This is the Time

We’ve had a couple of good days with beautiful weather recently. The skies have been blue, the breeze has been warm, and birds and squirrels have been chattering away. Snow, in our corner of the world at least, is becoming spring snow. (Yes there is a difference between winter and spring snow. It’s to do with the moister content, density, and crust.) It’s just the start of the transition of the season, there will be more winter weather in store I’m sure of it, but you can feel spring is hot on winter’s heals.

You can see it in nature but you can also see it in kids. Mine always love being outside but they are dying for the sun now too. They are going out with less clothes on and soaking up any rays they can find. They also are more in tune to breaking up their habits and being more productive and more relaxed in their play. Let me explain, a few weeks ago and throughout winter truly, they would have followed the same routine. Get all dressed up to play outside, go to the garage, get the same toy they’ve played with the day before (and the day before that) and play in the same way they always do. Now, on the early spring days, they want to walk back to the field and check out how the snow is melting. They find ‘comfy’ spots in the snow to recline and feel the sun on their face. Try new tricks and build jumps, forts, and set up courses that will take them through the best mud puddles on their bikes. I came outside yesterday to Daddy recording a jump off of a large piece of plywood that nearly caused my biggest guy to go over the handle bars. I just smiled and gave him a thumbs up. Set a goal, come up with a plan, and push the boundaries kid. You might break your arm but Daddy is there and ready to get you to the ER. (That’s the kind of mostly supportive little bit of snark mom I am.)

Looking good, feeling good in his shades, jeans, and kitty mittens.

I can feel it too. Not only am I excited for the things I’ve been working toward all winter but now I’m thinking about gardens where will have the best sun? What should I plant this year? Should I have more than one? How many fruit trees do I need and how far apart should they be? Will they support the honey bee population in my area? I can’t wait to forage for fiddle heads! What else I can find this spring to harvest right off of the land? I can also feel a renewed power in the goals I had set. That race that I had signed up for and ‘forgot’ to train? Well you can bet I now think I can set a personal record on my time. The trip I have been waiting for with my husband? I absolutely was online looking at options.

Not the clearest of pictures but I even had the ambition to do a video to encourage getting out while running in my snowshoes.

This is one of my favorite times of year. Make it one of your favorite times too. It is a reset from January where we have more energy, more excitement, and more daylight, literally. (Who decided that right around the darkest day of the year was the best time for starting a new endeavor anyway?) So I challenge you to do an assessment right now of your own intentions. What goals have fallen by the wayside? What passions that you’ve done nothing with (either by force or by choice) have started rolling around in your head again? What is tugging at your attention right now that you’ve been trying to push out of your brain? Write that down. Then, put in your schedule.

This is the time for setting intentions, forcing yourself to take hold of a big dream, or starting something new. This is the time for brushing off whatever chains were holding you back. Remind yourself of all of your passions and run toward them with a strategy and renewed focus. This is the time make the time for you and step into what you can, and deserve to do.

Leadership as a ________.

For years I have loved snowmobiling. When I was a tot that meant sitting in front of my dad (or with my sister in a sled being towed behind) riding around our field at our house. I would scream with excitement and sing almost continuously while riding. When I got a little older it became one of the few things that I exclusively did with my dad. We did lots of stuff as a family and my sister and I had some traditions of our own and us with my mom but this one was special for just my dad and I. Imagine my delight turned to annoyance when my boyfriend, soon to be husband, was even more excited about snowmobiling than I was (yay!), but asked to come with Dad and I (you gotta be kidding me). It was a big step in the relationship and I nearly said no. (I mean I wasn’t going to deer camp with him what place did he have snowmobiling with my dad and I?!) I did eventually let him come and my mom started riding with us too. It has always been a great way to enjoy nature and see the world from a different perspective. There are times you’ll ride for what seems like hours through winding wooded trails only to come out and cross the same road that you know is only a mile or two from where you started. It is “sitting all day” that I swear is a workout. I am a pretty active person but you put me on a sled for a day and I’ll be sore from my hands, to my arms, to my shoulders and back, down to my legs. There is no way to be “productive” as there is nothing to accomplish except the ride, so my mind has a chance to be free and creative.

Every year I give the boys their first rides of the season.
And I mean every year, before they are walking, they are riding.

That last one is where the inspiration for this post came from. I have played with this idea for years while riding and have always wanted to write a book on the subject though, it would be an extremely niche market. Leadership as a trail ride. I know, I can see the smile and eyeroll you have now. This girl sees leadership in literally everything, you’re not wrong, but go with me.

Choose your riding style. It is rare that when I say style I actually mean style of clothing but this time I do. Some people would prefer to wear 25 layers of grandma’s scarves and tried and true long johns that have been passed down through the generations. These folks may know their outdated but they take pride in their 1988 Polaris jacket and brown coveralls underneath. Other’s want the newest technology with the best in lightweight insulations and jackets that literally have battery packs to not just keep you warm but actually heat you. Some are going strictly for the look. Their jacket coordinates with their helmet which matches their pants. They might even wrap their sled, or buy one with the right colors, to round out the whole ensemble. Others still, myself included, want some basics but would rather have some room to move even if it means getting a little chillier on the trail. All of these styles (like your own personal leadership style) are ways of expressing yourself. You do you but the key is flexibility. You can know what you gravitate toward but understand what the conditions require and flex and change to meet the needs of those conditions.

Know who you’re following. In the instances that I ride with only women I ride in the back to make sure we don’t lose anyone and help if there is any issue on the trail. Otherwise I, always without a doubt, follow my husband or my dad in a ride. I don’t care if it is just the two of us or a group of 12. I want to follow people I know have their heads on straight and I can trust to learn from. I want to drift through the corners where they do, lean as hard as they lean, see if they slide on ice so I can avoid it, and jump the snowbanks when they do. The person you follow is sort of your mentor on the trail, you want to have someone you can learn from. Someone that will inspire you to push your limits just enough to improve your skills without getting dangerous.

I don’t know that I personally would follow this particular driver, but his big brother appears to have all the confidence as he sits on the back.

Appreciate your machine. I started out riding a Polaris Indy 2 up (probably circa 1990 in 2005 I would guess). It was heavy and stable and it was difficult for me to maneuver at a high rate of speed. So, it was great for a beginner who didn’t really need to ride at a high rate of speed. I progressed to a 2000 Skidoo MXZ in 2011 which I was incredibly excited for but it was so squirrely I was all over the trail and rolled it no less than 5 times. I have since moved up in the world a bit but my general sentiment remains the same, respect what you have and it will do all you need it to. I put hundreds of miles on those snowmobiles. It didn’t matter that my sled was “old” or that it didn’t have all the bells and whistles; I just needed to work with what I had. Whether your team is tenured or full of newbys you need to understand and appreciate what you’re working with. Each group and the dynamics within the group will bring their own strengths, challenges, and opportunities. On your own you can only get so far but with a strong and successful team you can really go places and have the time of your life doing it.

Understand the trail conditions. There are rare occasions when you get to a trail and see that the groomer has just gone through. Flat, pristine trail lay ahead of you with nothing but your own skis and track disturbing it. More often though, there are deep grooves from other’s snowmobiles, a little dirt coming up to the roads, heaps in the corners that force you to one side of the trail, or ice that seems to have a total mind of its own. On those perfect trails, you call all the shots and your machine just floats where ever you point it. On anything else you’re basically recommending a direction and have to release control and work with the the conditions you have. The conditions of your organization are no different. Hold too tightly to every detail and work to make your way work regardless of the path ahead, and you’re bound lose control in other ways (I imply that my crashing the MXZ was because it was squirrely, and that was certainly part, but also I hadn’t quite learned this nuance yet.).

It’s a little grainy but this is one of my favorite pictures. The groomer coming down a beautiful trail on a crisp snowy morning.

So this is all applicable, and a little silly. I still feel like I could write this book I have so many more descriptions and analogies to make. It would be a short book, and yes, a little cheesy. My point is that leadership is universal and that running it parallel to examples you already understand can make some of the things that are so simple their missed, resonate better. Let’s take one simple example, I knew coming into a leadership position years ago that I needed to flex my style to meet the people where they were at, but I was coming at it more philosophically rather than tactically. Then I thought about what I wear riding and how my fewest layers possible mentality was uniquely me, I did make changes based on if it was 20 degrees or 10 degrees below. If I know to flex the style when it exclusively impacts me, then obviously I need to flex my leadership style, while still being true to myself, when it impacts the whole team.

So what is your thing? I mean, I’m sure these examples hit home with a couple people but for most, snowmobiling is not their go to hobby. What is yours? Fill in your own blank. How can you reflect on it help you better understand other areas of your life? What nuggets can you pick out that will propel you forward at home, in the workplace, while connecting with your spouse, or anywhere else. You have the knowledge, find it and apply it everywhere you can.

Willing and Prepared

What is your first thought as you read these statements? Family comes first, count your blessings, make time for self-care, eating for fuel, move your body, the list goes on and on. To me these are all pretty annoying, though I do use at least one of them every day I’m sure. They are all phrases that make really cute hashtags to add to the end of social posts or to use as justification when you do something out of the norm and want to make clear that you’re not feeling guilty about it. For example, there is a lot on your plate at work but your kid has a big game this afternoon, so you put in about 8 and a half hours of feverish prioritization pumping out as much production as possible and then apologize for leaving “early” but note, family comes first, as you head out to get to the match with not a moment to spare. Or perhaps you have way too many irons in the fire and you’re at your breaking point, feeling overwhelmed, snapping at everyone, so you lock yourself in a room with Netflix and your guilty treat of choice while you tell yourself you’re making time for self-care.

Work from home means days start early. Family comes first means I sometimes have a cute assistant.

The problem with these, and every other example of when people use these little phrases, is that we wait until we’re at the end of our rope to invoke the one trick, the one skill, the one resource we have. If you’re needing to declare family comes first while dashing off, heart either racing or sinking, trying to think if there was anything you forgot to do, then you’re not really living out that family truly does come first. You’re not setting yourself up to support the fact that your priority really is family, above all else. Likewise, if you’re locking yourself in your bedroom demanding not to be disturbed or crawling into a hastily made bath on the verge of tears, you don’t make time for self-care. You are waiting until the last possible second, or maybe the moments after what should have been the last possible second, to deploy the one resource you can think of in your frazzled state. I can’t help but think it would be the same as if Mario, without so much as a red topped mushroom, went rushing into Bowzer’s lair calling out, “It’sa me, Mario!” Just like all the other catch phrases, it’s technically correct but at the same time couldn’t be farther from the truth.

We, myself absolutely included, are wasting everything available to us up until our breaking point and relying on our own strength when we have nothing left. So how do we change that? How do we go from using those phrases as statements we’re trying to convince ourselves of to true mantras we live our lives by? I like to think of this like the old Super Mario Brothers games, yes I’m sticking with this reference, go with me for a minute. There was always some bad guy at the end of each world that needed to be defeated. If Mario went in blind and without any power up’s you could make it, in theory, but man, you had to be on your A-game and the deck was stacked against you. BUT if you picked up a feather, or super star, or jumped on a Kupa shell and sent it careening toward your enemy, you were in much better shape. You had to be aware of what skills you might need and pick them up along the way. You had to look for resources in the situation you were in and make the best use of them that you could. Prepared or not, Mario was marching forth toward the goal (save the princess) under threat of death. Death was just a whole lot more likely if he was unprepared going into battle.

Photo by Pixabay on

For those raising an eyebrow at my Mario example and looking for something a bit more classical, I give you Nehemiah. (Yes this is likely the only blog that uses classic video games and books of the Bible as parallel story lines.) Nehemiah had an end goal in mind that was pretty simple, build a wall. He could have just run off tools in hand but it likely never would have gotten finished. He started by praying (started there, not as a last resort), then he sought support of the king, he enlisted help, and he recognized the immediate and future opposition and organized people to work against it. Nehemiah never gave in to the nay-sayers even when he felt his life depended on it.

So I ask you, what are you chasing after? Be it princess or the rebuilding of a wall or anything in between, are you both willing and prepared to chase after it? Take a moment, or a few of them, to understand what you’ll need in what you’re going up against. What skills do you need to sharpen? What are your resources do you need to organize or find? What is literally laying around (stones and rubble or an old Kupa shell perhaps) that is just waiting to get discovered? Finally, are you seeing it all the way through. Like all the way. Mario just ran left to right straight head on into whatever came next, picking up all he could along the way until or unless he literally died (little extreme but a nice illustration none the less). Nehemiah didn’t come down for anything. When he was enticed he said no, what I’m doing is more important. When he was in pain, he asked God to strengthen his hands.

Photo by Wendy van Zyl on

At the end of the day, could you make it through most of your situations surviving on determination and adding a fun hashtag afterward? Most of them, sure in theory, and the deck will be stacked against you. If you take a note from Mario and Nehemiah however, and prioritize what is truly important to you and set yourself up for success by relying on the skills and resources throughout, you’ll be much better prepared to take on what comes at you in the end. You’ll accomplish your goal without compromising your priorities and be ready for whatever lies ahead.

Why You Take the Picture

I went through a phase growing up, a long one like maybe age 10-16, where I never wanted my picture taken. I would hide, whine, fight and then pout in the picture. Super cute. I was totally against them. After that though I was happy to take them if other’s wanted but I was not going to suggest it. When I got to college it seemed like every girl I saw had a phone at the ready to take a picture of food, friends, the events we were at, how we looked at any given event, and then would chronical our whole lives through their lenses. All the while I was thinking, can’t we just do the thing? Can’t we just enjoy the dinner, hockey game, or night out instead of documenting who sat next to whom and what they wore? I wanted to enjoy the time with friends and family not capture it for the future. Then I got married. For our wedding I wanted to be sure there were impromptu pictures, yes you need to take the grandparent pictures and the poses with the combined families but I went with the least expensive photographer I could find and took her smallest package. My biggest concern was if she would take day after photos of us playing in the woods with our wedding clothes on, she did and those were perfect. I have all of them on a flash drive somewhere but I think I printed 10 total pictures and some of those were wallet sized.

These are the pictures I’ve made a habit of saving. Nothing perfect about this one. Just two crazy kids who drove their truck in the reception hall.

All of that made me enough of an oddball when it came to photos but nothing compared to when I became a mom. Did I take pictures of my Wallace Shawn looking newborns and text them to friends and family describing how perfect they were? Yes. Did I do it half as much as other mom’s? Not even close. I just didn’t want to watch my children through my phone or camera lens. I wanted to actually be in that moment with them. I didn’t want to be the one at the family gatherings constantly running around going, “get together” “ok, look at me” “just act like you’re having a conversation”. (We all were together and having a real conversation until you came along wanting to take candid looking posed shots.) I didn’t really have time for the intentional, professional ones either. In the ten years my little family has been in existence I had wedding pictures, a set of church directory pictures, and a few from a gift we gave to my parents a couple years ago.

Photo credit to Nikki Oelke Photography

Then, my little men discovered slideshow mode on my iPad. I started to realize the pictures weren’t just for me. All of those moments that were messy and silly and funny, make them roll on the floor laughing. All of the posed pictures of us together make them recount how much they enjoyed that event or holiday. All of the family members that, to my utter shock and dismay, did not defy the odds and live forever come alive again through the pictures I can share with those little dudes. I have the pictures of a great grandmother holding her newborn grandson. All of the generations huddled around grandpa at a holiday. I can see the light in their eyes as a toddler wraps his arms around an auntie or uncle’s neck and the love and connection they share.

You know what else I realized? All of the pictures that I was taking, I was typically not in. Mom wasn’t the one playing catch, building the fort, making the cookies or anything else as far as the pictures were concerned. I was always the one behind the camera. To be honest, I wasn’t capturing my husband in too many of them either because I was focused on the kids or the people we don’t see often enough being with the kids. Having a good photographer who is able to capture it all, is essential. Someone who can pull out those messy, silly, and funny moments and capture them while you’re all there, all together, (while the big guys have combed hair and the baby is wearing pants) is such a blessing.

Photo credit to Nikki Oelke Photography

Truly what I’m saying (to myself as much as you) is take the pictures, ask people to take your picture, find your local photographer and take the pictures. I still want to be in the moment with my family and friends. I want to be invested in what we’re doing and not watching it from behind a lens. I am also to the point that I appreciate having them for all of the memories they provide, and for the new memories made while we enjoy them and reminisce together.

Taking Care of #1

I used to wear my feverish work pinned on my shirt like a medal of honor. I told everyone about how blissfully busy I was and recounted all of the things that made me that way, some of which were a bit of a fish story if I’m honest. To clarify, I wasn’t actually burnt out, I was zealous. I wasn’t the type of person who used how busy I was or how exhausted I was as an excuse or a complaint. To the contrary, I was so proud of who I was and the work I did in all facets of my life. I was excited and feeding off of the state of chaos I was living in. One day I was asked what I did to turn it off, which was a completely foreign concept to me. I didn’t want to turn a thing off just crank it up! How could I brainstorm while I was cooking dinner? Could I strategize while on snowmobiling in the winter or out by the lake in the summer? Could I develop the constructs and values that would propel me forward in my career in all of the places that inspire me so that I could spend work time doing the “real” work? (Now I know I’m a recovering workaholic because even as I’m writing this I can feel my heart rate elevate and my mind start to rationalize why all of that is still a great idea.)

I was hungry for the challenge and I was doing a good job. I was meeting deadlines, accomplishing progress, managing change, empowering those around me, making some mistakes and improving everyday. I was also, gaining weight, praying less, losing time with my husband, losing time with my kids, and when I was with everyone my mind was constantly multitasking back to what was easy for me to become enveloped in, work. I was relying all but exclusively on my own abilities and getting praised for it so the rest I just figured would work itself out. Then, in an abrupt about face, I was not praised for the work I was doing, I was questioned on the validity. I wasn’t encouraged to expand, I was told to stay in my lane. I wasn’t allowed to share my plan and vision (all the strategy and constructs I had conceptualized), I was told vision would follow the chain of command. I tried to put in more time and effort but was maxed out. Further, I was no longer getting that fuel from crushing it at work but didn’t know how to be fueled by the other aspects of life. Effort running on empty is then, burnout.

Actual footage of how I looked to my team…. not exactly the lady you’re raising your hand to get behind.

As I typically do, I started to think about what got me where I was. After blaming everyone else didn’t really yield results, I started to understand it was because all of my eggs were in that one basket. I wasn’t fueling myself in any other ways. Getting praise for good work is, well good, but putting sole stock in a few key roles, key people, assigning your value is unhealthy and a recipe for disaster.

Once I realized the problem was me and where I was looking for my worth, I could take the next step to determine where that worth would come from in a perfect scenario. Instead of looking out at everyone else to tell me about my value, I went back to basics and looked up and within. It was like an epiphany, when I realized there was no reason to care what everyone else thought. I mean I know we all know that and I certainly did too but to know it and to understand and embrace it were two different things. Do the job I’m asked to do and if the skills and talents that I know I posses aren’t useful or requested in that scenario, this is not my problem. It does not make those skills less important or less useful. Because those are the things that fueled me and had propelled me forward for so long, I didn’t want to lose them. I didn’t want to let that muscle lay dormant without the ability to work, make mistakes, improve, and grow. So I found other avenues to flex in. I joined clubs, I volunteered, I found areas of the business where I could still grow and connect while staying in my lane and following chain of command. I learned to “turn it off” too. I learned that laptops actually close for a reason. I learned no one dies, or even gets maimed, if you don’t respond to an email or set up a meeting at 9 pm. I learned that some of the mistakes we were all trying so desperately to avoid might happen and we would all laugh about them in about a week and made no difference to anything in about a month, sometimes it took longer and the scar was more pronounced, but often not.

I got to the point that resting up to achieve someone else’s dream just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Now I had a better handle on the the thing that was easiest for me to control, work, so I started looking at other areas of life too. I mean, I had all of this time on my hands after closing the laptop, I might as well. I started eating to actually fuel myself (rather than stress eating peanut butter and salami everyday). I started setting goals outside of work like places I’d like to take the family and I bet I could master side crow (not yet but some day). I discovered I like reading (something not a single person I know, including me, saw coming). I created a morning routine because I am incredibly introverted and I need some time alone (sure it started as 5 minutes, but it grew to 90). I started a practice of thanking God for my husband (it is really hard to be mad at your spouse for anything that happened the night before if you start your day recounting 3 ways he was a blessing to you). I added strategic times of prayer throughout the day (That sounds fancy but it was like a minute or two on the way to work, at about 2, and on the way home. It obviously added a little prayer back in my day but also forced me to stop, slow down my mind, and refocus on what was important.).

The look of my morning routine.

That is my story of how I started taking care of me. How I started putting myself first. Reading it all in one sitting with your coffee or lunch might feel like it was a quick change, I mean I used the word epiphany. It was not. This took literal months probably more like a year or more and came about in iterations with two steps forward and one step back. It was a lot of hard work and to be honest would have been easier to not do it. I could have just blamed everyone else, quit what I was doing, found something else, and chalked it up to bad things happen sometimes going on to relive the cycle with different scenery. That would have been hard too but easier than doing all of the work on myself. It just wouldn’t have yielded the results. I’m a healthier, wiser, more effective version of myself than I was. I’m better not only in the areas that I had previously neglected, but in the one area I was so focused on in the first place!

So if you’re feeling stuck ask yourself, how am I contributing to this? Where am I getting my worth from? What is one thing I can do to improve the situation? Keep asking this last one and implementing until you get where you want to be.

From Worried to Wonderful

I had someone ask me recently how she could know where she was going. Because I like alliterations we’ll call her Worried Wanda. Wanda was just told by her manager that her role was changing (albeit slightly, it felt like a huge change to her) and she wanted to know what that meant for the trajectory of her career. She was worried she was getting boxed in, type casted, and limited based on what the new definition of the role meant. Now, Wanda does some good work for the company, as in, she is someone behind the scenes that is completing all of the hard things that no one else wanted to touch. She is the one that everyone forgets to thank and give accolades to because she is working on things that are foundational. These are things that hold the whole place together and she keeps them running. Wanda is also one who never talks about her hopes and dreams. You wouldn’t even know she gave a second thought to being boxed in, type casted, or limited. You would have thought she was perfectly content doing her thing until the end of her days with the company. When she asked me “What path do you think this change will allow me?” I honestly think my first thought, in the best and most respectful way possible, was do you really even want a path to go anywhere?

Photo by Andrew Neel on

That sounds a little rude right? Thankfully, I didn’t respond quite like that. Also it’s a useless question because as surprised as I was, the answer was clearly yes. If not, Wanda wouldn’t have sought out my opinion and spent the past 20 minutes telling me about how concerned she was. Instead I asked her more questions. I asked where she wanted to be, what she wanted to do, and how she wanted to feel when she was there. She said she wasn’t sure because this whole change would affect it. I am a firm believer in opportunities and knowing they will show up regardless of what your job title, experience, or bank account has to say about them. The question is more so, where do you want to be and are you willing to accept the opportunities when they come? So, I asked her to fill me in on what she wanted prior to her role changing. Let me tell you, Wanda lit right up! She had so many aspirations and with a little more coaxing she was able to explain the ‘what’ and her ‘why’ in crystal clear detail. It was so interesting because even though I’d known her for years I had no idea this was her goal though she was clearly very passionate about it.

Next I asked Wanda if she knew, prior to the job change, ‘how’ to get there? She had a vague idea of what skills in her current job equipped her for what she saw as the next step. Then she was pretty much at a loss. Wanda’s map took her from her one step to the next but that second one was standing on the edge of a cliff with her dream on the other side. She spiraled a little at that point explaining how she only knew the one step and if her role changed she didn’t even know that anymore! I smiled on the other end of the phone knowing she was so much closer than she even realized. I asked her to go back to the end goal for a little bit. To feel that excitement again. Imagine what that person, Wildly Wonderful Wanda, does on a daily basis. What tasks is she doing and how does it feel? What does she know and who does she work with? Think through all of it. Now, forget about what they call you or if there is a new or removed task from your desk. What can you do to do more of what she does, feel more like she feels, know what she knows and who she knows?

I could all but see Wanda’s wheels turning. She had ideas now and could put them in motion and it was all because she thought more clearly about who she wanted to be, and really understood who that Wonderful version was. For those who read this as a nice story featuring a woman with a fun name, let’s break down the steps.

Photo by Element5 Digital on

Know what you want. By that I mean the culmination. Does that have to be a specific role or title, no. It can be a type of work, a feeling, a balance with life, etc. It isn’t so much about knowing where your first step is from where you’re at but knowing the destination. Once you know that, you can figure out what is on the map to get you from where you are to where you want to be. There is a lot of gray in the unknown so trying to start to granular, like turn right on Maple and left on Main street, can get overwhelming because, like Wanda, you may not know what the third turn is or how far down Main it comes. I mean, how could you if you didn’t know the final destination? Each step is pretty dependent on if you’re going to Orlando or Portland. If you know where you’re going you can piece together the rest. If you’re unclear answer the same questions Wanda did. Imagine where you want to be, the type of work you want to be doing, and the way you want to feel.

Say it out loud, to yourself and to people. It is really difficult to get what you want or even work toward it if you never say it. Likewise, it is impossible for others who want to see you succeed to do anything to help if they don’t know what you want. To compound that they may even be inadvertently working against you because they think they know what you want and are working to help you attain that. For the most part people want to support you. They want to build you up and push you in the right direction. So give them a hand by letting them know what direction you’re hoping to go. There was so much power unleashed when Wanda said her goal out loud.

Align yourself with allies. These could be someone who directly controls what you want. For example your boss, if you’re looking for a promotion. A friend or former colleague if you’re looking to switch companies, swap kid watching duties, or plan a girls night in. It could be your spouse, if you’re looking to take a vacation, get some major projects done, or swap kid watching duties. These could also be people who are connected, like a mentor, pastor, or coach, and help point you toward the things you want. Finally they could just be a support and accountability group that will help you stay on task for what you want. These are all allies that will be invaluable to you as you grow. Also hint, when I say that you have to say what you want out loud, you’ll need to be brave enough to say it to the allies so they can work their magic. It sounds obvious but these allies are typically the people we’re the most worried about their opinions and we seem to think their mind readers, they aren’t.

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Understand the tools you have and the ones you’ll need. We all have tools and skills at our disposal, all of us. You’ll need to get crystal clear on what those are. Then you need to be pretty clear on what the tools and skills are for what you want in the end so you can start building on them. If you’re a great organizer, communicator, and confidant today that’s great! Own that. If for the end result you’ll need to be an even better organizer, a strategist, and be able to mingle at social gatherings, well, I guess we know where we build on what we have and where need to stretch ourselves. You will undoubtedly find out as you move toward the end goal that there are other skills you didn’t know you needed to develop like budgets or ability to make pretty graphs. No problem, we’ll just add those in as they come. These are your personal continuous improvement. The point is you’ll be more prepared because you’ll be aware and more confident in the skills you already have and you’ll have a plan of attack for the rest.

Do the work to bridge the gap. There is no way around it, you have to actually do the work. You have to build the skills. You have to promote yourself in the areas that will get you closer to where you want to be. You have to apply for something that will get you one step closer. You have to be brave enough to leave your comfort zone and do something different. I myself am really good at talking it up, making the plan, hinting at doing it, and then falling flat. Its not out of lack of ability but out of fear and I’m not alone. Nothing will change, for me or for Wanda or for you, unless we change it. So after the dreaming and scheming and planning is over, go do the work because hard work pays off.

The Juggling Act

I am constantly working on multiple different aspects of the business. It’s not about multitasking or single-tasking but simply the amount and diversity of work that needs to be done. From the time I start my computer or walk in the front door of the building until the time that I finally shut everything down for the night I am pulled in a plethora of different directions. I spend time building up the team and developing their skills, managing project work, facilitating the management of other’s project work, answering questions and problem solving, balancing coaching and empowering, responding to emails, answering phone calls, and a whole host of other tasks. While some of those words might not be words you’d use to describe your day (heck a couple of them you may not even be 100% sure what they mean), I assure you much of what you and I are doing are very similar. At least that is what I always think while I’m working. This is not specific to me, everyone has to balance this, we’re all in this together, and I am not being singled out with all of this work there is just much to be done and I’m fortunate to be able to contribute to it.

Recently someone pointed out all of the things I’m juggling and how I never seem to drop a ball. My first instinct was to insist that that is absolutely untrue I do drop balls, more than I’d like to admit. We moved on the in the conversation but my brain could not let go of that image. Am I truly juggling more than others and doing it better? That just doesn’t seem likely to me, there is nothing special about me and what I do that would set me apart so there must be some other explanation. Still the image of the juggler hadn’t left my mind. It made me think back to a friend I had in high school who was something of a renaissance man. He had talent in literally everything he touched and juggling was no different. He could juggle a whole bunch of different objects and throw one or two behind his back and catch them again. He could incorporate new things as people tossed them in and toss or kick some of them to people watching. And he did it all with a smile that could keep 16 year old kids who would typically rather be testing out their new driving freedom or texting, engaged while watching juggling.

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I started to think of my own juggling act the same way. I’m doing the same thing as he was just with different balls. Some of mine are crystal, some are clay, and some are rubber. Obviously I need to keep the balls of crystal in the air. If one of those drops I, and anyone in the vicinity of me, are in big trouble because there will be shrapnel and there is just no putting it back in rotation. The clay balls might fall to the ground. Not ideal because they will surely be misshapen when they are picked up but they can also be smoothed out and put back together in the same, or nearly the same, shape they were in when we began. The rubber balls are the fun ones. Those are the balls that can drop to the ground and pop right back up into rotation. They might even bounce higher adding to the effect and engagement of those around you. Also important to think about here, these aren’t all my balls. Sure people might be throwing some in from the sides and sometimes I need to catch those and other times I’ll just smile and let them fly on past. Other times I need to toss a ball out, let it bounce to someone else, or let one of those clay buggers lay on the ground until someone else decides to pick it up and reshape it.

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Something about thinking back to watching him juggle made me realize that I was right all along. There wasn’t anything particularly special about me just as their wasn’t anything particularly special about him. We both took something that we had the basic skills for, had a strategy, prioritized, and considered the consequences. You’re doing the same thing. Your balls of crystal might be critical work functions, feeding your kids a healthy meal, or drinking your water. It is whatever you deem to be the top priority and something to be treated as a non-negotiable part of life. Your rubber balls might be group project at work, the laundry, or reading books with the kids at night. These things can take a beat (or a bounce) before you jump back in or maybe they even bounce over to someone else’s plate. Your clay balls could be a passion project at work, spring cleaning your kitchen, upgrading your workout equipment. The clay is something that can fall and just sit, but only for a time, before you (or someone else) pick them back up, dust them off, and reprioritize them into the flow of the act.

At the end of the day, you have to have a good technique and skilled hands. You have to know how high to throw the balls and when to take your eye off one. You have to know which ones are yours to juggle and which ones to pass off. How to catch one being thrown in from the side and when to allow it to just pass you right by. The skill comes in prioritizing them and treating them with the care each requires that allows you to have the best act. Will there be times that a crystal ball drops, yes. It will be messy and troublesome and we’ll all survive and keep moving forward. Will there be a time that you forget the rubber ball is in fact rubber and treat it as though life itself would end should it fall, sure. You’ll learn from it to help you improve your prioritization next time. The magic comes not in a person being so special they’re able to juggle but in putting in the time, the willingness to drop a few, and the continued practice for a great performance.

The Beauty of Rest

My entire life I’ve heard messages of go, go, go. Get this thing done and start that. Maybe even while you’re finishing that one up get a jump start on the next. I remember even as a kid being taught to clean bathrooms in a certain order that would allow maximum efficiency and no wasted time. I was in high school when I was told to listen to book recordings while I slept because my mind didn’t know the difference and I could learn all night. As an adult I have found so many ways to hack this. I listen to parenting podcasts while doing the dishes. I get up early to start laundry, coffee, and time for myself so when the kids get up I can multi task different things, things that they can be part of like racing to see who can dress first and who can finish breakfast and get to the bathroom to pick out the toothpaste first. At work is the worst of it. We try to squeeze every ounce of time and productivity out of our people and ourselves. We track hours and sometimes even minutes of the day with more precision and rigor than we track actual output and productivity.

I have seen companies create elaborate tracking systems that account for every minute of every day. Forcing employees tally tasks and time themselves with an online stop watch. It might be an accurate way to determine what people are spending their time on but imagine the message it sends? People feel distrusted, like they are being called lazy, they feel that you’re adding things (clicking the timer and tallying the task) to an already overly busy schedule. If you’re a leader (at work or in any other capacity) and thinking, well I would never do that to my people, think of the more subtle ways you’re pushing the go, go, go agenda? Do you expect your people to be “on” consistently before and after their shifts? Do you structure every minute of time for your kids with sports, clubs, or even educational play? Do you come to your spouse daily with what the agenda will look like for the family that night?

Coffee, notepad, laptop, phone calculator, I had it all going and still couldn’t seem to get more done. I think I even had laundry to be folded somewhere in the background.

Maybe you’re reading this feeling smug thinking, That isn’t me. Oh I know Suzie Q is soooo like this. I should share this with Suzie Q, but that isn’t me. I don’t push people like that. OK. So maybe it isn’t that pronounced. Are you the one preaching to everyone that they should take time to unwind, meanwhile you’re sending them emails at 8-9 o’clock at night? Are you encouraging your kids to play while you feverishly wash the dishes and pick up the toys left in their wake? Are you sitting on the couch, chatting with a friend, catching up with a colleague only to loudly announce that you have to get something done now, as if every moment leading up to the proclamation was wasted time?

What are we chasing? Is there some illusive finish line I’m not aware of where there is a busiest award? Is someone planning to include that in a eulogy at some point? I hope and pray no one stands at the celebration of my life and says, “What can I say about Kelly? She kept everyone on task and always pushed so hard to check things off the list.” Gross. There is no prize on this one guys. There is no trophy for creating the longest list and checking all or most of them off. Likewise, there isn’t a punishment for having a shorter list either. Do you need to be productive and contribute to the team raising the bar and exceeding expectations? Whole heartedly and unequivocally yes. But does that mean mean you need to have your foot on the gas in every aspect of life all the time? Not even close.

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I believe strongly that there is a time or a season for everything in life. I like to think of this in terms of music (Also I think in terms of farming, but I do a lot of rural life references so we’ll go with an orchestra this time.) If you imagine an orchestra with all of the different instruments and the conductor at the head, they never play an entire piece with everyone playing as loudly as they can. That would be too much. Too much for the members of the orchestra and too much for the audience. There is no beauty in that. There is no room for anything else. Not to mention the forte of a tuba and the forte of a violin are very different so the heavy quarter notes will overpower the playfulness of the strings every time. So they don’t all go hard all of the time. The conductor gently quiets and intensifies different sections as appropriate. There are times where that tuba is going to give it all he’s got. There are times when a saxophone will take the lead with some jazzy little interlude. There are times that violins will go back and forth with a playful melody and counter melody. It doesn’t all happen at the same time and it doesn’t happen for the duration. There are times when the bass just plays low slow quarter notes to keep time. There are times when the flouts will all just be set down because they have a 10 bar rest. Rest. They all will, at some point, and with varying lengths, rest.

No one calls the tuba player lazy because he isn’t playing louder. No one rolls their eyes at the flutist for resting a beat. We focus our eyes and our ears on another area of the orchestra. It gives us a chance to miss the high pitch staccato notes to hear the solo of another instrument. We understand that that is what makes the piece dynamic and interesting and fun to listen to. We enjoy it more for the ebbs and flows of intensity and rest. Why can’t we recognize that in life? Why can’t we enjoy our lives for the ebbs and flows of intensity and rest? There are times for us to be at forte or to be playing our solos. There are times to harmonize in the background. There are whole seasons where we just set our instruments in our laps because, its our time to rest.

Work, home, family, kids, finances, hobbies, faith, love, this is the orchestra of life. The balance of it all is understanding which of our instruments to play, at what volume, at what tempo, and whether we are melody or harmony. There is a time for you, and for all of those around you, to belt out that solo, there is a time to support the other players, and a time to set down the instrument and simply immerse yourself in the beauty of the music around you.

Serene Routine, Chaos Without

Picture it, the Hirn household after 5 days of winter break, painful. One child is jumping off of a couch asking for candy. Another is screaming in a timeout because he threw his brother’s new toy and when sternly told to go get it and give it back he responded with a, “Why don’t you get it?!” Another is begging for playdough while you can see the stream of toys strewn behind him that he essentially just pulled out only to move on to another thing. I can truly stand in the middle of all of that and think to myself, I did this, this is my fault.

Every year I tell them to live it up on break. Watch all the movies, sleep in and stay up late, play outside for 10 minutes then come in only to go back out for another 10. We eat a big breakfast or a late lunch or something else that throws off meal time so I let them have granola bars and string cheese for dinner, go nuts! Then literally, they go nuts. They don’t know why they can’t control themselves a week in. They just know that all of a sudden Mom is angry more often and they feel tired and wired at the same time.

Put the snow suit on, take the snow suit off, put the snow suit on, take the snow suit off…

Their habits are important. Kids need those structures and rituals, basic as they may be, to support them. It is easier for them to do what they are supposed to, like politely ask for a small piece of candy, play together with their siblings, speak respectfully to other people, and pick up a toy or two before asking for another. They can do those things, I’ve seen them with my own eyes. It isn’t just a fluke or a stroke of good fortune that does it though. It comes from knowing what to expect, it comes from full bellies, and sleep my goodness does it come from sleep. They are different animals when their sleep patterns are off. Most people with kids already know this right. I mean, we all fail at it to certain degrees, see above, where we think this will be good, lets have some freedom, then it all unravels in front of your eyes and you do the movie quality slow motion ohhhh nooooo as they start taking off their clothes at Grandma’s house.

Do you ever consider the power of your habits though? I mean sure, you probably know not to jump on the couch and keep your shirt on at family gatherings but maybe when your habits are falling by the way side you lose your shirt in other ways. I, for example, go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time every morning. I do the same routine Monday through Friday with a ever so slight variation on the weekend. I feel accomplished and centered and focused on my key priorities when I do that. Then during break week I stay up later to pick up the house and do a load of laundry. It is harder for me to get up on time. I don’t get everything done in the morning to the same quality that I normally would. When that happens even one day, just one, I can feel that I am off. I am a little shorter with my temper and a little more distracted during the day as I try to multitask what I didn’t get done.

This was more of the break routine. “Mommy you snuggle me?” You bet.

As I write this, just yesterday my little dude had to say “Mommy will you play with me?” at least 5 times while I said in just a minute because I was trying to make up for lost time. On the last time (when it finally got through and I stopped messing with the vacuum) he said, “Mommy? Will you pweeese play with me, now?” How heart breaking does that sound? I promise you it is worse in person. Thankfully the drawn out please with the missing L did shake me out of my multitasking state. But sure enough I fell right into my other side effect of lack of habits as soon as the big guys came in from outside for dinner. They were all excited to tell me about their day and marched in with their snow gear still on. On a normal day I would have said something like, boots off first then I’d love to hear! but not yesterday. Nope, I greeted them by shouting that they get their stuff off and wash up for dinner.

So in my defense they had been fishing all day and really were pretty dirty.

Without the support of our routines and our positive habits we’re on unsteady ground. We use those very basic blocks as corner stones to keep our day on grounded. It could be as elaborate as reviewing your daily calendar, working out, getting in the Word, and setting an intention for the day or it might be that you brush your teeth at a certain time each morning. However simple or intense, it sets you up for success. This is why in It’s the Most Craziest Time of the Year, I make a big point of saying to stick to them. Now, clearly I know that it isn’t possible 100% of the time. In those instances, I would just encourage you to reflect and understand how missing them is impacting you, and those around you. When I yelled at my kids for coming in with their dirty, wet snow clothes on it would have been easy for me to entirely blame them for the situation but they aren’t responsible for my reaction. Having the routines, knowing they were jacked, and understanding how that effects me enabled me to redirect the course (including an apology) rather quickly.

A Year In Review

This week is magical, the week between Christmas and New Year’s. You’re fresh off the high of seeing the wonder, the twinkle, the joy, and the appreciation of Christmas on the faces of everyone you come in contact with. Whether it is face-to-face, over a family Zoom call, or, best of all, on the faces of little children. You can’t help but feel a little lighter and a little warmer during Christmas and just after. I have come to find there are two camps of people during this week. The first camp takes this week as an extension of the holidays. They lounge, watch movies, play with, or otherwise enjoy, the gifts they had gotten and use the time to recharge. Some people do this at work too. They don’t take vacation days but they do treat it as a little work vacation where they spend more time socializing than completing actual work. There is an entirely separate camp who uses this week as a jump start, a launch pad for all of their resolutions. They make all the lists and set the intentions and search out a new and exciting goal setting method that they’ll try out on January 1st.

I will admit I have been in both camps. I have spent days at work sharing coffee breaks with teammates that lasted an hour or more. I’ve sat in meetings where the actual topic took 10 of the scheduled 90 minutes. I have also gotten so much done during this week. I have researched healthy meal plans, organized closets and kitchens, and completed whole projects at work when there were no distractions. I enjoyed both options and never regretted either, and yet, I would suggest there is a third choice that combines the two in a healthy way, allowing you to recharge and accomplish something worthy while also leaving margin enough to fit some of your preferred style.

So, before we race toward the new year, the celebrations and the goal setting, I implore you to reflect. Take some time to intentionally consider the year behind you and ready yourself for what is to come in the year ahead. The way I am going to recommend you do this is through a process I use on a weekly basis at work, but with one added step for the year. We call this OLSA.

Where were you this time last year? Right off the bat you get the extra step. Obviously if you’re doing this exercise regularly you don’t need to remind yourself where you were last Monday, but at the close of a year, I think we need a reminder. Where were you, physically and mentally? It helps to start with physically and if you can’t really remember, try using your camera roll as a prompt. Did you have an addition to the family? Were you gleefully making plans for what the year would bring? Were you frustrated with a stage in your marriage? Was work in a slump and you were looking for a way out? Or maybe you were killing it at the office. You could have been wedding planning for months at that point. Were you hoping to have a baby of your very own? What activities were you doing and how were you reacting to it?

Once you have that clearly in your mind, we’ll walk through the full year. We won’t walk through it chronologically but by using OLSA as our guide. What is OLSA you may ask (besides a very fun word to call out with a Spanish flare) it stands for obstacles, lessons, suggestions, and achievements.

What obstacles did you encounter? Now, I know this question seems obvious, especially this year. What obstacles didn’t we encounter? Truly think about it though, be specific. What challenges did you face? Was there illness for you or your family? Job loss? Loss of loved ones? Did you face obstacles in your relationships? With your mental health? What were they? What caused them?

Yes building is an amazing opportunity but its an obstacle too. It takes time, money, and energy away from us both and is stressful on the little men.

What lessons did you learn? Sometimes these are concrete areas where you received education, I obtained my associates degree, but much more often they are tied to the obstacles. For example, maybe you learned not to take time with your grandparents for granted after losing one that was so special to you. Maybe you learned that you can save a lot of money by never getting your hair cut and dyed or that you’re a stress snacker which this year caused significant weight gain (This section isn’t called fixed it mind you, just recognition of the lesson learned). What sort of things did you learn about yourself, those around you, your house, your work, your team, anything?

What suggestions would you give yourself? Now that you’ve thought through all that you’ve faced and everything you’ve learned, would you give yourself any advice? Maybe you would go back and tell yourself that lunch with a friend matters so say yes more often and don’t squander it. Maybe you would suggest some grace and remind yourself that you’re doing well and your priorities are solid so be gentle, you will weather any storm. Maybe you’d tell last years’ January version of you that those last 15lbs don’t matter, buy the bathing suit and take the trip now, enjoy.

What did you accomplish? This is always the one to end with. It reminds you you are strong and you’re running your race passing mile markers all along the way. Maybe you taught your children, something you would have previously said you weren’t capable of. Maybe your marriage is stronger than ever or maybe you were finally shown just how toxic it was and made a decision to turn a new page. Maybe you’ve grown in your work and persevered through all of the obstacles. Maybe you made other’s feel loved and that they mattered. Maybe you just continued living, and in the face of everything, that is pretty dang good.

I accomplished so much but one of my favorites on the list was learning how to be a better mom to teach and lead these crazies.

My recommendation in this is to take each of these one day at a time. Reflection is best done slowly and with margin. If you rush it you’re likely not getting the full benefit. Leaving your mind open all day long to the page allows for so many more opportunities to add to it. Now, I am a big proponent of you doing you and it’s not nice to should on people so I won’t. If you want take an hour a day and journal it all out, amazing, do that. If you want to muse about all 5 on your 20 minute commute, great, do that. Some reflection is better than no reflection. Even if you are really on board and want to take every evening to consider, journal, meditate on, pray about, and discuss in a small group setting, there is still margin of the other two days in the week to find your meal plans, organize your closet, watch your movies, and eat all the left over Christmas cookies. So enjoy, add your own flare, and consider how far you’ve come!