In Mysterious Ways

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My friend lost a child yesterday. Suddenly, unexpectedly, and sadly, gone. He would have turned two years old in a couple weeks. He was loved by his Mom and Dad, and his two sisters. He brought immeasurable joy into this world when he was born. He will leave a desperate sorrow with his passing.
As a writer, I pride myself on being good with words. When I saw the post on Facebook, I was stunned… at a total loss. I had nothing to say in response to the family, and the many others who had commented on this sad tragedy. Every response I can think of seems inadequate.
How can I say something comforting? I just cannot imagine or construct the proper response. Really… is there one? Is there the “right thing” to say to someone when their 2-year-old, the light of their life, has suddenly left this world?
We place so much importance on such ridiculous stuff in our daily lives. Road rage, sports, jobs, video games, new cars, sneakers, politics, organized religion, the latest technology, and fashion. We live like we will never die. We focus on achieving goals. Long term goals, short term goals, financial goals, college goals, retirement goals, career goals. We yearn for materialistic things.
This won’t change. It’s how we get through it all. We keep putting one foot in front of the other… walking through this world until our number is up.
Sometimes it doesn’t happen suddenly, or so we think. We know someone is older, and they are ill. It crosses our mind that they might not make it. It may be obvious that they are at the end of their journey. Why does it still shock us when they actually die? Is it our eternal hope that we can somehow escape this fate?
In the end, what’s important?  We each have a chance to make a difference while we’re here. Never underestimate that. What you do with the time you’re given can make all the difference to the lives of others. We can be a positive influence and encourage people to do their best.
I have to admit, I’m one of those people that has great faith in the resilience of the human body and spirit. It always shocks me when someone actually dies. I guess I’m the one that thinks on some level that we’ll all live forever in one form or another.
Some of you believe in God, mother nature, or some form of higher power. I do. I believe that we are under God’s care. We may not understand how events like these fit into the grand plan. The fact is, we are not privileged to know the big picture. We cannot possibly be granted foresight and volition. Because we get to choose our actions, we can only guess the outcomes. Some things are obvious, and some are hidden.
So, while we may not know tomorrow, we can live today. Hold your loved ones close. Call someone that you haven’t talked to in a while. Smile at a stranger. Take your chance while you have it.   If you’re the praying kind, please pray for my friend and his family tonight.

-Cat

What Are We Gawking At?

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A lot of people in my generation don’t know who Chris Cornell was. So, the news of his death was not of interest to them.  They didn’t realize that although he had a four-octave vocal range, he was an acquired taste.  Not everyone liked his singing voice.  I did.

I’m not going to sit here now that he’s dead and tell you how much I loved him and how grieved I am.  I liked him, and it’s sad for his family.  He died on the day my youngest grandson was born, so I won’t remember the day in a mournful way.

So, I wanted to write a piece about Chris, but realized that I didn’t know much about him.  I knew that he was the singer for Soundgarden and Audioslave, and I like his solo work as well.  When I went on the internet to research a little, I immediately regretted it.  I can now tell you five things you need to know about him, his wife, his first wife, and his kids.  In fact, five things you “must” know about Chris Cornell.

Now, I’ve got this list of ten interesting things I know about him.  But I want to talk about just one.  The articles all state that he had problems with depression, drugs, and alcohol, but that he went through rehab.  They say that he’s been clean since 2003, and that he’s helped other addicts to stay clean.

Fast forward to now.  His wife says that there’s no way he could have committed suicide, since he was making plans to do stuff on Memorial Day.  When she spoke to him that evening, he was slurring his words.  He told her that he might have taken an extra Ativan or two.  

When a musician dies, it’s usually drugs or suicide.  This looks like a combination of both to me.  I know it’s hard for his wife to accept, but if someone takes an extra Ativan or two, they’re not clean, and they are self-medicating.  

If you think I’m judging, I’m not.  We go about our lives with a very distant relationship with our mortality.  I only know one person that was obsessed with the fact that they were going to die.  They’re dead now.  

The truth is, most people don’t want to know if you’re hurting or depressed.  For all the publicity that mental health awareness gets these days, it’s still considered something that happens to “other people”.  I’ve seen people take a hard stand against suicide, depression, and mental illness. Like they think it’s made up, or self-inflicted, or the person is seeking attention.   I believe we all have our vulnerabilities.  

People say that if you’re feeling depressed, you should talk about it.  To whom?  If someone is suffering with depression, they are carrying a heavy burden.  That’s what depression is.  Exactly who is it that wants to talk about that?  If you suffer from anxiety, you’re scared all the time.  Do people want to talk about that, or should you take Ativan?  Change your Facebook profile pic for a day, yeah.  But have a real discussion?

So, once again, I’m impressed by how fragile we are.  I do feel sad that Chris Cornell, for whatever reason, couldn’t talk it out.

That’s enough cheer for a Monday night!  Thanks for listening…

-Cat

Working Without a Net

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As many of you know, I’ve been wearing two hats in my work life since the first of the year.  By day, I’ve been working for a large corporation.  In the evenings, and on my days off, I’ve been pursuing my passion as a writer.  I’ve built my business to the extent that time allowed.
The full-time job that I’ve worked at for almost 11 years ended today when my position was eliminated.  I was one of many that were affected.  I’m a firm believer that everything always works out the way it’s supposed to.  I’ve been through some stuff in my life that wasn’t fun and didn’t feel good.  But, I’ve always seemed to make a comeback.  That whole phoenix thing.
So… I now have more time to promote and work my business.  50 hours a week more.  I called this blog “Working Without a Net” because that’s how it feels.  Exhilarating and scary in equal parts.  There are a lot of things I couldn’t do to grow and work my business.  Now I will.
I’ve met a lot of good people at my job, and will keep a lot of friends in my new life.  I’ve learned so much in the past 10 years, and the experience has helped prepare me for this moment.
I don’t have any hard feelings.  I’m feeling bad tonight for all the people who depended on their job to house and feed their family.  It’s a shame that this had to happen today.
It’s amazing how your life can change in one day…
– Cat

 

Outrunning Technology

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So, I have a new laptop.  It’s only my second laptop.  My first laptop still runs.  It’s just that it has Windows 8 on it, and I hate it.  But my files are still on it.  So, I’m writing this on the new laptop, and I’m really liking the feel of it.  With as much writing as I do, I have to love my laptop.  So far, so good!
 
This laptop is a beast.  I tend to stick with machines for a while, so I need to get the best in class when I finally upgrade.  I always get the most badass cell phone on the block.  Then, I take care of it.   So, it still works well years later, when I’m getting laughed at for being out of date.  I usually get shamed into upgrading.
 
I sold computers in the nineties, when most people did not have a computer in their home.  I usually had to talk in analogies, since people would come in and say, “My kid needs a computer for their schoolwork.  I don’t know anything about computers.”  I said things like “Your hard drive is like your closet.  You put things there when you’re not using them.” Customers said things like, “I’m going to buy this computer, but only if you guarantee that I’ll never have to upgrade it.”  I would answer “You buy a new car.  It will stay good for a while, then you have to change the oil.  You have to buy new tires.  Eventually, it makes sense to buy a new one.”  I wonder if any stubborn customers are still using their Packard Bell.  Hmmm…probably not.
 
The excitement of AOL chatrooms.  The ba-ding-ba-ding of your 14.4 modem.  Good times.  The thing is, it was all so new and modern. We couldn’t even imagine then that people would walk around now with computers in their pockets, or strapped to their wrist.  At that time, cell phones were hard-wired to your car.  Big bulky things, and you had to pay someone to move them when you got a new car.  Now, your car tells you if someone is driving in your blind spot.
 
The point is, in twenty years we will be doing something that we cannot even imagine today.   And, it’s hard to think about what you can’t even think about!
 
I hate to dwell on it, but I wonder how the flying cars are coming along ?????
 
– Cat
 
 
 

What’s Holding You Back?

 

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We don’t all strive for greatness.  Some people are content to just put one foot in front of the other.  Getting through the day is important, but it that all there is?

I think that most of us can agree that we need to do a better job with keeping all our plates spinning.  There’s a lot of buzz about work/life balance, but let’s face it; most of us struggle with the juggle.  Special shout out to career minded grown ups with little munchkins at home.

It’s still self-doubt that trips us up in the end.  The negative talk we generate in ourselves can really stifle our dreams.  Like any new habit, resolving to stay positive takes a while to get the hang of, and even longer to make it stick.

There are a million and one excuses and victim statements that keep us from leading the kind of life we want.  We don’t have enough education.  We don’t have enough money.  We don’t have a significant other.  We don’t like our job.  We’re too tired, depressed, angry… whatever.

Are you happy thinking about the reasons you can’t live the life you want?  Or are you ready to actually get started working towards some life goals?  Do you have a clear picture of where you’re going?  Maybe you’re on your way.  If you are, reach down and help the next guy up. We all need encouragement.

This week, try to identify and remove one negative self talk tidbit from your life, and replace it with a new positive affirmation.  If you think it sounds corny, keep doing what you’re doing.  If you’re interested in positive change, give it a try.  It’s free!

-Cat

Quotable Quotes

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I’m not sure why he came to mind tonight, but he is a person that I treasure in my memories.

I graduated from high school early, when I was sixteen years old.  The only way you could do this at the time was to take Summer School English.  Senior English was always British Literature. I had taken a lot of English courses, even English electives, throughout high school.  But, nothing in my education remains with me like the Summer of Mr. Meehan.

The students in this class couldn’t have been more different from one another.  People graduating early, people repeating the course after failing.  I befriended a girl that was pregnant after her Junior year. Going to high school while pregnant just wasn’t done back then.  So, we all had different reasons for winding up in Mr. Meehan’s class. Because it was Summer School, it was a concentrated course, every day for three hours.

He was a big fan of Marshall McLuhan, and was fond of reminding us that “The Medium is the Message”.  He loved photography.  He was devoted to his wife, and talked about her often.  But, one of the things I loved most about the class was that every day, everyone had to bring in a “Quotable Quote”.  So, here were teenagers from all types of backgrounds, finding meaning through words every single day.  I did not understand how powerful that was at the time.  We would start class by going around the room, sharing a quote.

Mr. Meehan retired in 1995 from teaching.  I looked him up online, and found his obituary from 2007.  It was on a Washington Post archive page, sandwiched between two ads for a Jeep Renegade.  Ironic… the medium is the message.  I’m not sure how he would have felt about that.  He did have a great sense of humor.   There were lots of students who poured out their hearts in the guest book on his obituary.  So, I know I’m not alone when I say he played a big part in my education and love for language, words, literature, and quotable quotes.

Here’s one for the road:

Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.  – Malala Yousafzai, activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.

Goodnight, Harry *

-Cat

Considering Corporate Culture

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I was putting my thoughts together for this article, and I thought I would do some field research.  I asked someone for one word that came to mind when they think about “Corporate Culture”.  Their one word was “integrity”.  I thought that was encouraging, and went on to ask the next person.  Their one word was “corruption”.  Hmmm.  I stopped there.  Granted, I could have included some more research. But I think that the first two answers gave me an indication of the scope of attitudes towards “Corporate Culture”.

So, is the use of the word “culture” a rhetorical device, or does it have actual meaning in the business world?  Nobody would feel comfortable saying that their company really doesn’t focus on culture.  Everyone wants to think that it’s a very big deal in the workplace.

Corporate Culture is based on a set of common “core values”.  These may be expressed in the company’s mission statement, which is given as a handout to new hires.  How much actual time in management meetings is spent talking about core values on an ongoing basis?  Isn’t it more likely that the conversation turns to shareholder value? 

Values clarification exercises are critical to personal self-improvement. This is the process through which core values are identified and used as a guide to behavior and actions.  They must be revisited from time to time, and adjusted as necessary.   I just can’t picture executives sitting in the boardroom discussing values clarification.  They are more likely discussing ways to increase growth and revenue.  That’s not a problem.  It’s the way business works.

Another facet of Corporate Culture is shared attitudes and beliefs. How do we come together on beliefs and encourage diversity all at the same time?  I understand that this means corporate beliefs and not personal beliefs.  I know that in the business boat we all have to row together to get anywhere.  I’m just saying that in this climate, we can’t count on people to separate personal from professional.  People don’t want to set aside their differences.  They will cling to their uniqueness, even if it means that they’re not as “successful”.

And… do we profit (pun intended) if we all think and act alike?  Does that get us to the goal faster?  Consider that it takes all kinds of people working together to really make a dynamic difference!  Yes, we all have to move towards the goal.  Are there different ways to get there? Is there a benefit to taking the proverbial road less traveled?  Does somebody know a shortcut?  Or is the direct route best?

Enter the “team builder”!  Team builders are always fun, and help you learn something about other people on your team.  I think that they are beneficial to the team, and they keep meetings from being boring. They may be quick exercises, off site days, or even corporate getaways. They can be invigorating, and help employees approach work with a renewed gusto.  Team builders are touted as one of the best ways to build culture.  They’re awesome, but do they increase focus on core values?

Communication is key to building culture within an organization.  If you can go a step beyond that, and actually connect with people on a human level… even better!  Listening to people increases their feelings of self-worth.  It’s natural that your team will perform better, together and as individuals, if they feel valued.  As a leader, if you want to teach empathy to your team, be empathetic.

Culture makes a difference to every aspect of a company.  It affects the hiring process, training, and employee retention.  It will affect the way your customer service initiatives are carried out.  It can determine the landscape of the work environment.  And… bonus!  It will affect your earnings.  Be a company for which people want to work.  Attract and keep quality employees by considering, reviewing, and living your culture everyday.

–  Cat

Are You in Love With Your “STUFF”?

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I was listening to a podcast today about “minimalist living” and all the joy it will bring you.  That got me thinking about us crazy Americans and all our “Stuff”.  People are into designer handbags, brand name shoes, and fancy cars. I’m not really interested in a lot of that.   Maybe we’re too materialistic, but I don’t know if I could swing a stuff free life.

I love to watch the Tiny House shows on HGTV.  People want to live in a 200 square foot place with a baby and two dogs.  People want a tiny house, but room for 6 kayaks, or 13 surfboards.  People want a tiny house with entertaining space.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve yelled at the television “It’s a TINY HOUSE!”  Can we really let go of our stuff?  Could you lead a minimalist lifestyle?

Years ago, I read a book by John D. Freyer.  It’s called All My Life For Sale.  It’s an interesting read about a project that John did.  In Phase One of the project, he sold everything… everything he owned on eBay. In Phase Two, he spends time traveling all over the world to visit his stuff. 

The woman in the podcast today, Genevieve Parker Hill, is the author of Minimalist Living: Decluttering for Joy, Health, and Creativity.  She talks about how her family experienced a house fire, and lost all their possessions.  Through this journey, she learned that relationships are important, not stuff.  So was the house fire a blessing or a curse?

Friends of ours, who always had a big home, with lots of wonderful stuff, decided to live in an RV and travel around.  I wonder if they went through stuff withdrawal at first, or did they just make a decision and flip the switch?

I would say that I’m in the middle on the scale of stuff crazy people. My husband is definitely into stuff.  He’s not a hoarder, but he is a serious collector.  He keeps it tidy, and doesn’t break the bank.  That’s all I care about.  Honestly, I think I’m more about the acquisition of stuff, and lose interest in a lot of it after the fact.  That’s sounds horrible, but I believe it’s true. 

So, pause and think for a minute.  Where do you place in the rankings?  Are you the keeper of the stuff, or a sensible purger from time to time?  Do you think you can do it?

– Cat

Networking

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I attended an event at the local chamber of commerce today.  It was about networking and it made me think of the importance of good old face to face meetings… remember them?

I know that we’re supposed to use all this technology we have at hand, and I have to admit that it’s great. Social media, blogging, websites, webinars… all good stuff.  But, there’s a lot to be said for getting to know someone’s handshake.  It’s kinda cool to see their facial expressions.  To laugh together at something funny, as opposed to typing “lol”, or my favorite “Hahaha”.

So, there is a ton of information out there about networking.  The presentation I went to today was very informative and enjoyable.  I was, of course, networking at the networking presentation.  lol

Years ago, I was reading about networking, and I loved this piece of advice.  Don’t network by talking about yourself.  Network by listening and asking questions.  The premise is… If you’re interested in other people, they will find you interesting.  That is, ask them about their business.  Follow up with a question about what they just told you, or a general business question.

I’ve found this to be true, for the most part.  Of course, you want to answer questions, but focus on listening.  Yes, your elevator speech is important.  But not as important as using your active listening skills when they are giving you their elevator speech.  After all, you already know about yourself.

Something I picked up today that I thought was great.  When you’re at a networking event, you might be feeling weird about talking to people you don’t know. Notice the person that’s off to the side, feeling awkward like you, and talk to them.  You’ll both feel relieved, and you won’t have to worry about interrupting a conversation.

Think of ways to be a matchmaker with people who you meet. Introduce them to each other.  Consider strategic pairings… power partners.  Once you’ve met people who can complement each other’s businesses, put them in touch.

How do you feel about networking in person?  Is it a thing of the past, or does it still have value in today’s business environment?

-Cat