiency, the works.

His dream – of owning 500-1,000 acres is a big dream. When I heard he had five acres I was consumed with envy – what I would DO with five acres of land!

I think that, in order to accomplish our dreams, we must do three things:

  1. Dream small but open-ended
  2. Adjust the lens
  3. Act

Dream Small But Open-Ended

If we dream too big, we are automatically limiting ourselves. Unless you are Warren Buffett and have all the money in the world, a big dream is damned near impossible. My husband Dave often says, tongue in cheek, “We had a great idea for a brewery, but for some reason no one wanted to hand us a million dollars to get it started!”

As I stood there today at the sink, thinking about my husband going back into the computer field that had been so emotionally draining and unfulfilling for him just a few years ago, the epiphany struck…he needs to be brewing. We have this amazing brew system sitting in the garage and has not been using it. Now mainly this is a money issue, which should be solved within about two months. After that, I see no reason that he shouldn’t be brewing every month or two, trying new recipes, honing his skills. He may not get to open a brewery today, tomorrow, or even next year – but if he uses what he has, perhaps teaches classes and broadens his involvement in community-based activities, what is a dream and a hobby right now could morph into an actionable business over time and eventually become a full-fledged brewery.

Adjust the Lens

This goes hand in hand with the idea above. Basically, if all you can see is one way to do things, then you are lost. For any dream, there are at least a dozen ways to get there.

Take my husband’s new buddy at the liquor store. He’s sitting on FIVE ACRES of land and dreaming of self-sufficiency. I have to laugh, just a little, because I know of at least one family who live on 1/5 of an acre (1/10 of which is cultivated) and earn their entire income off of that land and the items they sell on their website. Their house runs mainly on solar and hand-cranked appliances, they use solar to heat their water for showers, and manage to produce 4-6,000 pounds of produce every year.

Off of 1/10 acre of cultivated land.

Imagine what this guy could do with his five acres. He could be self-sufficient, or damned close, right now. As it is, we probably grow more produce on our little 1/3 acre of land (800 sq feet currently farmed) than he does. Why? Because we have what we have, and I’ll be darned if it’s gonna sit unused.

Act

Dreams are great. They really are. Someday I’ll tell you about our latest “if we won the lottery” dream – it’s a great one. But dreams will never be reality without action. If you want it, if you really, really want it – if you are sitting in your little gray cubicle wishing for a different life – then ACT on it. Don’t play games with yourself and say, “If only,” or “as soon as” or “when my ship comes in”.

No one is going to walk up and hand you this life. No one is going to make it all better and give you the money and time and resources you need for your dreams.

If you really want it…ACT on it. Today. Now.

“Know it all”

“Miss Smarty-Pants”

“Bookworm”

“Miss Million Dollar Words”

“Show off”

I’ve heard it all. Most of the time it just confused me. Why is answering someone’s question wrong? Why is knowledge shared – when it isn’t bragging, but simply the wish to help others, to inform, to educate yourself or others – a bad thing?

Recently I taught a “Change Your Life” class and in it offered a single free coaching session to each attendee. My instructions are always the same, “Call me at the phone number on the card and we will set up a time that is convenient for us to talk. There’s no sales pitch and if you are interested in continuing coaching, here is my price.”

Rarely does anyone make that call.

One woman did. She had sat quietly in class, said little, and merely shared her goal of returning to school and obtaining her Master’s degree. She did not say why but it was obvious that she was struggling with the decision. When she called at the pre-arranged for her coaching session I asked her what it was that was bothering her most about returning to college. She listed several reasons, concern about her grades from ten years ago not being good enough, worrying that they would reject her application. She shared with me that her husband and her daughter were both very supportive of her and wanted her to do this.

Classes can be re-taken. Colleges are desperate for students. These weren’t very realistic fears, but she focused doggedly on them. I could sense there was something more.

“So what is it really that is holding you back? You said you were a good student, why are you so worried about returning to school?” I asked. There was a long pause.

“I’m the first one in my family to go to college. They gave me a hard time before, and then I got pregnant with my daughter and had to drop out. Lately they’ve been really razzing on me, telling me, ‘You think you’re all that’. That I think I’m someone special, too good for them.” She admitted miserably.

“They think you are reaching above yourself, or selling out, don’t they?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Are you?”

“No! I mean I’ve almost got my Master’s, and I want to go into a line of work that will help kids and families, and…” She spoke for several minutes about the dreams and goals she had once she obtained the training. The joy in her voice was obvious, the excitement at the thought of finally achieving her dream was loud and clear.

“So I guess what you need to ask yourself is: ‘What is more important? My dreams and goals or the opinions of others?'”

She paused for a moment and said, “Thank you.”

A few days after the phone call I received a lengthy email from her thanking me for my time. It was worth more than any money she could have paid me. And it got me to thinking about my own experiences in school and work.

“Teacher’s pet.”

“Show off.”

[sigh]

Today I drove to the local recycling center to attend a free rain garden class. The speaker never showed up, but I passed my card out to five people who were all very interested in the classes I teach and my gardening knowledge. We visited for 1/2 hour as we waited for the speaker to arrive, and talked about organic gardening, rain barrels, companion planting, and wild edibles.

As I said goodbye, each and every person stopped and thanked me for coming and sharing my knowledge. Considering I was just there as another student, I thought that was pretty cool.

How ironic is it that I know more now, at 40, then I even could have dreamed of knowing at 15 or 20 or even 30. Back then I was the “know it all” and now what am I? The expert? How did that happen?!

What drives you? What peaks your interest and pulls you in? What makes you stay up late or get up early just so you can learn more or improve?

Whatever it is – be it fly fishing or psychology – be it art or alternative energy – even if it seems silly to others – take hold of it tightly. Immerse yourself within it, breathe it, live it. Become the expert. Become the smarty pants and the know-it-all.

‘Cause you know what?

I might be the know-it-all. I might be Miss Smarty Pants. I might be that bookworm, encyclopedia, who thinks she’s ‘all that’ – but I’m me. And I’m doing what makes me happy, teaching and informing others. And in that, I am of benefit to the world and my heart is happy.

Go do what makes you happy and let the others stand still while you fly.

Go on.

Do it.

p.s. And if you have read this far, would you give me a shout out? Who’s listening/reading out there?

This popped up in my email today and I just had to share it…

The Magic of Thinking Big

by Will Craig

As long as you are going to go about your day thinking anyway, you may as well “think big”. Anyone can think small, and most people do. In fact, most people keep themselves in the same place in life, doing the exact same thing, without significant growth or change because of limited or conditioned thinking.

Ideas
Don’t just think about what is possible, think about what might seem nearly impossible, that would require you to grow and move beyond who you currently know yourself to be. Think about what you have always wanted to do or have in your life … those things that your heart speaks of.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” ~Walt Disney

Thinking big equals going big. Thinking small means staying small. You decide. You get to choose your thoughts.

Be outrageous and let your imagination fly. This does not mean thinking unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky stuff, like being able to suddenly perform superhuman feats. It means allowing yourself to stretch and believe in the beauty of your dreams.

One particular line in there, “Don’t just think about what is possible, think about what might seem nearly impossible, that would require you to grow and move beyond who you currently know yourself to be,” really resonates with me. After only five years in business for myself there are many wonderful experiences to look back on. I spent nearly two decades in the workforce trying desperately to understand how I could fit in. For me, for my unique perspective and attitude and motivation, the answer was “you can’t.” That was a hard thing to accept, but it was replaced very quickly by, “Oh my God, I have to do what to make my business succeed?!”

The “what” was something I now consider quite simple, but at the time it was terrifying. My first business, and the one that still provides a great deal of my background bread and butter (thanks to wonderful, hardworking staff) is my housecleaning business. When I started, however, it was little ole me. I was unused to going into stranger’s houses and meeting them. I didn’t have much of a spiel and I was absolutely white-knuckled terrified. Of what? The unknown? The new experience? I’m unsure of the specific reason, but I was a complete nervous wreck. The first cleaning consult I went on, the guy actually asked me if I was okay. He never got an estimate, I ran out to my car, drove home and sat down and re-worked everything so that I wouldn’t be such a spaz the next time I tried to do a consult.

The thing was, I did have more consults and I did get clients. Slowly but surely my confidence built. I learned so many things about what to say, what not to say, what to agree to, and what rules and guidelines to put in place. In the end, I built a small, successful business that has generated income for me for over five years. Some of my clients have been with me since that first year!

A couple of years later, through a cleaning consult I realized another strength I had that could be put to use and I opened a professional organizing business. With limited funds, my advertising budget was practically nil. I decided to teach organizing classes and see if that wouldn’t bring in business. This was a terrifying proposition. Teach a class? Stand up in front of people and speak from a position of authority and knowledge? Was I insane? That first class was much like my first consult, I shook with nervousness as I taught the class. Thankfully I had a podium to hide behind.

Nearly three years later and I have published a book on organizing, broadened my offerings to include mini-seminars and classes through at least ten host sites in the Kansas City area and even expanded to teach other classes that I have interests and strengths in. I’ve obtained a certification in life coaching and I am currently working on a book on life change as well as a fiction book I hope to have published in the next two years. My successes in owning my own businesses, teaching these varied classes, and writing have encouraged me to embrace a life-long dream of writing. All of these things, writing, teaching, managing the business, are all interconnected and encourage each other towards success.

In both of these cases (cleaning consults and teaching organizing classes) I questioned whether I was attempting something that seemed impossible, had the potential for catastrophic failure (at least in my mind it did) and they were actions that required me to grow and move beyond what I currently knew myself to be, just like Will Craig encourages everyone to do!

These steps weren’t easy. They were scary, stress and headache-inducing experiences. But my successes, slow but sure in the months and years that followed, allowed me to see that not only was the ‘impossible’ actually quite possible and attainable, but that if I wanted it badly enough, I could make it happen. I can testify that I have grown more in the past five years than I did in nearly two decades of work experience before that.

You don’t have to quit your job to do it.

You don’t have to start your own business or teach classes to do it.

But whatever “it” is, think big. Dream about it and accomplish it. Because when you do this, everything opens up and you will see the world differently. You will see you differently.

I am consistently amazed and impressed by the growth of the Internet.

On New Year’s we drove to a friend’s house, just a few blocks away for a relaxed get-together. The husband walked over to me, an old Coca-Cola crate in hand and asked if I would like it. “Like it? Are you kidding me? I’d LOVE it!” It was still caked with dirt from the barn it had been living in for who knows how long. What a prize!

This morning I saw it, propped against a cabinet in our kitchen next to the sink. I had brought it in to wash it, but the sink had been full, so it sat there until I noticed it again. As the coffee brewed I sat down at the computer and typed into the search engine “uses for coke crates” (with several changes to the words – soda, cola, etc). A host of ideas came up on re-purposing coca-cola crates, along with pictures, which I always enjoy. One woman had spent a year collecting little tiny teapots and had them displayed in a cola crate hanging on a wall. Another used coke crates to store baby-food jars filled with spices.

I resolved to hang the crate either in the kitchen or in the basement we are currently finishing out.

In the midst of my viewing different links and pictures, I also happened upon a completely different link. Search engines are amazing, but there are many things they pick up that don’t have anything to do with what you are looking for. And sometimes, actually quite often, these links can take you in directions you would never have thought of. One of my searches yielded the resulting link: http://www.yourdon.com/personal/fiction/doovers/index.html which led to a fictional book a published non-fiction writer had written. I read the first chapter, bookmarked it, and plan to continue reading it later.

What did it have to do with re-purposing coca-cola crates? Absolutely nothing. But it did lead to a source of entertainment and an education about how one writer has handled rejection (if the agents & editors won’t take it, publish it yourself!).

How often do you ask a question and find yourself typing it into a search engine? What will that answer yield? What other paths will it set you on that you have yet to discover?

Yesterday I was writing a scene in Book 2 of “War’s End” (a TEOTWAWKI type novel) and needed to sweeten a cup of chicory (non-caffeinated substitute for coffee). Having no sugar, and having already written in sugar beets into the book earlier, I now needed to understand HOW to extract the sugar from sugar beets. So I looked it up online! It’s actually pretty easy. I think I will try making my own sugar next year (I’ve already bought the sugar beet seeds). The link explains it all – http://www.ehow.com/how_2177131_sugar-beets.html and I easily added it to the story and continued writing.

I also bookmarked the page in case I need it later. Before I returned to writing entirely, I checked out how to raise beets (another link directly on the page) and this led to a question of how long beets take to mature. I knew by this point that I would need to start the seeds in the last week of March and had marked my calendar per the instructions on raising beets. Outlook will remind me of when to plant them now. After revising my search words to “how many days do sugar beets take to mature” I learned it will take 45 days. So I can plant them in March, say the 20th, and by Mother’s Day they’ll be ready to harvest and make into sugar. Cool!

You don’t have to take the path I just did. I recognize that not everyone is writing a book or needing to research wild edibles or circa 1800’s style food production. Really, I do understand that!

My point is this: Our lives should be filled with learning. Not the “Oh God, I have to study for the Biology test!” That’s memorization and regurgitation. It is somewhat necessary, since you often need those pretty little letters to follow your names. What I am talking about is the adventure, the leisurely dip into the pool of knowledge that sits there waiting for you. It waits for you to follow your passions, your interests, and indulge your curiosity.

What are quasars and how do they work? My eyes glaze over at the thought, but my nephew will happily discuss string theory all day if given the chance.

What can you do with old Coca-Cola crates? Well, from my travels today I would say that they have dozens of uses, including that of furniture. I think that’s pretty cool.

I want to work from home, what legitimate jobs can I do? Between Amazon.com and, eHow, About.com, and your local library – you’ll find plenty of options, my friend.

Take hold of this amazing resource and grow and learn and explore. Lose yourself in the possibilities and learn a new language, build a new skill, and discover your passion along the way.

And just for fun…here is what I ended up doing with the cola crate…

All those silly little things we hang on to…knickknacks, gifts from our children, mementos from the past. The yellow and red colors on the side of the crate matched perfectly with my kitchen paint colors!

We are nearly there folks. Here is #6 – and the most uncomfortable phrase I can think of using. It is difficult for me to, a) be wrong and b) actually admit it. But I do it, and so can you!

I Was Wrong

“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.” – Peter McIntyre

Of all the phrases I have the most trouble with “I was wrong” pretty much tops the list. It can be so darned hard to admit I am wrong about something! Perhaps it is the perfectionist in me. I hate to think of not being right. Pair it with the double whammy of “I’m sorry, I was wrong” and it sometimes actually hurts to say the words out loud.

Yet to admit that you were wrong takes courage. It takes a level of maturity and a confidence from within to say, “I was wrong.”

For many it seems to be a point of shame – it as if you are admitting to being a failure. It is humbling, but it also shows a depth of character that others will eventually envy you for. Yet saying those three awkward, difficult words helps move the process of learning and recovery forward with a large leap. Benjamin Disraeli, a former British prime minister and novelist once said, “One of the hardest things in this world is to admit you are wrong. And nothing is more helpful in resolving a situation than its frank admission.”

Say the words and then stand tall. Be proud of yourself for admitting that you don’t know everything and that you aren’t always right. It is a big first step towards becoming a stronger, well-grounded person who is approachable and willing to learn new things each day.

Exercise: Practice the Six Phrases

It’s time to buck up and try these out in your own life. Over the next few weeks try out each of the six phrases. Some may come easier than others or be phrases you already use. Challenge yourself to say them in an honest and forthright manner. Just to review, those phrases were:

I Don’t Know

I Need Help

I Don’t Understand

I’m Afraid

I’m Sorry

I Was Wrong

If you have been keeping a journal, log your thoughts on the following questions:

How did you feel when you said them?

How did others react to your speaking them out loud?

Okay, this is my second least favorite phrase. #5 of 6 is…

I’m Sorry

“Play fair. Don’t hit people. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.” – Robert Fulgham

“I’m Sorry” seems to be a phrase of extremes – it is either over-used or not used at all. I wrote an essay once complaining about the over-use of “Sorry” from my children:

“I can hear you saying now, “What’s wrong with ‘sorry’? I’m always trying to get mine to apologize when they make a mistake or offend someone. Why wouldn’t you want them to say they are sorry?”

What I am speaking of is the one that comes out as a whine, “Sorrrryyyyy”, or as an impudent exclamation, “Soreeee!” They aren’t sorry; they are simply blowing hot air out of their lungs at the same time as they wonder why in the world you could be so insensitive as to pick on them at this particular moment and time.”

I had a rather temperamental woman working for my housecleaning business. It was her habit to preface all confrontational statements with, “Well, I’m sorry, BUT…” I grew to dread those words, let me tell you.

The other side of sorry – that of not saying it at all – is just as bad. My husband is guilty of this. He’ll even come up with excuses for not saying sorry. It has often caused me to wonder if he would suffer actual harm from saying those two words! That said – I’m as bad as he is. I’m the master of the backhanded apology. The one that goes something like this, “I’m sorry I got annoyed with your constant whining and interruptions. I’ll try to be more patient in the future!”

All humor aside, “I’m sorry” is, as I said earlier, a phrase which should be used in moderation. It is a careful balance to find and it is different for each person. If you use it too often, consider cutting back. Most sentences should not start with, “Well, I’m sorry!” If you are an individual who doesn’t say it much, it can be rather shocking for those around you, so there’s no need to be particularly effusive.

“I’m sorry” said in moderation can be transformative. It allows you to address a glossed over hurt or wrong you may have inflicted on another without meaning to. It validates the other person’s right to have feelings and recognizes the need for respect and tolerance within each of us.

When said earnestly, with heartfelt apology and concern for another, it can serve as a release for both of you and allow you to move on and forge a stronger relationship. It proves you to be a better person, one who isn’t afraid to admit, “Hey, you know what? I screwed up. I made a mistake or I hurt you inadvertently. But I’m capable of learning from it and moving forward. Please accept my apology.”

That makes you stronger. It makes you a better person, inside and out. Give it a try and you will see what I mean.

Coming next week…#6 – “I Was Wrong”

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