Perspective


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.

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In 2005, when I first became self-employed, I was nervous and uncertain. Nearly two decades of work in an office environment had left me unsure of who I was and what I was worth. Outside of an office environment, I wondered, did I even have any marketable skills? Who would be willing to take a chance on me? And what would I do for income?

Sure, self-employment sounded like a great deal – work my own hours, set my own prices, call my days my own – but could I actually hack it? Could I be successful? The answers to my questions and fears didn’t come right away, but eventually they showed up and gave a simple “Yes” before moving on to other issues and concerns.

Starting out in your own business can be rather intimidating. As I was thinking about all of the lessons I have learned in the past six years, one in particular came to mind – assessing your worth.

How do you put a price on your experience? How do you assess a value to your work?

I run service-based companies. I’m either arranging for staff (or me) to clean a client’s house, meet for a one-on-one organizing session, or I’m scheduling with a host site to teach a class. Over the years, I’ve sometimes been asked to reduce my prices, to either meet a client’s budget or their opinion of what my work is worth. Budgets are one thing where there are often times when a client genuinely needs help (usually organizing) and doesn’t have a lot of money. In a case like that, I often reduce my rates in a limited fashion, enough to get them going in the right direction, and then bow out, knowing I’ve helped them get on their way.

For the others, those who are seeking the lowest price without a care to other aspects (namely, you get what you pay for), well, I refer to them as having a garage sale mentality. They love to ‘get a great deal’ and want to tell you that you are worth X amount and nothing more.

Each time I run into ‘garage salers’ I learn an important lesson. Yesterday was one of those lessons. It put the kibosh on that persistent adage that ‘some business is better than no business’. I had met with a potential client a few weeks ago and bid on a job. They certainly had their ‘perfect number’ in mind and let me know what it was when we met. Considering the size of the project, their number was ridiculously low, and had I not been experiencing a lull in business recently I would have given them a far more realistic quote. Instead, they received about $150 worth of services for $90 and I walked away pretty frustrated in myself.

However, it is a learning lesson. I am worth more than that and I recognized it immediately, before the job was done. In fact, the rest of the time I was there, working on the details and giving them the better service than anyone could expect for the money, I mentally wrote out the email I would send to them explaining why I would not be returning to provide them with any additional services for the price we had initially agreed upon. After I returned home I sat down and wrote the email and sent it off.

Part of me wonders if they would think it was a ploy to simply get more money. Once I’m inside, dazzle ’em, then charge more. But that isn’t it at all. My goals yesterday were simple:

  • Provide the service I had been retained to do – give them quality work no matter what price I had been paid
  • Protect myself in the future from being taken advantage of

I may never hear from them again. And if I don’t, well, [shrug] I know I did my best and that it was better than anything they had paid for. I did the right thing, I gave them value and hard work and I can walk away with my head held high and my conscience clean.

So what is my point in all this?

Simply that you are worth more than you might think. We often allow others to tell us who we are and what we are worth. When we undervalue ourselves, or let others undervalue us, it can be demoralizing and disheartening. And those feelings feed into a less than perfect job or feelings of resentment (even if you resent yourself!). You are WORTH your experience, your commitment and willingness to do the right thing. Don’t let desperation or fear rule your decisions – and when you do, act immediately to correct the mistakes and learn the lesson it has to offer.

It is then, and only then, that you will find the business comes to you.

Last week I received the following email:

Hi Christine!

My name is Ann and we were on the Self-Directed Learning call this morning.  I hope you don’t mind me writing.  I looked you up on the discussion board and really wanted to reach out and let you know that hearing your story in class today was very inspiring to me.  You seem like a very courageous person who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to shake things up and make your dreams a reality.  I admire you!

–“Ann (from Pennsylvania)”

Thank you, Ann, you made my day. I wasn’t having a bad day, but this little note sure kicked my day up a notch. It was a nice reminder to me that (forgive me for using an rather over-used phrase these days) being authentic is often appreciated by others.

I couldn’t help but love being referred to as courageous. Moi?! Weird, independent, heck, even crazy often fits. But courageous? Is it silly to say I don’t often think of myself that way?

But this email got me to thinking that we often fall into patterns. Patterns of how we view the world, ourselves, and maybe even life in general. Without input from others, our interpretations of who we are often remain static. It takes someone else’s input to shake things up. Hopefully for the good. I find it is the little things, like what my mother once said:

Well, someone once put that couch together, you can figure out how to take it apart. (This said to me when I was fretting over HOW could I reupholster the thing)

Or the bigger stuff, like my Dad saying:

I am really enjoying your book. You are such a good writer, the book just pulls me in. It has generated a lot of reactions in me, but as of right now, the overriding feeling I have is that this book is so real. You have formed your characters as very believable, three dimensional people. And the world in which you have placed them in is totally natural and familiar. Though you have created a rich tapestry of details, it is not the details so much as the way you have seamlessly and, apparently, effortlessly integrated into the story without having them call attention to themselves. You have really hit your stride.

Or simply the words of Mom again, years ago when she said:

Christine, you inspire me.

These are the words that echo in my mind when I am faced with trying times, moments of self-doubt and fear over what tomorrow will bring. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment” and he was right on.

It is often those thoughtful words said to others that change lives and open up new worlds of possibilities. All that we are, the endless possibility and potential that lie within, are awakened and pushed to exist with just a few simple words of encouragement. Whose life can you change just by a simple note that reminds them they are unique, worthy of love or respect, and are cared for?

Something to think about…

Recently my husband and I have been discussing starting an alternative energy company with two other couples. We’ve had a few meetings, and quite a few starry-eyed dreamy diversions into “what if’s” and “if only’s.”

For anyone who owns a business or who is in the process of starting one, you know what I mean. And while it is great to dream about being fully funded and having enough in the bank to fund everyone comfortably for a year so we have time to roll out a business successfully, it’s a bit like waiting for that winning lottery ticket. It sure would be nice, but let’s face it, the odds are stacked against that happening anytime soon.

While in most cases I am an optimist, when it comes to business I have a strong realistic streak mixed with a small helping of pessimism. I believe in writing the business plan and in it, detailing to the nth degree where you are going, what you will be offering, and how you are going to accomplish it. You can have a bold and beautiful vision of what the perfect company, the perfect business offering would be, but if you aren’t able to focus on each component and polish it to perfection before expanding into different realms…you will fail.

Resent my words all you like, but that is the truth of it.

On our third meeting with these two other couples, I went around the room. “Who can commit to spending time on xyz?” I asked. One by one, people were too busy, they had full-time jobs, were busy running down the money or simply didn’t know where to begin. The idea of what we wanted to start was overwhelming and complicated to them.

I get that. I truly do. But someone has to do something or nothing will ever get off the ground. And if you are talking partnership, then it better be more than one someone doing something, if you get my drift. And it was at that moment that I realized they were all looking at me.

Hmmm…

I realized that my anxiety and frustration level had risen exponentially and we dismissed for the day. I needed time. Time for them to think about just what they would be contributing and time for me to decide whether this adventure was worth continuing. More than a week went by before I got an email and later a phone call from one of the couples. “We could tell you were frustrated, Christine, by the end of the last meeting,” she said, “And I feel bad, because it’s like we need A, B, C and D and the only thing I know anything about is D!”

We talked for a long time, over an hour. And I gave her an assignment. Mainly because she had spent a good part of an hour begging me for some kind of direction but also because I know when she does the research and learns what I already suspect to be true, she will stop suggesting we “get a grant for $150,000” and return to earth for what could be a half-decent reality-based planning session.

I say that, and I know it sounds snarky, and for that I am sorry. She’s a great lady and has lots of heart, she’s just hung up on the idea that ‘we have to have this, this and that’ and can’t think past it. The reality of the matter is, with little or no funding and a decent of education we need to accomplish before being able to do this, we aren’t ready to open for business. Dreams of showrooms with glassed-in views near the highway for little or no rent are simply not realistic. Neither is buying equipment that can cost up to $250,000.

But as I said, I gave her a bit of ‘homework’ and said, “You believe there are grants out there for small businesses. I don’t, but I am more than happy to be proven wrong. Go find one. But don’t just come back with a name of a place. I want details…how much would the grant be for? What restrictions or requirements? Find that grant…and I will write the most drop-dead slam it home business plan you have ever seen.”

I’ve heard it said that the devil is in the details. I’ve also heard that God is in the details. I’ll settle for simply saying, with no parallels implied, that I am in(to) the details. Bring me details and you will get results.

In business or in life, things often hang in the balance on details. My husband once said to me, “That first week I stayed at your place, I knew we would be compatible. Not only were you my intellectual equal, but more importantly, you hung the toilet paper the right way and squeezed the toothpaste from the bottom.”

It’s all about the details. Don’t get lost in them. Identify them, recognize them, and use them to move forward in whatever you seek to do.

Lately I’ve been musing on perceptions…how do others see me, how do I see others, first impressions, what kind of message perfect strangers might take a way from a first meeting…and more.

Perhaps it has to do with my current, hmmm, condition. This past Saturday I taught a class on cultivating and cooking with fresh herbs. Then I worked in my garden. That night I blearily woke to a persistent itch around my eye. [Scratch, scratch] A moment later it itched again and again I scratched for a second before coming to full consciousness and realizing…”Oh no!”

The morning dawn confirmed it, I had managed to get poison ivy, already, this early in the season! [mental wail] For those of you who have not had the bad luck of contracting poison ivy, I envy you. And for those of you wondering what poison ivy on the eye looks like, well, it looks pretty bad. Quite frankly, I look like the victim of domestic violence. Swollen and red, my right eye has been attracting a great deal of attention from strangers in the past three days. When in my company, my husband has received several glares, whispered invectives, and even some loathing glances as well.

Short of wearing a shirt that proclaims, “Seriously, it’s poison ivy!” I wish I could avoid going out in public. The stares bug me, and I’m getting tired of saying over and over, “I’ve got poison ivy on my eye, folks.”

Although I have to say it has earned me the best customer service I have ever seen out of clerks as they kindly point me in the direction of whatever item I am searching for. This is usually dished out in conjunction with a withering stare in my husband’s direction. “Sweetie,” said one clerk, “the socks are right over there.” She patted my arm, “And if you need anything else, anything,” a pause as she glared in my husband’s direction while he wrangled our manic three-year-old, “You just let me know.”

I just smiled brightly, too tired of explaining for the umpteenth time that it isn’t what she thinks and that my poison ivy is bothersome only in that it affects my vision and ability to operate a motor vehicle, not to mention that it itches like a mother.

But as I said before, this has made me think about perceptions, such as the guy who cuts in front of you in traffic, or the customer who snaps at the clerk for some seemingly minor thing, or the difficult co-worker. It has made me wonder if it isn’t quite what I think at the moment and if those labels we use, jerk driver, snooty old lady, or arch-nemesis cubicle dweller are short-sighted or just plain inaccurate.

For a moment, look at these individuals a little longer, and notice the details. Perhaps you will see that the “jerk driver” has a passenger in the front seat who is injured and you realize he is driving her as fast as he can to the local hospital. The “snooty old lady” is harder to read, until she slowly and painfully limps towards the exit and you realize that she has been standing in a long line without any chance to sit and rest despite enormous pain. You are sure that your difficult co-worker is who you think she is, your arch-nemesis, until you learn that her husband has left her and she is struggling to raise the children on her own with insufficient income and mounting bills. Her only chance right now is to hold on to her job, do the best she can, and perhaps, if she is lucky, rise to a better-paying position. No wonder she is hard to get along with, she’s completely stressed out!

These are actually rather simplistic examples. As a coachee of mine pointed out a couple of weeks ago, we all live complicated lives. They aren’t simple and they aren’t straightforward or without fuss. We attempt to put into a box and neatly label a person – smart, crazy, driven, foolish, jerk, difficult, happy, victim of domestic violence, and so many more.

It is in our nature to compartmentalize someone under a ‘heading’ but it is nearly always a mistake when we do. Each person is a complicated set of memories, a product of years of family and environment, and a living package full of contradictions. Keep that in mind as you go forth in the world and try to avoid assumptions and labels.

It is amazing what you will learn about a person when you smile, ask, and wait for an answer.

Yesterday I drove my husband to distraction in the shoe store. He needed comfortable dress shoes and a new pair of tennis shoes. The store was having a sale that would end in fifteen minutes and my internal clock was ticking down the time (less than five minutes to go)…”make up your mind!” was all that I could think of.

He finally had enough of my hovering and sent me away, “Go look at shoes or something and leave me alone, I’ll be fine.” The saleswoman who was helping him looked shocked and irritated (keep in mind my eye).

He smiled at her and said, “My wife’s poison ivy is driving her nuts. It’s all over, even on her eye and she’s rather grouchy. Could you tell the cashier that I plan on buying these shoes and that I’ll be up in just a few more minutes?” In my frustration over the dwindling time I had never thought to ask them if they would extend the sale by a few minutes.

A few minutes later he was at the register with the saleswoman and his purchases. The sale discount was applied to the total price. As we left the store David laughed, “Did you see the saleswoman looking at your eye and neck right when you came back? I told her you had poison ivy and she was checking it out more closely. She was a lot nicer to me after that!”

So that’s my story. Why not learn more about others? Go out into the world, keep your eyes open and remind yourself, “It’s not what you think…life is often far more complicated than it first appears.”

“I’ve got a Master’s in life.” My friend laughed when she said it, but I had to agree.

I spent a lot of years worrying about how I was going to get those pretty little letters behind my name. And after 12 years of ‘on again, off again’ college and an assorted training I have to say this…

I too have a Master’s in life. I got that Master’s mainly outside of the classroom, although classes in Philosophy, Psychology, World Religion, Literature and, oddly enough, Algebra certainly helped.

Now I’m not saying to NOT get a higher education. By all means, do so if you can! I miss those hours spent drinking up knowledge and pushing my brain to understand statistics and advanced algebra as much as I do dissecting poems and contemplating the nature of humanity. And if you knew me from high school (where I railed against those hated math classes with splendid regularity) then you will see what a jump forward that was for me.

Instead what I am suggesting you do is…LIVE.

Live as if you may die tomorrow.

Learn as if the world is depending on you for your knowledge.

Love deeply and without regret.

Experience a world outside of the daily hum of existence.

Taste new foods and new cuisines.

Meet new people.

Dig your hands into the soil and grow a vegetable or fruit for the first time.

Listen to classical if you like rock, jazz if you like country, gregorian chant, and celtic and so much more.

Drive somewhere different – out of your way, into a new corner of town

Write an essay, a poem (it doesn’t matter if it rhymes or not), or heck, even a manifesto on what it means to be alive!

Make today different and do not fear change or the unknown. Put away regret for another day and turn each mistake into a learning experience. Get a Master’s in life and then nothing and no one will ever hold you back from tapping into the joy of the you inside.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 or 6 medium russet potatoes, sliced thin
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • One 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced rosemary leaves
  • 3 green onions, light green and medium green parts, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons minced chives
  • Cooking Directions

    Preheat the oven to 350°F. Rub the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with softened butter. Combine the half-and-half and the cream in a large measuring cup.

    Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, slice the potatoes very thinly. They’ll cook better that way. Place the potatoes in a large bowl. Drizzle with half of the half-and-half/cream mixture and set aside.

    In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes.

    Cut the bar of cream cheese in half and add the halves to the skillet, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and combined, about 3 minutes.

    Pour in the remaining half-and-half/cream mixture and stir to combine.

    Add salt and pepper and stir. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary. Do not under salt! Add the rosemary and green onions and stir to combine.

    Finally, add ½ cup of the grated parmesan and stir to combine.

    Pour the cream-soaked potatoes into the baking dish. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the top and spread it evenly over the potatoes. Scrape out the skillet to get every last drop.

    Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup grated parmesan generously over the top and bake the potatoes for at least 1 hour, or until golden brown and bubbly.

    Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the chives, then cut into squares to serve.

    Today has been a productive and challenging day. After weeks of feeling a tad under the weather I am back in action and I would like to share two of today’s extremes with you.

    I started my morning bright and early at 5:30 a.m. Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m an early bird. The house is quiet, the street is silent, and our young daughter is fast asleep. I usually manage a good two hours of work before she wakes and that time is precious and full of progress.

    This morning I was putting together the talking points on a presentation I will be giving in mid-May at the Heartland OD (Organizational Development) meeting. I was asked to speak on ‘personal skill development’ and was told that May’s meeting would focus on Versatility and Creativity. This delighted me and I accepted the invitation a month ago and committed to send my co-presenter the details on what I would talk about.

    As I listed the points I thought of Daniel Pink’s new book, “Drive,” which focuses on motivation. What motivates us? What helps to generate innovation, self-discovery, or scientific breakthroughs? I wrapped up the short summary stating:

    “By supporting and promoting personal skills development we create happier, motivated, invested employees who will partner together and provide quality and innovation. These employees will also help create a better tomorrow for themselves, their communities, and the businesses and corporations they work for.”

    I am sure there will be changes after my co-presenter reads the email and responds  or when I refine it closer to the date of the presentation, but I was satisfied with the rough draft. I moved on to other tasks, pleased at what I had come up with. The main gist of the talk will be on encouraging corporations and even mid-size businesses to invest in a wide variety of personal skill development/enrichment opportunities (physical fitness, credit and non-credit type classes, and even promoting clubs or small business ventures) for their employees. In turn, this will result in an atmosphere of excitement, a more positive view of the corporation as a whole, and dedication to their working environment. When employees benefit from perks, when they are encouraged to develop skills not normally viewed as ‘work-related’ at the blessing and encouragement of the company, they feel a part of something bigger.

    It is this, the sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself, which works far more effectively than the outdated carrot and stick approach does towards encouraging productivity and innovation. If I can help guide a manager or CEO to this conclusion, it means improving the lives of countless employees AND the company they work. This in turn creates the potential for even greater company profit, which can lead to more employment opportunities and benefits to the community. In other words, a win for everyone.

    So that was a high. I will refine and add detail, but it got me revved up.

    If that was the peak, then here is the valley. My heart sunk just a bit when I read the following email that flashed onto my screen:

    We thank you for your interest in delivering classes through the [name of organization], but we won’t be providing the particular offerings you have delivered in the past and are offering to deliver in the future.  Thanks again for thinking of us.

    I had been anticipating this email after hearing some rumors on the wind. My direct contact at this host site had recently resigned his post and prior to his resignation there had been talk that non-business classes would no longer be offered at this corporate location. In other words, unless it directly tied to the job the employees’ were expected to perform, there was ‘no need’ for the class.

    This particular location had built a special center for educating employees and most of the rooms are vacant on weekday evenings, the designated time when I had offered classes on home and office organizing and other classes designed to improve lives and reduce stress. At most, the cost for allowing the classes to continue may have been the minimal one of paying the one lone security guard, who is in all probability stationed there through the night, whether there are classes scheduled or not.

    I have yet to reply to the email, although I doubt the sender expects any kind of response. I find myself worrying that, as the economy continues to limp along, more companies will make the decision that this one has and cut out what they view as extraneous.

    This is short-sighted for a number of reasons, most of which I have listed above. It is similar to cutting funding to schools or emergency services. We need the minds of the future to be as bright and quick-thinking as possible. We need firefighters when our houses are burning. And right now, at this very minute, we need our workers to be invested and dedicated and feel as if they are partners or even shareholders in the places where they spend over 1/3 of their waking lives.

    Without this, our economy will suffer. We will suffer.

    I’m not saying that promoting personal skill development is the be all or end all. I’m not suggesting that it will save every company from financial disaster but it’s a start. It’s two steps forward.

    Today I managed two steps forward and was set one step back. But I’m not giving up. After all, I’m one step ahead of where I was yesterday! I see the worth in what I’m doing and believe I can make a difference. And I know I’m not the only one.

    How will YOU make a difference?

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