Are You Wasting Your Time?

Checking off items from your to-do checklist can feel rewarding and satisfying, especially on those days where you can knock out several items at once. At least for me, I regularly create a long list of all the things I have pending. I get a sick pleasure of crossing each item off the list to mark its completion. It makes me feel “productive.” For years I tried writing a book by adding “write” as a task on that laundry list of miscellaneous things I had to do. But I rarely got to it, and when I did, I wouldn’t have enough time to get my writing-brain working. There was always too much to do. 

When I realized this would never work, I separated a few hours one day a week to focus only on my writing. That helped a lot. But I knew that if I wanted to finish my book, I needed more than one writing day. I rearranged my schedule to block out large chunks of time almost every day to write and leaving only one admin day a week to get everything else done. 

That was an anxiety-provoking process. I confess I’ve never felt so unproductive as I did at the end of some of my writing days. After sitting in front of my computer for hours I could have written one page or one paragraph or struggled with one sentence the whole time. By the end of the day, I usually felt no closer to finishing my book than I did when I started. That was frustrating. The weeks turned into months, and friends and family would ask “When are you going to finish your book?”

 “I’m working on it!” I’d respond.

“But what’s your deadline?” they’d ask. 

“I’m not sure,” I’d reply half-heartedly wondering if I’d ever finish or if I was doing any of this correctly.  

I spent a year working on my book, not knowing how much longer it would take, if it would be any good, or if anyone would want to read it. Some days it felt like I was wasting my time. But I kept plugging at it week after week, settling for only getting my task-crossing dopamine rush on Tuesdays.

And then the other day I watched the documentary, The Dawn Wall. It shares the story of Tommy Caldwell’s journey to becoming the best mountain climber in the world. At some point Tommy decided he wanted to do something that had never been done before—to climb the Dawn Wall on the El Capitan mountain. It was one specific section of the mountain that seemed impossible because of all its blank spaces. There didn’t seem to be anything that a climber could grip their hands and feet onto for the climb.  But Tommy wanted to find a way. He spent a year hanging off the side of El Cap attempting to identify enough cracks and crimps to delineate a route up the wall.

Let me repeat that: Tommy spent a year hanging off the side of El Cap attempting to identify enough cracks and crimps to delineate a route up the wall. Can you imagine spending an entire year hanging off the side of a wall with a rope, just looking and touching the surfaces of the rock? I know I can’t. Eventually Tommy created a route he thought might be possible. Kevin Jorgensen joined Tommy’s passion project, and they spent the next six years attempting that route. Six more years! 

Kevin admitted that he could never tell if they were wasting their time or doing something grand. He lived with that uncertainty for six years, but kept going back to that mountain hoping to accomplish their goal.  During those years with thousands of failed attempts, the only indicator of their progress was that they were still there to see another day. When they weren’t on the wall, they were back at home training for the climb. 

In 2015, Tommy and Kevin were the first people ever to free climb the Dawn Wall, making history and an incredible story for a documentary. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must watch (https://www.netflix.com/title/81004270)

Their story inspired me to continue doing the work that matters to me, regardless of how long I take to accomplish my goals. 

Lyn Manuel Miranda is another example of someone whose work took years to complete. Lyn Manuel spent a year writing one song in Hamilton. One year for one song. It then took him five more years to write the play. I wonder if he could tell whether he was wasting his time or doing something grand. Regardless, he kept at it. He took his time and trusted the process. He continued doing the work that mattered to him. And he came up with Hamilton, one of the most brilliant Broadway musicals of all time.

These are just two examples of people who focused on one thing. They committed years of their life on their work despite no guarantees of greatness. Yet in both cases what they produced was extraordinary. 

It got me thinking of being “productive.” We live in a fast-paced busy society, juggling a thousand responsibilities and commitments. Over time, it’s easy to develop that habit of always being on the go. And we buy into this notion that the more we do, the more productive we are. But we fail to recognize that some projects have their process. They take time and require patience. They need room for error and correction. The only way to complete these projects is if we’re willing to delay gratification; even during those moments when we can’t tell if we’re wasting our time!

A Moment of Clarity

Even if you don’t feel like you are being productive today, you could be we producing something great for tomorrow. Keep working on your greatness!

Pick Your Pitch

My eight-year-old Justin, plays in a baseball league. He has a practically perfect, beautiful swing—a swing that when executed properly could rip a home run. And yet he often fails to make contact with the ball. It used to be because he wasn’t keeping his eye on the ball. Eventually he realized that he couldn’t swing and pray that the ball the pitcher threw would magically meet the barrel of his bat. He had to focus on where the ball was and adjust upward or downward. He was the one responsible for making contact and increasing his chances to get on base. 

Then something interesting happened. He’d swing at everything, no matter where it went. The problem with that is that some pitches are bad pitches. 

One evening after a game, Justin walked toward the car with his head down because he’d struck out. His dad patted his son’s head. “You have to pick your pitch, son.”  

He explained that part of the process of keeping your eye on the ball is knowing when to adjust and when not to swing. “I know you’re excited to make contact with the ball. But if it’s a bad pitch, you waste a swing and increase your chances of striking out when you could have waited for a better pitch.” 

At the very next game, Justin hit two doubles and a triple. He’d applied the lessons his father had taught him and was reaping the results. Unfortunately, our six-year-old did not have the same luck. He is on the same team as his brother. He stepped up to the plate and when the ball came flying toward him, he held his swing. At the next pitch, he swung and missed. Strike. Then he held his swing again. After a few pitches, the coach told him, “Ryan, this is your fifth swing. You HAVE to swing, no matter what.” Ryan swung and fowled off, but he didn’t understand that he’d met his pitch count according to the rules of the league and could no longer wait for a good pitch. On the next throw, he held his swing and was called “Out!”

He cried his way to the dugout. “I did what dad told me to do.” He said, tears streaming down his eyes. Although he was following the right principle, he didn’t understand that the principle has its limits. There are only so many times you can wait for the right pitch before you have to swing even if its not the perfect pitch. 

That fine line is just as difficult to master in our businesses as it is in baseball. 

Sometimes we think our product, offering, or service is so good we can sit and wait for the customers to find us. But customers and clients don’t magically appear on our doorstep. Having a good product or service isn’t enough.  Being good at what we do isn’t enough. We have to adjust our sales pitches and our marketing efforts to speak the same language as our potential customers. We have to focus on their wants, needs and struggles instead of thinking our work or talent speaks for itself. That’s how we keep our eye on the ball in business. It requires a deep understanding of our business, our clients, and the outcomes we’re looking for. 

As for picking our pitches, we are often so hungry that we say “yes” to every business opportunity and every client we come in contact with, even if they’re not a good fit. We eat the marshmallow. (If you don’t know what that means, click here).  We overlook that we are not engaging with the ideal customers or that our clients are underpaying for our services because we desperately want the sale. This can create a vicious cycle in our businesses where we’re working too much for too little. A dangerous business model that ultimately results in unhappy customers and frustrated business owners. What’s worse is that if you kept your eye on the ball and were patient, the right pitch could increase your chances of hitting a home run. But there are moments when we have to swing. When the bills are due, or we have to prove ourselves, or we need exposure, sometimes we have to go for it even if it’s not the perfect opportunity. 

Like most things, the answer is in the middle. Keeping our eye on the ball and knowing when to hit versus when to hold is an art, not a science.  You will strike out from time to time. You will swing when you shouldn’t and you will hold when you could’ve swung. And sometimes you’ll lose sight of the ball. But no matter how often you strike out, the only way you’ll improve is if you keep showing up to the game and stepping up to the plate. The more you do, the better you’ll get at picking your pitch. 

A Moment of Clarity

When thinking about your business, always keep these two simple rules from baseball in mind:

Keep your eye on the ball. 

Pick your pitch. 

What if you could…

Have you ever had a big dream or idea? One that lights you up inside when you think about it. You might get carried away while all the possibilities fluttering in your mind get bigger and bigger. But then you come back to reality and remember the bills you have to pay, the kids you have to raise, and the deadlines you have to meet. And then of course, the quickest way to reign in those fantasies is with the very real notion that you could fail.  Before you know it you’ve tucked those wild thoughts neatly into the if only I could compartment of your brain.

Last week I took my kids to the circus. No, not the big giant Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (that one closed down). I’m talking about a small circus in a round, pop-up tent on an open field in the middle of our local Kendall Town and Country mall. We know this area for its movie theater, restaurants and shops, but hearing of a traveling circus appearing in the middle of it seemed random. And yet there it was.

A little circus that had big dreams. 

At least that’s what Kevin Venardos, the ringmaster and creator of that American circus, said in his opening act. He spoke to the kids in the audience and encouraged them to follow their dreams, even if they are mocked or bullied, and even when it seems impossible. Venardos showed us how he dreamed of owning a circus and willed it into existence.  

Talented performers, inspiring words, great music, and a sense of joy and happiness made for a spectacular Sunday outing with our family. I was most impressed by learning that the performers who wowed the audience were the same people who set up the tent, collected tickets at the front door, sold popcorn during intermission, and cleaned up when the show was over. Within their team of fifteen people, there was no such thing as “that’s not my job.”  Every one of those performers has to pitch in and wear different hats to bring this event to life. That’s the price they pay for doing what they love. And seeing how they do it with pride, joy, and determination is a lesson for all of us. 

This is a business that started from the ground up with just an idea and a team that was willing to put in the time, energy, and work to make it happen. They believed in themselves before anyone else believed in them. They struggled, made mistakes, and overcame obstacles. Venardos started with one show in one year… and now is making appearances in over 40 states. Maybe that’s why he coined his circus “the little circus that could.”  Because Venardos and his team are willing to do what others may not be willing to do, they are succeeding, growing, and realizing their dreams.

So now I ask you: What if you could start that business or do that thing that makes your imagination sing? What if you could will your dreams into existence?

Would you? 

Would you be willing to believe in yourself before anyone else does?

Would you be willing to put in the sweat and tears?

Would you be willing to do what others are not willing to do? 

A Moment of Clarity

The next time an idea or dream rents space in your head, instead of thinking if only I could, think what do I have to do, to turn those dreams into reality. 

Successful people are willing to do things that unsuccessful people are not willing to do. – Joachim de Posada

Before you delete another email, Read This!

Email inboxes have become another annoying source of clutter in our lives, requiring management and strategic planning to tackle them. Although removing the noise from our inboxes stops the mental overwhelm, I’ve discovered there are some emails you should never DELETE.

I recently attended the funeral of a ninety-four-year-old woman. I didn’t know her personally but she was my friend, David Altshuler’s mother. David’s son, Ellery, was the first speaker to deliver the eulogy. He seemed like a nice, educated and articulate young man.  

I thought it was quirky that Ellery referred to his grandmother by her actual name, Thelma. People don’t normally call their grandmothers by their first name. But after a few sentences escaped his lips, I knew there was nothing ordinary about this grandmother.

I quickly discovered that Thelma was an excellent writer with high standards and that she was always available to help Ellery with his school papers. She was a highly educated and successful woman. I expected to hear all about her accolades and accomplishments, which I gathered were significant.

But Ellery’s speech went in a different direction.

He took us all on a journey of Thelma’s life by reading emails she wrote to him dating back to 2004. Every email on its own might have seemed unremarkable and insignificant, but coupled with Ellery’s commentary and the context he provided, each one brought the audience closer to his grandmother. This was Ellery’s way of showing us who Thelma really was.

Ellery mentioned how he and Thelma enjoyed literary realism. He referenced a few books and noted how those authors reminded you of the profundity found in everyday life. He did an outstanding job at displaying the depth of his relationship with his grandmother by allowing us to peek into their ordinary, yet hilarious, string of email exchanges.  

Instead of hearing about her awards and recognition, we learned about her constant battle with her printer and its toner, her obsession with compression socks and free parking, and her keen ability to complete the New York Times crossword puzzles.

Suddenly I felt so connected to this woman I didn’t know.  Her brilliance, her zest for life, and her love of literature, music, art, and humanity mesmerized me. Her independence and character inspired me. And the special relationship she formed with a boy sixty-nine years younger than her left me in awe.  She was more than his grandmother; she was his best friend.

By the time Ellery finished reading their email exchanges, Thelma had become my friend, too. She was exactly the kind of old lady I aspire to be.

At the end of Ellery’s speech, he spoke about how much he would miss Thelma. His head dropped a little lower and his shoulders slumped a little more. “I had Thelma in my life for my first twenty-five years, but I’ll live the rest of my life without her.”

He’s wrong about that.

Connections like the one Ellery and Thelma had are not lost or broken by death or distance. She influenced his life in a way that will manifest itself in every aspect of Ellery’s life until he dies. Plus, Ellery has something precious; He has the gift of his grandma’s written words.

Thelma’s emails were just like the postcards my dad sent me. She established a form of communication with her grandson and then communicated with him consistently. Through her emails, she stayed present in Ellery’s life no matter where he lived or what stage of life he was in. Some of my favorite emails involved questions Thelma asked Ellery regarding sports.

“She asked me about sports even though she didn’t care about them,” Ellery noted, “just to meet me where I was at.”  

Unknowingly, Thelma took part in the postcard promise.  And because Ellery never deleted those emails, his inbox became a box of postcards.  Even though she is no longer physically present, Thelma will always be with Ellery even when she’s not.

I met Ellery after the service and told him how moved I was by his eulogy. I also shared with him my personal experience with my dad’s postcards and how even now, three years after he passed, I can pick a postcard from the bunch and his words are still relevant and meaningful.

“Thank you so much for telling me that,” he said. “I didn’t delete my grandmother’s emails out of laziness and now it feels like a streak of genius. Even though I’m sad that she died, I feel so connected to her.”

I can’t emphasize it enough. Write to your loved ones! Whether it’s postcards, letters, emails, or post-it notes, written words are powerful, even when they appear insignificant at the moment.

That evening I returned home from the funeral and this is how the conversation with my husband went.

Orlando: How was the funeral?

Me: It was amazing! I am so inspired.

Orlando: You realize this is not how this conversation should go right?

Me: What do you mean?

Orlando: Caro, funerals aren’t amazing. They’re sad.  You’re insane.

Me: Well, you haven’t been to Thelma’s funeral!

A Moment of Clarity

The next time you’re sorting through your inbox and removing all the clutter, make sure you stop before deleting emails from the people you love. Create a folder for them; Archive them; But don’t delete them. It may seem like you’re being lazy now…but one day it might just be a streak of genius.

One Thing You Have to do to be Successful

I took my middle son, Justin, to a chess tournament recently. We sat in the waiting room until they posted the pairings on the wall. When we looked up his name, instead of showing an opponent, the line read: Justin Rodriguez – see Director. 

We rushed over to the Director’s table and asked what was wrong. 

“Oh, Justin gets an automatic win for this round,” she said with a smile. 

“Why?” Justin asked. 

“Because we have an odd number of players and you were the oddball in the pairing. There is another child registered to play, but he hasn’t arrived yet, so you get the point. You got lucky, buddy. Now sit tight until the next round.”

As we walked back to the waiting room, Justin’s shoulders slumped and his eyes looked at the floor. 

“What’s wrong, Justy?” I raised his chin to look into his eyes. 

“That’s not a real win, mom.” he pouted. “I want to play. I want to earn my point, not just get one for no reason.”

There is no better feeling than that of real accomplishment- being able to connect your reward to your hard work. 

The same goes for the public. No one wants to hear a story of victory because the main character got lucky. We want conflict and transformation; a hero’s journey. Otherwise, it’s not as attractive. 

Have you ever been talking about someone who landed a big client, whose social media post went viral, or who was discovered in some random way, and then the other person says,  “Well, she got lucky because…” 

It reduces merit the person may have had. 

And yet secretly, we all hope for a lucky break once in a while. A bit of luck could make life a lot easier. And even though we are quick to discredit someone for having it, a part of us whispers, “I wish that were me.”

I sat down next to my son, “You know why you got that win, Justin?” 

“No,” his eyes narrowed at me.

“Because you showed up.” 

He looked at me confused. 

“Half the battle is just showing up, son. Yes, luck was on your side in the pairings, but what’s important is that you came prepared, on time, and ready to play. The other kid didn‘t. That‘s how life works. Remember, you still have four games to play, so you still have a lot of work to do. Enjoy this small victory and use the extra time to prepare for the next game.”

This is an important lesson for all of us. 

I attended a Mary Kay party once and the woman hosting it talked to her guests about the business, the products, and the lifestyle. One attendee commented to the saleswoman, “I’ve known many people who have gotten into the multi-level marketing world, and most of them have failed. Why do you think this happens?” 

“Most of them stop showing up,” she said. “This line of work takes time, effort, and persistence and most people don’t feel like showing up over and over again.” 

The same goes for writers, athletes, entrepreneurs, and anyone else.  Be consistent with your efforts. Stay in the game.  Show up over and over and over again. That may mean having the discipline to write, train, work, or network even when you don‘t feel like it. Or it may mean putting your work out into the world even when you’re afraid of failure. 

If the Universe happens to throw you a bone, enjoy it. It doesn’t make your success any less meaningful. After all, by showing up you put yourself in a position for luck to find you. 

A Moment of Clarity

The one thing you have to do to be successful in life and business is to keep showing up. 

Show up so much that luck knows where to find you. 

Living With a New Truth

In our home we celebrate Christmas. For many years I struggled with the “Santa” tradition. A part of me enjoyed that my kids believed in Santa and all the magic that came along with it. But another part of me didn’t want to lie to them. I had no problem finding out the truth about Christmas when I was young, but a friend of mine was deeply scarred by it and it took a long time for her to trust her parents again. She vowed to never mislead her future children. I wondered what it would look like when my kids found out. Not only did they believe in Santa, but they also believed the magical Elf on the Shelf moves around the house and travels to the North Pole every evening. 

Would they feel betrayed? Would they stop trusting us? Will they be devastated? 

Nonetheless I played along, postponing the inevitable. Until January of this year. We were attending my oldest son’s developmental workshop in the University of Miami. (Click here if you haven’t read that inspiring series) 

 Justin, my middle child who had just turned seven, told me he needed to speak to me in private. 

We went off to the side, and I knelt down to meet my son at eye level. 

“Mommy” he looked away. “I don’t think I believe in Santa or God.”  My heart stopped. I wasn’t prepared to have this conversation. I needed to buy some time. 

“What does your heart tell you, Justy?” 

“My heart tells me to believe Mommy, but my brain is interfering with my heart.”  Stay calm, Caro, I told myself. We were in the middle of an event and I didn’t want to have this conversation without my husband there. But I knew it was time to tell Justin the truth. 

“Justy, we’ll talk about this today but we need to wait until we get home so we can speak in private. Is that okay?” 

Justin nodded. 

“I don’t want you to talk to your brothers about this, either. This is between you, mommy and daddy.” 

“Okay mommy.” 

I kissed his cheek and stroked his sweet, innocent face. I almost cried. 

I found Orlando in the crowd and told him what had happened. “We have to tell him tonight,” I said. Orlando agreed. 

Justin, true to his promise, didn’t mention anything for the rest of the evening. When we finally arrived home, we put the other boys to bed. Justin, his dad and I locked ourselves in my bedroom and sat on the bed. 

We had a beautiful conversation about Santa and the elves. We told Justin that now that he knew the truth, he had become one of Santa’s helpers, and it was his job to pass the magic on to his brothers who still believed. We explained the difference between Santa and God and our thoughts on both. (I will not share the God conversation in this post for brevity, but if you are interested in knowing what that conversation looked like, let me know in the comments and I will write a separate blog about it.)

In August of this year, Orly started a new school. Because he was entering the fourth grade, we were afraid that the kids in the new school would spoil Christmas for him and we wanted him to hear the news from us, not anyone else. So a few days before his first day of school, we sat down with him and had the same conversation we’d had in January with Justin. Orly was dumbfounded. Unlike his brother, he was unsuspecting. What hurt him the most was discovering that the elf wasn’t real. He loved his elf. It had become his friend, and he trusted it. He was crushed to learn that it wasn’t magical.  I wondered if we had made the right decision in creating this fantasy for our kids only to shatter their reality later. 

On Thanksgiving morning, I was busy preparing for our dinner when Orly called me over to his room. “Mom!” He whispered. “Where are the elves?” 

“Oh, Um, they’re put away.” I had forgotten that the elves arrive on Thanksgiving Day. 

“Well, you need to go get them mom. Ryan will be waiting for them!” 

I sneaked over to their secret hiding spot, took them out of the box and handed them to my son. Orly called out for Justin and together they ran off to conspire on what they would do with the elves to surprise their baby brother. A new season had begun in our home. 

For weeks I’ve seen the big brothers create the same magical experience for their little brother as we created for them. They’ve been intentional about the words they use and the actions they take. Orly has been particularly mindful about helping me with the elves. I am amazed at how fun it’s been to team up with my kids this year.  

I was talking with Justin the other day and I asked him how he felt about all that had happened. 

Justin shrugged his shoulders as he confessed,  “At first I felt a little betrayed that you guys had lied. But mom, now that I’ve seen the look on Ryan’s face when he wakes up to those elves, I understand why you did it for us.” 

“Are you enjoying the year as much now that you’re in the know?” I asked. 

“I’m actually enjoying it even more!” He smiled. 

It still pains Orly that his elf isn’t what he thought he was. But even so I’ve been so proud of how gracefully he’s behaved. His disappointment has not affected the excitement he’s had in making this time special for his little brother. He found a new way to experience the joy of Christmas. 

I no longer question whether what we did was right or wrong. I realized that because my boys lived the magic, they can now create that magic for someone else. 

The magical moments they experienced growing up were very much real to them in the moment. And that is how we should all live, isn’t it? In the moment.  Change doesn’t take away the experience, it creates the space for new experiences. We may believe something to be true for us today that isn’t true for us tomorrow. That’s okay. It’s part of our journey. We evolve, we learn, and we adapt to our new reality. If you look back, you‘ll realize that each experience and every belief is training you for what’s coming next in your life. It will help you lead others and serve others in a new capacity. It stops being about you, and it becomes about them. I learned this lesson as a parent, and my boys learned it as big brothers. No matter how many things change, we can find the beauty, the joy, and the magic in the next stage of our journey. Life is all about how you choose to look at it. It can be wonderful, even if it’s different from what you once knew. 

A Moment of Clarity

 First you live the magic, then you create it. 

The Middle Years

Our family celebrated my husband’s grandparents’ 65th wedding anniversary. Their daughters honored them with a ceremony and reception, surrounded by all of their family and friends, to fulfill their dream of getting married by the church. After sixty-five years of civil union, our grandparents stood at the altar choosing to love each other and take care of each other once again. 

Witnessing a happy old couple holding hands, giving each other a tender kiss or renewing their vows after many years of marriage is inspiring. A sign of lives well lived and two people who, together, have made it to the top of the mountain—encouraging those that follow behind them that they too can enjoy a long-lasting, meaningful relationship. 

A new marriage is also emotive. It’s beautiful to see two people who found each other and committed to building their life together. As we celebrate their nuptials, we hope that they will become the happy old couple at the top of the mountain.

These are the picture-perfect moments; the Hallmark cards of life, representing all that is good and beautiful. 

But what must the newly married do to become the happy old couple? They must endure the middle years!

As we admire old couples or encourage young ones, we gloss over the middle years—the period of raising children, pursuing careers, and trying to make ends meet while saving for retirement. Couples struggle with finding their way as a unit while preserving their identity as an individual. We grow tired of each other or our marriages become stale, giving rise to disillusion or infidelity. We get wrapped up in commitments, financial pressures, and demands of daily life. Our dreams and goals often get set aside to push our children‘s futures forward. 

It’s such a chaotic time that eventually it blends together in our memories. It‘s easy during this time for couples to stop looking at each other lovingly, holding hands or giving each other tender kisses. Getting lost in the middle years makes it difficult for the marriage to survive, not to mention that illness or death can strip couples from enjoying their relationship into old age. Like everything in life, it takes a certain level of luck and a lot of good choices during those middle years to reach the top of the marital mountain. 

That is why celebrating a 65th wedding anniversary is so meaningful. The old couple survived the middle years and lived to tell the tale. 

I once wrote an open letter to a newly married couple sharing five principles to help them along their journey. What I was offering them were the tools to overcome the challenges of the middle years. They are simple suggestions but that doesn‘t mean they‘re easy. If you are a newly married couple or wrapped up in the in-between, I encourage you to read that post by clicking here. 

With only twelve years under our belts, my husband and I are in the midst of the middle years, working together to climb our mountain. In the past I’ve written about choices we’ve made as a couple and rough patches we’ve encountered in our marriage. We’ve navigated through changes in our career and employment, the illness and death of a parent, and many other struggles that we’ve confronted along the way. But we’ve done our part to enjoy the journey, sort though the mess, and never stop holding hands. So far, our imperfectly perfect marriage is going strong. 

True commitment, good choices, and a little luck can produce magnificent results in marriage and in life. 

Watching the joy in our grandparents’ faces as they shared their special day with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren was priceless. A true success story, worthy of emulating.  As my husband, three kids and I stood by our grandparents’ side, I prayed that that would be us one day. 

A Moment of Clarity

No matter how special it is to witness a new couple tie the knot or an old couple renew their vows, never forget success happens in the middle years. 

‘Tis the Season of Overwhelm

I envision the holiday season as a dreamy and peaceful time where I get to make gingerbread houses and bake cookies with my boys, watch Christmas movies in our matching holiday pajamas and ride bike around the park. 

But as soon as December hits, real life quickly sets in with massive traffic congestion, promotional email overload, and trying to tie loose ends before we wrap up the year. Add to that, massive shopping, constant holiday parties, and keeping up with what to bring on what day to my kids’ schools. Meanwhile, as I’m trying to keep my head above water, every blog post, commercial and podcast is reminding me to be mindful, present, and in the true spirit of the holidays. The only spirit I’m in is the one of exhaustion. 

Sound familiar? 

This December crept up on me. I was supposed to have my book finished by now, but I’m still working on the final edits. Two of my sons are performing in plays in theaters on opposite ends of town. What were we thinking?

Between drop offs and pick-ups, school, work, lunches, homework, Iready, sending out Christmas cards, buying gifts and remembering to move the elves every night, I’m hanging on by a thread! 

I’m pretty sure the holidays aren’t supposed to be this stressful, but the consensus from everyone I talk to is that we’re all feeling overwhelmed.  But I’ve come to a conclusion: this is totally our fault. 

I’m not saying we don’t have a lot on our plates, or that the stress isn’t real. But the reason we feel overwhelmed isn’t because of what we have to do, it’s because of the value we attach to all that we have to do.  

We place so much importance on our to-do list and don‘t realize that in the scheme of things, much of our pressure is self-imposed and insignificant. We worry that others will judge us or that not doing something makes us a failed parent, spouse, employee, boss, or person. That stress steals the joy out of the things we actually want to do. 

And the craziest part about it is that despite the chaos, it’s over before we know it. Soon we’ll long for that time again with the same romantic goggles we had before it started! A friend of mine said the other day, “It’s hard but I’m sure I’m living the best years of my life.”  I don’t want to miss “living” the best years of my life because I’m stressing to-do items I’ve overvalued. 

So here’s the deal. Things will never be perfect. My blog this week was a day late, my book won’t be released until after January, and by the year-end I’ll still have loose ends I didn’t resolve.  I choose whether to beat myself up for the things I haven’t done, or honor the things I have accomplished. 

There is always a choice in how you look at things. 

So if you’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, take a hard look at how much value you’re putting on all the miscellaneous things you’ve added to your plate. Are they to-dos you want to do or have to do? Do they all need to get done? What would life look like if you didn’t do them? Would it matter a year from now? How about 10 years from now? If this were your last holiday season ever, how would you spend it? 

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll know what things to put the most value on during this December. And for the rest of it, cut yourself some slack. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s good enough.

A Moment of Clarity

The reason we feel overwhelmed isn’t because of what we have to do, it’s because of the value we attach to all that we have to do.

An Extra Seat at the Table

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, we are all getting ready for the biggest feast of the year.  You might be following your timeline to ensure your turkey defrosts on time, or searching through Pinterest boards for those last-minute table decorations. All the planning and prepping to make sure everything comes out just right can be overwhelming.  It‘s easy to lose sight of what really matters — that this is a time of togetherness, sharing, and giving thanks. 

Several years ago we hosted Thanksgiving at our townhouse. There were twenty people on our guest list, which was about as much as our limited space could handle. On that Thursday, we were busy cleaning and decorating our home. Orlando had brined the turkey for a couple of days and the appetizers, sides, and desserts were all done. We’d set up two long portable tables in our dining room and put away the kids’ toys and unnecessary furniture. It was tight, but it looked pretty. In the midst of the party planning commotion, I received a call from my friend Joana. 

“Hey there!” I said. “Are you ready for Thanksgiving?” 

“No, I’m not,” she replied solemnly.  Joana had planned to attend her family’s Thanksgiving celebration, but that morning she discovered that a few of her staff had no place to go. She immediately called her aunt who was hosting the feast. Joanna explained the situation and asked if she could bring a few extra friends to the party. 

“I’m sorry,” her aunt told her over the phone. “But I already set everything up. I‘ve accounted for every seat and made place cards for each one. I’ve tried so hard on making this an intimate, family dinner and it would throw everything off to invite strangers.”

Joanna understood but didn’t want to leave those people stranded during the holidays. She called me to ask if she could join us instead. 

Orlando and I had to think about it for a minute.  We, too, had every seat accounted for in our tiny townhouse and we didn’t know the people she was asking to take. But we trusted Joana, and we knew if it was significant for her to find a place for these people to have Thanksgiving, then there must be a good reason for it. 

So we answered yes. 

Our home got pretty crowded that evening. My cousin brought an extra small turkey to make sure we had enough food and some of us ate sitting on the couch to make room for our new guests. With a few minor adjustments, everything worked out. 

What I learned that day was that no one cared if there was a beautifully decorated place setting for every guest, if our space was too small, or if they had to have a smaller portion of sweet potato casserole. Everyone was happy and everybody felt welcomed.  Joana was grateful to spend the night with her friends and the crew she cared so much about, and we all had a lovely time getting to know our surprise guests. 

It became the most memorable Thanksgiving we’ve ever had… and the one we talk about most fondly. That’s how life is. The moments we most treasure are usually perfectly imperfect. 

So don’t sweat the small stuff. When you live life with open arms and an open heart, there is abundance, beauty and joy in everything.

A Moment of Clarity

Many of us are blessed with family, friends, and a great support system—but many are not. Sometimes the most generous gesture you can make is to make room at your table for that extra person who would otherwise feel left out or insignificant. This is significant at work, at home and in social gatherings, and it is crucial to teach our future generation. 

You Are Enough

It feels like just yesterday I sat on my rocking chair, holding my baby in my arms while he nursed.  I spent countless hours sitting on that chair, and it was there that I read The Gift of an Ordinary Day. Something about how that mother expressed herself moved me. I savored her words and her wisdom. I didn’t want to be like her—I longed to write like her.

She was one of the many authors who inspired me to put pen to paper. And so I did.

For a long time I only kept my thoughts in my private diary. At some point I mustered the courage to start my blog, knowing full well my only loyal reader might be my mom. But I wrote anyway.

Last month I shared a piece of my upcoming book with a group of women. When I finished reading, one woman looked at me and said, “You don’t know this about me, but I’ve always been passionate about writing. I even took a writing class once and my professor told me I had real talent. But between work and the kids, I haven’t written in years. Your words have inspired me to write again.”

It never dawned on me that my words could influence someone the way others influenced me.  But I put them out there, anyway.

Although that woman’s comment was one of the biggest compliments I’d ever received, that is not the reason I write.

I write because of the three baby boys I held in my arms and rocked in my chair. I don’t know how long I’ll be on this Earth, but when I’m gone, I want to give my sons the gift my words. I want them to see my perspective and my interpretation of life. I want them to understand what a privilege it was for me to raise them and love them. I want them to learn my struggles and fears and how I overcame challenges. I want them to know I will always be there with them, even when I’m not.

What about you? Do you yearn to write but are afraid that your message won’t resonate with others? Write anyway. Have you read someone else’s work and think yours will never be that good? Write anyway. Are you afraid you’re not creative enough or wise enough?  Write anyway.

Start by keeping a private diary, or by creating a blog. Or there may be a book burning inside you — so write it. Whether your work touches one person or one million is irrelevant. You are the only one who can share your message and that will make it all worth it.

Tell your story and leave your mark on the world.

A Moment of Clarity

The only true failure of an aspiring writer is to leave their story untold.

 

*This post was inspired by the first writing contest I’ve ever participated in. Thank you, Positive Writer, for inspiring writers to encourage other writers.