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How Do I Fit This In?

How Do I Fit This In?

Once fulltime work is in the rearview mirror, getting the things you want done personally should be easier, right? If you want to do a certain thing, you just use your time on that, and ta da! you accomplish it.  That’s not been my experience with the freedom we’re blessed with in retirement. There’s a lot more room for waffling at this stage of the game and some very good reasons that keep the productivity level low.  That piece of this puzzle is a big challenge for me.  Especially at the moment.

I am a writer.  I need to write.  I know that.  I want to do that.  Earlier in retirement, I wrote first thing in the morning.  Once I had the “important work” done, I could do whatever I wanted with the rest of the day.  I got a lot of writing done that way.  But I was seeing my life through the old “career” lens–where work trumps everything else and automatically claimes the top of the list–and, for me, the top of the morning.

I’m finally growing past that, and it’s creating an unexpected frustration.  I want to live each moment of the day well instead of focusing on what I accomplish as the measure of the day’s success now.  That’s positive, but it’s creating a negative ripple with my writing.  I do other things first in the morning now–things that nurture me at the soul level and that I need to do then.  Things that let me start the day with myself squarely in the center of it.  That means I need to fit writing into a different part of the day.  I haven’t been doing so well at that.

I’ve also discovered that I need a much larger dose of fun than I’ve existed on in the past.  (That’s the absolute best way to “live the Now.”)  That means I’m likely to be doing social things rather than writing in the evening far more often.   (This week, that has been the case four days straight.) Before, I would write in the evening and get even more done.  That’s not the case anymore either.

So how do I find a new routine that gives me what I need for my writing?

Just telling myself to do it the old way doesn’t work–that’s a big step backward.  And not bothering to find that new writing routine isn’t an option either–I am not a happy person when I don’t write.

I’m still figuring this out, but some interesting pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place in the last couple days.  I’ve been ignoring an important clue.  I’ve noticed there are parts of my day that are empty and/or boring.  Time spent watching TV news programs for example.  I can keep abreast of what’s going on in the world without ingesting two minutes of ads for every minute of content.  So the time I have been using for the news can be for writing.

I’ve also noticed another void later in the evening.  I’ve thrived on 7 hours of sleep since I was a teenager.  Some medical expert said you really need to get at least 8, so I decided I needed to do that.  Every night, I tell myself it’s time for bed. ThenI  diddle around doing not-much-of-anything for that “extra” hour rather than really using it.  That particular hour may not be fore writing, but doing something relevant then will free up time at some other point in the schedule.  I’ve just caught on to this search for the “empty spaces.”  I suspect I will find more.

Plus I can now see that it’s wise to look at the intensity of my commitment when I am writing.  There’s writing and there’s writing….just like there’s skiing and skiing!  If I am on fire with what I’m doing, I am going to use the time I do have a lot better.

That intensity is also likely to motivate me to “find time” every day that’s beyond what I set aside for writing on a routine basis.  Doing that is probably every bit as much a part of living the Now as opting for fun whenever I can.

I’m finally gaining on this!  To live retirement well, I don’t want to get too locked in.  But I don’t want my life falling out all over the place because I don’t have the structure I need either.  I want to be flexible–but not derelict.  That means coming up with new ways of getting what I want done without stamping out the progress I’m making on living in the moment.

Stay tuned.

 

Get In (or Out) of the Habit…

Get In (or Out) of the Habit…

Recently a friend insisted I read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. What a good friend.  Duhigg deciphers the eternal question of why we do what we do as habit–and translates the physiology and psychology of it into language we can all use to make sense of our lives.

For starters, we can’t totally get rid of those bad habits.  Just willing ourselves not to do that thing anymore usually doesn’t make that change happen for the rest of our lives.  Sometimes, the attempt fails from the get-go.  And when you do pull it off initially, quite often you find yourself right back in the old habit when things get stressful.  (“Mom isn’t doing well with this surgery.  I need a cigarette just this one time….”  Or “Work is insane, and I’ve done a great job of getting rid of that 15 pounds.  I can have a donut….”  We can’t erase old habits, but we can modify them.  Duhigg clarifies that distinction and demonstrates how.

When we get to the point we can “give up work,” habits can become particularly frustrating.  The ones that structured our lives for the sake of doing the job are no longer needed.  Those good habits don’t go away either.  Sometimes, they turn into not-so-good habits in the new context.  During your career years, work came first.  You’re used to getting things done on the job before anything fun even hits the radar.  If you’re giving whatever you’ve substituted for that work the same kind of priority, you’re going to find yourself cleaning the garage on a glorious spring day instead of taking your golfing buddy up on a spontaneous round.  Same deal with fun.  If you’re used to going to the casino every Friday night as entertainment because it was what helped you unwind after the work week, you might be ruling out things that would be even more fun for Friday night because you’re coming from habit instead of conscious choice. (And you may be missing out on fun that happens at the casino venue on other nights of the week.)

Habits help us do what we want to get done.  They are formed and perpetuated in a different part of the brain than conscious choices.  They are far more automatic.  Once in place, you can count on them.  They happen even when you have gotten into one of those maddening “indecision interludes” when even deciding which pair of socks to put on in the morning results in second and third guesses.  Good habits help create the “Good Life” when you’ve retired and the whole day (and week and month and year) is up to you.

We have learned an amazing amount about what happens physically to create a habit.  There’s also a huge body of work about the psychology of human motivation that comes into play.  Duhigg explains all of that well, and it’s worth the time to read just for that.  But he also addresses what most of us really want to know:  How can I have better luck dealing with my own habits–both the bad ones I want to change and the good ones I want to add?

We are all “creatures of habit.”  Willpower enters into the equation, but so does knowing what triggers the behavior and why you find it rewarding.   You can change things more effectively if you understand the process and the pieces of the puzzle.  Duhigg didn’t write the book just for the retirement scenario.  But when we get to making that transition, paying attention to our habits and tweaking them to serve us better in the new territory is a major plus.  If you want to address that challenge, The Power of Habit might make it a lot easier.

 

Fitting “Work” in Retirement

Fitting “Work” in Retirement

We’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater when we decide retirement means totally giving up work. Giving up the commute, the office curmudgeon, nasty customers, demanding bosses, and the overall stress level of a typical fulltime job certainly makes sense.  But that’s different than giving up work.

Work is not just doing a job for pay.  Work—sustained effort toward a desired goal–is an essential piece of being happily human.  It connects us to the world, proves we are capable, and makes us think.  Work helps give life both structure and meaning.  We need work—even if we choose not to be employed.

Once you retire, you need to pay a lot closer attention to doing the right work—the work that makes you happy.  During the career years, you often barter that kind of work away for the sake of a betteer paycheck.  You do what the company needs and get paid for spending your time that way.

In retirement, the money you’re living on is there whether you work or not.  That sounds like heaven, but for many retirees it’s the road to decline.  When you don’t have to do anything, deciding what you do want to do can be maddeningly difficult.  So you either start doing everything you find–with little satisfaction because it’s not a good fit–or you do nothing and get more and more depressed because of the emptiness.  Once you get stuck in either of those grooves, it’s hard to get out.  And both set the stage for health problems.

Please believe me. Let go of the notion that you have a right not to have to do any work once you stop going to the office or the shop or the mill.  Think twice before you hire the yard guy and a housecleaning service and start going out to eat every night.  Continuing to do the parts of those kinds of work that bring you joy makes a lot more sense.

To find the right things to put effort into, you need to listen to yourself rather than loved ones, retirement gurus, get-rich-quick experts, or even your spiritual advisor.  Knowing yourself is not a luxury or a New Age bluff at this stage of the game.  If you want to be happy once you retire, you not only need to know what kind of work you get excited about, you need to know how to structure it and how much of it is enough for your personal satisfaction.

Sounds easy but it’s not.  I have wasted years pursuing my writing like I did the jobs I held in corporate America.  That meant I lost steam after a few months on a project, regardless of how excited I was about it when I started because it had become a forced effort rather than a creative adventure.  It took me a long time to learn that when I make writing the ultimate and exclusively important priority, I lose the balance with the rest of what I want in my life now in a matter of a few months.  In retirement, it’s that balance that needs to be central.

Typically we assume the dissatisfied feeling comes from having made the wrong choice about what to do as work.  But be sure it’s not a matter of having relied on an outdated approach to structuring it before you scuttle the whole dream.  If you make everything else wait until it’s done, start with an unrealistically large pile of it every day, and rush to make it all happen—just like the good ol’ career days—you are on the wrong track.  That is not satisfying.

This is our last, best chance to live a balanced life.  Work really does need to be part of it.  But so does play, rest, personal adventure, spending time with the grandkids, sitting with a sick friend, learning to ride a bicycle, or whatever else beckons to you.  If you go at the work you choose as if you were back on the job, you gobble the time you need for the  other things.  To get it right at this stage of the game, you need to come up with a way to structure your work time so that it leaves room for the rest.  You need a more comprehensive priority scheme that includes everything that’s important to you in how you plan your day.

Knowing yourself well is the place to start to get this right.  If you haven’t already done it, that’s your first retirement work.  Use Supercharged Retirement or any book that helps you.  Talk to a life coach or other advisor whose opinion you value.  Think quietly, regularly, and carefully about how you want work to fit into your overall blueprint.  Then live that way.

 

Getting Fired

Getting Fired

A month ago I got fired. Not from a job (that’s one of the perks of working for yourself–you get immunity from being fired). No, I got fired from a romantic relationship. Once it happened, it was obvious that doing what I’d been so committed to doing was way off course for me personally. But I had to get fired to learn that.  And that got me thinking about getting fired in general.

Sometimes, the firing really isn’t fair, right, or reasonable.  Those are really hard to get past because the hurt seems so legitimate.  But most of the time, getting fired also means that what you were doing was not a good fit for who you are.  Perhaps it was a matter of skills.  Perhaps it was a matter of personality.  Perhaps it was a matter of motivation.  Perhaps it was a matter of morals (and yours may have been higher than theirs). Regardless, it was a case of a bad fit.

I will not pretend this is easy.  Your ego takes a massive hit, and you may end up asking yourself “Am I good for anything?”  The answer is YES.  And that’s the beauty of getting fired.  That event removes the major obstacle to finding the right place to be…the right work, the right “significant other,” the right group of friends, whatever you got “fired” from.  Getting fired from what really wasn’t a good fit for you gives you a wide open shot at finding what is.

It’s embarrassing to get fired though–especially for those of us who joined the workforce when it was pretty rare and usually the result of flagrantly bad behavior when it did happen.  But embarrassment is temporary and the opportunity that results can make a huge positive difference for the rest of your life.

So back to my own recent firing…

Since that event, I have rediscovered myself in numerous delightful ways.  I have more energy.  I get up excited about the day and spend it trying to make a difference somehow.   I have reconnected with an unexpectedly large number of people I’d lost track of for the sake of “the relationship.”  I am doing things my way and loving the space I’m in as a result.  I am connecting with nature when I am out in it (instead of worrying about “keeping up” or “why isn’t he talking to me?”).  I am more alive.  Far more alive.

That potential resides in every firing-even if it looks bleak beyond words.  Sometimes, the Universe gives us a good swift kick instead of a gentle nudge when it’s time to do something different.  at some point, you will probably find yourself fired.  Be grateful.  It a painful, embarrassing, but incredibly effective shortcut to being something much, much better.

 

Repeat Performance: The Benefit of Experience

Repeat Performance: The Benefit of Experience

This post came down a couple years ago because the spambots would just not leave it alone.   It’s a fun post and we seem to have the spambots at bay–time to put it back in view.  MBL

Last weekend was Oktoberfest at my local fairgrounds. It was a bigger deal than I expected–and a much better good time for me personally than you might have guessed. That Oktoberfest had untold delights.

We got there in the late afternoon when the little kids were still allowed on the premises. (I live in a state that does not allow children at public drinking sites.) The music was already oom-pahing along when we arrived–polkas, waltzes, and, of course, the “duck dance” (which no self-respecting adult would do anywhere else). But the best part about the first two hours was watching the little ones do their thing on the dance floor. When you reach “grandparent” age, little ones having fun are precious no matter whose they are. Their dancing is particularly delightful–even when they are just whirling around or plopped in a heap in the middle.

Then there was the tuba player! A two-time national champion. He was good. And I could notice the difference when he played. I spent eight years in Midwest school bands. You need that much experience to recognize good tuba playing.

It got better. The band doing the next set featured an authentic alpenhorn player–a silver-haired sprite of a woman in a dirndl skirt. How she made 15 feet of wood sound that beautiful was miraculous. She had experience.

Later in the evening yet a different band, billed as “the Dixie Chicks of the button box,” took the stage. They were good, too. In a very different way. They were there for the young adults–who probably didn’t have anywhere NEAR as much respect for the cute little blonde leading the band as I did. She plays “an accordian”–an instrument scorned by legions even in my home state of Wisconsin. But she made it hip. The young dancers had major fun–but so did we. And yes, they played The Duck Dance–also the Hokey Pokey!

Four days later, I’m still thinking about that good time. It was a great reminder of what’s good about getting older. Experience gives you so much more depth for processing and appreciating what’s going on right now. Experience reminds you that what was uncool can become cool. That what seems impossible–like playing sweet haunting notes on a horn designed for goatherds–is indeed possible. It helps you set wider boundaries and build more solid bridges.

And the best part? The older you get the more experience you have to work with! Cool. So go have some fun–and let yourself enjoy all that it reminds you of all over again.

This article was previously posted Oct. 8, 2008 but was removed because of technical problems.

How Ya Doin’ on that Big Dream?

How Ya Doin’ on that Big Dream?

We all have big dreams–things we want more than anything. Most of us don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in a wildfire that we will ever get them. That’s definitely true if we just leave it at “having a big dream.”

Dreams only come true if you get involved in them–not by forcing them into existence but by believing in them.  Achieving your Heart’s Desire is possible, but not by sitting around waiting for it.  And not–like I am prone to do–by flitting from this to that, changing my mind every other week or by forcing myself to keep working on whatever it is I said I wanted when it really doesn’t fit any more.

Sonia Choquette’s book Your Heart’s Desire is a great resource for refining where you are going with this.  In a way it’s a workbook, but even more, it’s a wake-up call.  (It’s not a new book.  It came out in 1997.  But it’s every bit as relevant today as it was on it’s publication date.)

Choquette suggests there are nine principles involved in achieving your Heart’s Desire.  Quibble with the number if you want (I sure did), but don’t argue with the idea that there are things you can do to help yourself have the life you want.

The nine principles:

1.  Bring your dream into focus.  We all think we’ve already done that, but most of us haven’t.  Particularly in terms of retirement, we couch our plans in vague generalities.  “Spend more time with family.”  “Travel abroad.”  Give back.”  These are all going in the right direction–the idea that you are going to do something.  But exactly what is still out there in the fog.  It might take a lot of time and effort to get down to the real needs that are the basis of your Heart’s Desire.  You might even be surprised to learn that what you really want isn’t the thing you’ve been talking about for years.  Until you get to your real needs though, you really aren’t on target.  What’s important to you? What do you want to do about it?

2.  Gain the support of your subconscious mind.   Very often, what our rational minds want deeply and are trying to make happen is undone by the subconscious mind working in reverse.  This happens when you start to think about what you don’t want–because thinking about anything tends to draw it toward you.  Once you’ve refined what you do want, make sure what you are telling yourself is consistent with that.  I want to be a successful fiction writer.  All too often though, I think, “I will just do this one other non-fiction writing project first.”  That’s not a path; it’s a game of hopscotch.  I end up wandering all over the place on a trail that loops back on itself hundreds of different ways because I’m not enlisting my subconscious in getting on with what I really want..

3.  Imagine your Heart’s Desire.  Often, we are so convinced that we won’t get it, don’t deserve it, etc. that we don’t even let ourselves think about it.  But–as Earl Nightengale pointed out decades ago “You become what you think about.”

4.  Eliminate your obstacles.  They are inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you should let them stop you.  Notice the reality of what you are trying to do and deal with it.

5. Be open to intuitive guidance.  Right now, I am trying to settle into a new home.  I’ve been furniture shopping more in the last month than in the last decade.  It’s great fun, but I’ve discovered it’s infinitely more productive if I am listening to my intuition–my direct line to the divine Interior Designer.  Then I find what I really need.

6.  Choose to support your dream with love.  If you don’t nurture yourself, who will?  This is not an act of greed or selfishness.  Loving the real you makes it possible for  you to give the world far more than what you can accomplish by pushing on as a solitary soldier, propelled by a sense of responsibility or competition.

7.  Surrender control.  We spend our career years thinking it’s our job to keep things under control.  But when it comes to reaching your Heart’s Desire, you must have more than that in the picture.  You need to be part of what you want but you also need to let the Universe decide how it’s going to come about.  Really.

8.  Claim your dream.  Finding a few people you trust whom you can talk with about your dream makes a gigantic difference.  Commit to what you want, claim it like a first-born child, and then get on with making it happen–in part by enlisting caring people with whom you can celebrate the milestones and heal from the mistakes.

9.  Stay true to your dream.    It’s the real you, not just something to check off your to do list.  Once you get to it, you aren’t done–you’re started.

 

 

It’s About Time

It’s About Time

I’m in a bar fight with Time right now. I’m not even sure who started it. At the moment, I’m in a big transition—moving to new space in a new area to a house that’s needed significant TLC before I moved in.

So I’ve been painting, cleaning, and  organizing storage areas, plus trying to corral all the stuff I’ve managed to accumulate in the two years I’ve been living where I am now.  All that takes time.  And I want Time to cooperate and give me enough to get it all done–to give me the sense that I have it under control. Time is not hearing a word of that. I am not in control. Nope. Not at all.

Time is not flying; it is evaporating, like needed rain that never gets all the way to the parched desert floor. There “should” be enough time. This move is certainly doable. I have good support from family and friends. I have good resources to call for paid help as needed. But still, I am in this absurd wrestling match with Time.

On the surface, it looks like it’s my own silly fault. This cleaning that I’ve been doing….I’ve gone through three toothbrushes at it…plus a bunch of bamboo skewers…untold numbers of Q-tips…a few toothpicks. I’ve been manic about getting that last bit of gunk out of whatever it is that I’m sprucing up.

There is so much to get done.  And yet I’ve been piddling around with a toothpick trying to get the dirt out of the ridges of a light switch. I’ve painted almost every wall and most of the ceilings of the new place. I’ve replaced the carpeting and refinished the hardwood floors. I’ve been absolutely anal about how I set up the kitchen.

Have I gone over the edge—to where cleanliness is no longer next to godliness but instead has moved into the marginally functional wing of a looney bin? How can I possibly get all the work done if I putz at little things? Why am I fighting with Time like this?

But as I admit this and look more closely, it’s starting to make sense. There is a lot to get done with this move. And I do like to start with things as clean as possible. (Dirt is okay but only if it’s mine.) But this move is one of a kind and involves more than getting my stuff from here to there. When I move, someone I love will remain behind—by choice, but still…. Much of what I take with me will have to be replaced if he wants to be able to cook, clean, eat off a plate, etc. (He’s a guy; he may not….) So this preoccupation with getting things clean was probably a good way to end up with the right pacing.

Is there anything in this insight that’s useful for life in general?

Yeah, I think so.  I’ve always been an exceptionally well-organized person. I have not been like that on this move. Instead of making list after list, I’ve been blindly doing whatever seems to need to get done next. It turns out I have been letting my heart lead instead of my General-Manager-of-the-Universe mind.

Sometimes a list is not the answer. Sometimes, you just have to trust it’s going to work out and keep trudging along, even if what you’re working on seems to be getting a higher priority than it deserves. Sometimes, your hands have a better sense of what must be done than your mind does.

And that’s a good thing to realize at the start of a new year. “Because I’ve always done it this way” is a weak reason not to grow. By now I would be a raving lunatic if I’d have tried to manage this move the way I’ve done them in the past. I would also probably be heartsick and depressed. There are too many layers, too many extenuating circumstances, too much room to cause emotional hurt–to myself or someone else–by steamrollering through this move. What a blessing that I had the chance to piddle around with a toothbrush cleaning up someone else’s microscopic messes.

I haven’t been wrestling with Time after all. We were dancing, and I just didn’t know it.

 

Ending 2013

Ending 2013

We are to that point in the calendar where we officially write THE END on the current year.  Each of us comes up with our own rituals for marking this.  It’s different for me now that I’ve “given up work”–not as straightforward or obvious.

When I was in corporate America, Dec. 31 was my favorite work day–partly because most of the office had taken vacation and I could get a ton of work done.  But every Dec. 31, after everything else was buttoned up, I’d also spend an hour reflecting on the year that was ending.  There were always things to point to that made me proud, excited, happy.  It was a great little ritual because it never occurred to me to dwell on what had gone wrong.  I left the office and walked into the new year with confidence.

Now, I’m not so good at that.  It’s tempting to tell myself that it’s because I haven’t gotten anything done in the dying year that justifies being happy, proud, or excited.

But I can finally see that’s not really what’s going on.  (Thank heavens!)

Once we are out on our own, it’s harder to set a course and stay on it.  That’s one of the side effects of that flexibility retirement blesses us with.  As we age, things tend to get less predictable as well.  Illness or injury quite often, but also opportunities that make us veer off course from the things we said we were going to do.  Two weeks in Mexico with the perfect travel companion?  Of course the volunteer work you were going to find can wait.   A friend with a litter of puppies that have him overwhelmed?  You love puppies–why not help out?

So how do you assess a year once you’ve given up the annual goal setting process at work?  Do you even need to ask “Was this a good year?”

I think we do.  All of us want to be competent and deciding that the year was done well is an example of that.   But the parameters need to change.

Instead of looking at work projects and milestones with kids (graduations, potty training, whatever), at this point we need to ask ourselves more personal questions.  These are the ones I’m going to use day after tomorrow when I end this year:

  • Did I do the things I felt were important?
  • Was I authentic in how I lived this year?
  • Did I offer kindness when I had the chance?
  • What did I create?
  • How did I have fun?
  • If I was starting again on January 1, 2013, what would I do differently?

That last one is just to prime the pump for 2014.  Endings are beginnings after all.  As I close this chapter, I’m laying the foundation for the next one.

It’s not about whether you meet all those goals anymore.  It’s about how well you’ve lived this particular chunk of your life.  Only you know what’s important about that, so find the questions that resonate for you.  And then be happy, excited and proud of all you did with the last twelve months.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

About “Experts”

About “Experts”

How much of what we get from people who call themselves “experts” is truly helpful?  We seem to be in a societal groove that assumes “somebody else knows what I should do here better than I do.”  Is that so?  Is that even realistic to assume is possible?

Last week I did a session for a group of life coaches that billed me as an expert (with my concurrence) on non-financial retirement issues.  I did not feel good about that session.  I’ve been trying to figure out why ever since.  What I am discovering is a surprise–and a relief.  I do not want to play the “expert” role.  I do not like being an expert.  I like helping.  Those two things are different.

There’s an old joke that defines expert is the combination of “ex”–a has-been–and “spurt”–a drip under pressure.  Not very flattering.  And probably true more often not.  Why, as a society, do we value “experts” so highly?

The amount of information now available for any significant decision  makes it impossible to have a complete grasp of exactly what’s needed and how to go about making the right things happen single-handedly.   Finding someone to help sort the situation out–so you working with the best information–and to help identify what needs to be done–decisions, actions, etc.–is a major plus.  That kind of expert is a treasure.  Sometimes you pay those people; sometimes they are family members or friends.

Too often these days though, “experts” jump up to offer services before you even ask.  These “expert” practices are designed more to make them money than to give you help. These are the experts you don’t need.

But how do you winnow out the people offering themselves as “experts” who–well intentioned and personally committed as they might be–really aren’t useful to you in what you’re trying to do?

I keep dancing back and forth on this dilemma.  I don’t like the idea of being an expert.  So that devalues the role for me significantly.  But I also know I need help from people better versed in what I am ignorant about but need to get on with.  Right now, my experts include a plumber, an HVAC guy, the folks who will install carpet next week, my accountant, and my financial advisor.  In a few weeks, that list will also include my sons and brothers–who are far better than I am at getting large pieces of furniture from where I am now to where I am going to live then.  These are practical experts.  No problem using them and paying them as the situation dictates.  (Sometimes that’s money; sometimes it’s “Thank you!”)

But every day I am bombarded with people who want to show me how to grow my business, create a better social media presence, lose weight, etc.  These people approach me–which is the first red flag.  If I don’t know I need the help, using it–even if I do get it once I sign the contract–isn’t likely.

Some other red flags:

Does working with this person help?  I’ve spent money on people who didn’t have a clue about what I was trying to do or what the details of my project were–even after I provided information on both.  These people offer the same cookie-cutter solution for any problem a client describes.  If the solution is already laid out in a glossy brochure, it’s probably not the solution you need (unless you’re looking for a product rather than an effective problem-solving process).

Is working with this person about YOU?  The “expert” who goes on and on about what she or he knows isn’t valuable no matter how much he knows and how much he charges.  The focus needs to be on your problem or project, not on how wonderful the expert is.  If you find yourself mesmerized by “war stories” about previous clients and wanting to be them, get outta there!

Is this something someone else could even know how to approach?  Very often, we turn to experts when what we really need is to turn inward and learn our own truth.  Having some well-paid third party tell you to lose weight or ditch the unsupportive significant other or buy a house is so much easier than accepting that reality yourself.  But that other person’s opinion doesn’t get you very far in terms of staying motivated.  A good expert in that kind of context gets you off the dime so that you start to do what needs to be done yourself.

Being an expert is not a good gig.  It’s too easy to get caught up in “being the expert” which dilutes your ability to help solve the current problem well.  So please don’t seek me as an expert.  I can tell you what I see from my perspective in terms of what you’re trying to do.  I can help you find the right information in my area of expertise.  I can explain concepts that you don’t understand and offer insights that I’ve gained from working on the same kind of problem with other people.  But I don’t want to offer you a canned solution or to have you  rely on me to make your decision.  You need to do that.  Period.

 

Do You Ask for Help?

Do You Ask for Help?

This time of year, we usually have too much to do. But asking for help doesn’t come easy for most of us.  You believe it’s just easier to do it all yourself.  But really, it’s not.  And asking the right people for the right help builds the kind of bonds we all yearn for.

There’s a lot more to effective asking than screwing up the courage to do it though.  First, you need to have a good grasp of the help you need to get it right.

  • Is it something you really don’t know how to do?  Trying to fix something better done by a professional (like electricity and cars) may end up in injury—or worse.  But we get off track in the other direction, too—like calling the electrician when all that was needed was to plug in the cord.  Check the obvious solutions before you call for help.
    • What really needs to be done?  When you ask for help, choosing the right resource hinges on knowing what needs to be done.  So get as clear as you can with yourself about what you need.  If you don’t know, admit that when you ask for help, but don’t send your saviour down the wrong road by being lazy with the information you provide.
    • Is it just a matter of time versus money?  I have friends who pay to have their houses cleaned.  This works for them because they would rather spend money than time on that.  But asking for help is not about taking advantage of family members and friends just as busy as you are (or busier) simply because you don’t want to do that work.  If you need this kind of help, pay up, one way or the other.  When you ask more of those you claim to love than you need to, you build resentment not those nurturing bonds you’re looking for.
    • Can someone else do it well enough that you’re going to be okay with the results?  If it’s critical that the results are perfect, and you’re sure you can do it more perfectly than anyone else, then you need to do it.  But is it really that critical?  And are you really the one who will do it best? Are you really that good at it?  Or do you need a reality check on all that?
    • Are there extenuating circumstances?  Sure, your cousin George has built three fences on his own properties and needs the money, but if you have a picky HOA and a bunch of restrictive architectural requirements to keep in mind, maybe hiring the fence company that’s done all the other fences in your subdivision is wiser.

Then there’s the actual asking.  For many of us, this is where the whole idea stops. There’s no high school class on how to do this well.  We don’t get to “practice” this under careful tutelage.  First attempts can be difficult and unsuccessful.  Learn to do this anyway!  Life is so much better when you feel like  you are on team.

  • Be clear about what you need.  It’s tempting to assume that the person you ask will just know.   Nope.  Be precise and complete in explaining the situation.  This is true whether you are paying for a top-notch reupholster job or asking your sister to prep the potatoes for dinner.
  • Get on the same page about timing. Don’t assume another person is on the same wavelength in terms of timing.  Be honest about when you need it done.  Do you really need that light bulb changed before the next commercial?  Or are you just trying for a power grab with a fake emergency?  Give the other person as much leaway as you can–but no more.  If the differences in timing aren’t going to work, reassess whether this is the resource you are best to ask
  • Ask wisely.  This is particularly true when you are asking for unpaid help which is basically a favor.  Pay attention to what the other person is doing before you ask.  Expecting someone to drop everything just to hear your request is setting yourself up for a “No.”  Don’t ask for more than you really need either. And when someone says, “Sorry, I can’t,” find someone else to ask rather than acting like a five-year old and asking again and again.  Be aware of the context and the other person’s needs in making your request.
  • Keep asking.  If what’s supposed to be happening isn’t once someone agrees to help you (paid or otherwise), it’s wise to follow up. But that doesn’t mean you have to make a federal case out of it.  People forget (even the ones you pay to do something.)  If nothing’s happening and your gut is telling you to find another resource, pay attention.  Sometimes there’s more than forgetfulness at stake and the longer you wait to deal with it, the bigger that kind of problem gets.
  • Have more than one option.  If you do need to shift gears on how you are going to get something accomplished, it’s a lot easier if you’re already have other options identified.  This is as true of who’s going to pick up Aunt Jen at the airport as it is of getting your cellphone fixed.

“The strong individual is the one who asks for help when he needs it.”  – Rona Barrett, columnist and businesswoman.

At some point, you’re going to need help. Be strong and smart. Ask for it well.