Five-Minute Friday: Purpose

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking. I admit I did this one untimed, but I did not edit or over-think.)

Today, I benefited from divine intervention, and I am so grateful.

Rewind a handful of years to when a wonderful therapist told me I ought to check out Brené Brown’s work because I “might find it helpful.” I googled her TedTalk and was crying at my office desk halfway through.

Brown is a lot like me – she’s an academic, a Ph.D. who likes data and frameworks and intellectual understanding, and she explained the root of the majority of my “issues” in one TedTalk when she explained her own breakdown “spiritual awakening.”

Since watching that TedTalk, I have read all of her books and taken some of her online classes. I recommend her work to people all the time, particularly people like me who are recovering perfectionists. Her work has changed my life, and I don’t say that casually. (If you think I am a Type A, over-achieving perfectionist NOW, you have no idea how much worse all that was pre-Brené.)

So imagine my delight when I saw her name listed as one of the keynote speakers at this year’s NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Conference, which I knew I would be attending as part of my job. (Sir Ken Robinson and Susan Cain were two of the other keynote speakers, so NAIS really went all out this year.)

I scanned the program to see if she would be signing books after her talk, and it seemed unlikely. I even “asked her people” on her FB page in case the program had an error (no response). As I was heading to the airport, I grabbed her latest book, and my favorite, Rising Strong, from my shelf just in case.

This conference was good, but I did not enjoy it as much as last year’s. I had some work deadlines I had to meet that coincided with this trip, so I was on my laptop in between sessions and working well past what should have been my bedtime. My plans to get it all done by dinner last night so I could be rested and truly enjoy Brené’s talk today went out the window when I was still working on a presentation at 1:30 this morning (another story for another time).

Sir Ken’s talk this morning perked me up a bit, but I was utterly exhausted by lunch.

Readers, I committed a cardinal conference sin, which I confess to you now – I skipped a session I had planned on attending so I could take a nap. I have never done this before in my history of conference-going.

Brené was scheduled to speak in the ballroom at 3:15, so I headed back to the conference by 2, hoping to beat the crowd and get a front row seat. The side entrance I had planned to take to the ballroom was closed off, so I asked a staff member how to get back to the main one. She took me through the bowels of the convention center while telling me she is a third grade Baltimore teacher on strike given budget cuts, and as she is a relatively new hire, she expects to lose her job. She told her husband it might be time to move.

As she opened some secret door to let me in, I realized the doors were all closed for a reason – the room was not scheduled to open until 2:45. My escort either did not know the rules or saw me as an exception to them, and as a gesture of thanks, I gave her my card and told her if she wanted to move to Cincinnati, let me know. (I have never done this before, either – a day of firsts!)

The front row was reserved for the conference planners, whom I respect (see earlier note about going all out this year), so I took a center aisle seat 2 rows back. With time to kill, I got out my laptop and continued working on the project that kept me up till past 1:30 when I heard a familiar voice.

Brené’s Texas twang.

She had graced the stage for a sound check.

Brené’s work is about courage and vulnerability and showing up. I proved I’ve read and internalized her message by grabbing Rising Strong and a pen from my bag, tossing my laptop aside, along with my wallet and hotel key, and marching up to the stage. She waved me up the stairs.

“I’m being brave,” I said. “Would you sign this please?”20170303_181356

“Absolutely.” She glanced at my nametag.

There’s some monologue here that I can’t quite recall. I’m pretty sure I told her I loved her and that I was so excited to be having this moment. I realized I had my cell phone in my jacket pocket and asked for a picture, for which she graciously posed.

Of course, her talk was amazing and was the shot in the arm I needed to remind myself of the principles she’s written, which need to be practiced regularly, but, you know, I’ve been “busy.”

One of those practices is gratitude.

So, I am thankful that I put my guilt aside and listened to my body and took that nap. Had I not done so, I wouldn’t have arrived back when I did.

I am thankful I20170303_143450 met the staff member who ushered me in when I shouldn’t have been there.

I am thankful I packed my book and that Brené signed it.

I am thankful no one stole my laptop or wallet or hotel key as I was fangirling.

And that staff member’s story is not lost on me; I am thankful for a job that sends me to conferences so I can have divine experiences like these.

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Five-Minute Friday: Limit

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog, linked at the bottom of the page. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice.”

The Boston Globe featured this quote in its “Reflection for the day” during my time in college. My father would send cards stuffed with newspaper clippings (I remember one about a skinny-dipping grandmother he thought would amuse me), random comics, these Boston Globe sayings, and a $20 bill. This particular saying, though, has been one of my go-to mantras because its truth applies to so many areas.

Recently, I attended a conference on Professional Learning Communities, and one of the keynote speakers talked about educational research and why some distrust it. One of the many reasons is that research is limited. During my doctoral coursework at Boston College, professors repeatedly drove home the notion that all research is perspectival. What we “find” is limited to the research question we asked in the first place, and the questions we chose to ask are influenced by our knowledge base (or that of our funding source).

The keynote speaker also said we had to be wary of any researcher who has not changed his or her mind. He said the mark of a true scholar is one who can say what researcher Richard Elmore and others said in a recent book: “I used to think…and now I think…” (Side note: I believe this ability to go back to the research with new knowledge and hindsight and revise one’s thinking also makes for strong leaders. I have never understood criticizing politicians for changing their stance on a topic based on time and new knowledge.)

Hearing this speaker made me wonder what fundamental “truths” I have changed my mind about based on my limitations and what I once failed to notice but now see quite clearly. Here is a list of some at random, indicative of a freewite:

I used to think that academic achievement reflected one’s intellectual abilities, and now I think it reflects one’s ability to “do school.”

I used to think that being busy was a badge of honor and a sign of productivity, and now I think that if you are too busy to relax and enjoy leisure activities, you are not as productive as you could be.

I used to think that meritocracy explained how people got ahead, and now I think meritocracy explains how people are blind to their privileges.

I used to think that if you are with the right person, marriage is easy, and now I think that all good relationships are the reflection of hard work.

I used to think seafood was disgusting, and now I think perfectly cooked salmon is divine.

I used to think that vulnerability was a sign of weakness, and now I think it is the greatest sign of strength.

Time’s up, readers, but I am very curious about what you have changed your mind about lately. Please comment if you’re willing to share!

My Year in Books

In 2012, I set a goal of reading 12 books (and completing 12 knitting projects). I exceeded in the knitting and fell a few short in the reading, but I set a precedent with the “12 in ‘12” idea. I have set goals each year since to read the same number of books as the year, and I have met the goal for the last 3 years.

Going into this year, I recognized that I read mostly non-fiction and mostly male authors, not consciously, but by chance. I wanted to see what would happen if I purposely chose (more) fiction and solely female authors. I am happy I did. Here’s my 2015 recap.

  1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Okay, so I started the year reading fiction, but by a male author. Blame it on the library and the long wait list I was on for this one. It was billed as a book you’d love if you enjoy Sheldon’s character on The Big Bang Theory, and it delivered. It was a fun, feel-good story centering on a quirky character who sure seems like he is on the autism spectrum, but no diagnosis is ever mentioned.

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

READ (if you enjoy The Big Bang Theory)

  1. Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers

A work of fiction with a female author – now we’re talking! It’s set in Boston, which I enjoyed, but it was not the gripping book I was hoping for. I enjoy books with multiple narrators/perspectives, but I can’t say this one did that successfully.

Take-away: Marriage is hard, and parenting is harder.

SKIP

  1. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

As is true for most sequels, this book was not as good as the first. It did leave me thinking that if someone makes a movie from these books, I will see it.

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

SKIP (Read the first book instead)

  1. I Thought It Was Just Me by Brene Brown

My therapist casually recommended I watch Brene’s TedTalk, and I was hooked. I cannot get enough of what Brene Brown says, and I figured reading her books in chronological order was the way to go. The researcher in me loves how she presents her work.

Take-away: Silence breeds shame, and living in shame breeds an unnecessarily lonely, difficult life.

MUST READ

  1. Small Victories by Anne Lamott

If Anne Lamott started a second career as a preacher, I would go to that parish everyday. If you think the world is going to hell in a hand basket, her words act as a salve that makes it all better. This book is the third in a series of three short books, but you do not need to read them in order.

Take-away: I’m okay, you’re okay, but George Bush is not.

MUST READ (if you aren’t opposed to recovering alcoholics, religious undertones, and liberal viewpoints/Republican-bashing)

  1. Dietland by Sarai Walker

I thought I would love this because Entertainment Weekly likened it to Amy Schumer’s comedy. It does have feminist social commentary, and I could see the comparisons to Schumer once I was in the thick of it, but in the end, Schumer is in a category all her own and Walker is not even close.

Take-away: Love yourself, whatever your size.

SKIP

  1. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

When Charlotte mentioned she was writing about a famous mother/daughter Mary combo, I knew the duo to which she was referring, and I could not wait for her to finish. It took over 5 years, but it was worth the wait. It is a dual biography that reads like a novel. Even if you have no idea who these ladies are, you will appreciate Charlotte’s insights.

There are so many take-aways that I won’t do the book justice, but here is one: The mother/daughter bond is an unbreakable one in so many ways.

MUST READ (Especially if you enjoy Frankenstein and/or A Vindication of the Rights of Woman)

  1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Game-changer. Her philosophy and method will truly change your life for the better if you let it. This is a quick, easy read packed with practical advice.

Take-away: Let go of anything that no longer serves you…starting with your closet.

MUST READ

  1. Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

It’s a fun read, but not a FUNNY read. There are meaty, feminist views if you choose to notice them. The book made me want to watch Parks and Recreation, a series I passed on when it was on the air. (I am on season 3 now and have been pleasantly surprised.)

Take-away: Poehler is one smart, funny, classy lady.

READ (and it’s probably a must-read if you like Poehler, Saturday Night Live, and/or Tina Fey)

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Yes, it was a page-turner. No, I did not like it. None of the characters are likeable. At all. And what is with the ending? It was disturbing, and not in a good, think-about-your-life way. Ugh.

Take-away: Things aren’t always what they seem. (I struggled on this one – this is the best I can do.)

SKIP

  1. The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

I had to break away from female authors to get in this book selected by a new book club I joined. I would put it in the same category as The Rosie Project with its quirky characters and feel-good message. I did not know this until after I read it, but Matthew Quick is the same author of Silver Linings Playbook. I am adding him to my list of authors whose body of work I should read. (Jonathan Tropper is another member of this short list.)

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

MUST READ (Especially if you liked The Rosie Project or Silver Linings Playbook)

  1. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and The Execution of Noa P. Singleton all have rather deplorable female characters. In this one, Noa is on death row for first degree murder. There was a twist, but in the end, it was a book of mainly unlikeable characters whose message was not quite clear.

Take-away: I got nothing…maybe “People are gross”?

SKIP

  1. Off the Sidelines by Kirsten Gillibrand

When you have a name like “Kirstin,” you are drawn to other Kirstins/Kirstens/Kierstins, etc. Or maybe it’s just me. I was intrigued with Senator Gillibrand when I heard her name on a tv interview. That she is a senator who does her job while raising a young family is a plus.

Take-away: Everyone should use her voice to shape our world.

READ (you need not be into politics)

  1. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

I love the idea behind this book – that a bookseller is a literary apothecary, administering books like medicine. It is a true book lover’s book.

Take-away: Books heal, as do the misfit characters we incorporate into our chosen family along the way.

READ (and it’s a MUST READ if you are a book lover)

  1. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

This is Brene’s second book, and there is an e-course associated with it that my husband bought me, and I finally took it on this year. For a recovering perfectionist like me, this book lays it all out.

Take-away: The struggle for perfection (which is unattainable) robs us of joy and true connection.

MUST READ (Especially if you are a Brene Brown fan)

  1. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was laugh-out-loud funny (and that says a lot coming from me). This one is just as funny, but it takes on more serious topics, as Lawson doesn’t mince words about depression and anxiety.

Take-away: Depression lies; life is good.

MUST READ (Especially if you live with, worth with, and/or love someone with mental illness)

  1. Quiet by Susan Cain

Reading this after Lawson’s and Brown’s books made for the perfect three-fer. If you can swing it, reading them in succession is a great idea. Cain’s research and anecdotes on introverts (and even what that word actually means) is eye-opening.

Take-away: Preferring quiet to noise or working alone to working in a group is not only okay, but necessary for societal (and relationship) balance.

MUST READ (So many implications for school, work, relationships, parenting, etc.)

  1. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

I read this with no prior knowledge about the book, so I was not expecting the perspective shift that occurs when we move from “Fates” to “Furies.” I enjoyed the shift, but it was not enough to make me recommend the book.

Take-away: Things aren’t always what they seem.

SKIP

  1. Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes

I picked this one up because Gretchen Rubin mentioned it (her book will be my first for 2016), and it sounded interesting. As one fascinated with food and health, I thought I ought to read more on the subject. I was NOT expecting a book that would change my mind, and that’s what I got.

Take-away: The “calories-in/calories-out” idea does not play out in research; rather, we get overweight due to insulin resistance that occurs over time.

MUST READ

*    *   *

Women Authors: 15/19 (excellent!)

Works of Fiction: 9/19 (needs improvement, but this WAS an improvement)

Themes: 1. Quirky, imperfect people succeeding in making the best of what life hands them, and 2. Iconoclastic women whose thoughts and actions transcend their time period.

Goals for 2016’s Year of Books: I need to continue to read more female authors to make up for my miseducation (through most of high school, the authors assigned were men). I need to find more meaningful fiction – books that aren’t just good in the moment, but ones that have lasting effects. Should 2016 be the year of historical fiction? Would this be a compromise?

Please give me some book recommendations!