Thursday, December 31, 2009

Still Crazy After All These Years?

I recently reconnected with an old friend of mine from high school. Sandy was the most talented cartoonist I ever met. We have made plans to break bread and crack jokes. I’m definitely looking forward to catching up with her. However, in our emails she referred to me as “the crazy Sally Marks.”

In the past when I went to my high school reunions, a few folks described me in a similar fashion - crazy. Some stories I remember with embarrassment. Other tales I don’t remember at all, but the essence of the plot seems like something I would’ve done. I want to keep the blog g-rated, so I will not go into my misspent youth, but I can tell you that as I retell these stories to my friends, we double over in laughter.

So, I ask myself, what happened to that crazy girl? Why am I sitting in front of my computer on New Year’s Eve trying to come up with something to write on my blog instead of painting the town?

For starters, if I write I won’t fall asleep before midnight. I’m looking forward to 2010 and I want to usher it in with a smile and a cheer. It hasn’t been an easy year for nearly everyone I know. People have lost jobs and homes. Good friends of mine lost their son. Another dear friend just lost her husband.

However, a new year awaits. As a Buddhist, I know (at least theoretically) that all things are transient. We cannot count on external things to bring us happiness. This includes money, power, lovers, children, success or status. All of those things can disappear in an instant. And this year, I, as well as others, experienced the loss of some of these cherished things firsthand.

However, there is one thing I am taking with me to the new decade. Hope. Hope for a better tomorrow, as well as the determination to do my part to bring a little light to the world. For a lot of my life I tried to shed a little happiness through humor. I did a few wild and silly things, told countless jokes and stories and wrote comedic scripts.

A few things have changed.

Frankly, I’m not as funny as I used to be. I tell people “I’m funny on paper, but I’m not that humorous in person.” When I go to a party I’d rather engage someone in an earnest dialogue than stand on a table with a lampshade on my head. When I look in the mirror I’m still astounded that the image reflected back to me is not a skinny, goofy and animated, young woman, but a middle-aged grandma who needs to exercise, pay more attention to what she eats, and needs a cup of coffee and a shot of liquid vitamins to kick into second gear. I am not the same crazy Sally Marks I once was.

And that’s okay.

As much as we might want things to stay the same, our lives, our country and our universe are constantly changing. It does no good to pine away about things in the past. We can cherish good memories and show appreciation for our blessings. But we cannot be assured that those blessings will always be with us. However, we can keep the light of hope in our hearts and constantly challenge ourselves to work toward a better future. As I write this I am one hour away from a new year, a new decade and new hope for tomorrow.

I’m not partying this New Year’s Eve. My spouse is working and I am home alone. But, I am doing exactly what I want to do, writing something that I hope will inspire someone. Maybe that sounds crazy. Hmmm. I guess I haven’t changed as much as I thought. I may be older, fatter, and hopefully wiser, but deep down, and in my own special way, I’m still that “crazy Sally Marks.”

Have a happy, healthy, prosperous and loving New Year.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Filling in the Gap Between Success and Failure

There is a unit of time that does not have an official name, but it is a crucial link between success and failure. It is the time between “wanting to do something” and actually doing it. As a youngster, this time period was often prefaced by, “When I’m a grown up.” Later it evolved to “When the kids grow up” or “When I have more time”.

I’ve always been pretty good at meeting deadlines, at least as an adult. I have all my unforgiving journalism professors to thank for that. But when it comes to unofficial deadlines, the game can get a bit trickier. After all, life doesn’t always come with the motivation of a good grade, or the threat of a nasty editor.

I don’t like to think of myself as lazy, or even as someone who procrastinates (more on that later – ha ha). Yet, life threw me a little reminder that I could turn my refrain for “I’ll do it another day” to a life of sloth if I didn’t change a few habits.

A case in point.

I had feng shui practitioner Lisa Montgomery perform her skills and knowledge to enhance and increase the positive qui of my home. One of the cures to prevent negative energy from hitting my happy abode included placing a bagua (a yellow, wooden, octagon with a mirror in the center) over my garage door. The street comes to a T right in front of our driveway, and that can throw a bit of negative vibes our way. This little bagua has been perched in its location for quite some time. Then one day we had a nasty wind storm and the bagua, like Humpty Dumpty, had a big fall. Fortunately nothing was broken. All I had to do was put it back up on its little perch.

However, I was on my way out, so I just picked up the bagua, put it on my spouse’s truck, and vowed I would return the feng shui device when I came home. Of course, I did not return the bagua to its resting spot. I’m vertically challenged and I knew I would have to get the ladder out to accomplish this feat. And it was cold and rainy. “I’ll do it another day,” I told myself. Several days passed and I still hadn’t replaced the bagua.

I thought about the little bagua every day. I even fretted over it a bit. Yet, there it sat on the hood of CB’s truck. As each day passed, I noticed it got increasingly difficult to perform this task. It took on a life of its own. What would’ve been a simple, five-minute task became a real drain on my psyche.

Then one day I pulled in the driveway and noticed the bagua once again. I felt myself grimace as I thought about the task in front of me. “I’ll do it another day,” I thought. Then I stopped myself. “Why am I putting this off?” I asked. “It’s not cold or rainy. I do not have a pressing deadline. The only reason I’m not doing this is because I’ve let my brain turn this little task into a monumental feat.”

So I opened the garage, took out the ladder and put the bagua back to its spot above the garage door. It was done in less than five minutes. Angels didn’t sing the hallelujah chorus and I didn’t feel a surge of positive energy, but the task was done. My only thought was “Why did I wait so long to do this?”

I remember a bit of advice that I learned. When faced with multiple tasks, always do the most unpleasant chore first, then the rest is easy.

It also made me think of the mentors chapter or “I’ll Get By With A Little Help From My Friends” section of my self-help book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.
The following excerpt is an anecdote Entrepreneur Tammy Dantonio cites from her encounter with her mentor, Tony.

“Tony was always so motivated and I’d ask him how he did it,” said Tammy. “He would create these characters. He called them Mr. Positive and Mr. Negative. He said he’d lay in bed in the morning, not wanting to get up. He said Mr. Negative would tempt him stay in bed saying, “Tony, sleep. Sleep is good. Sleep, Tony. Sleep.” But then he would pantomime Mr. Positive cheering him on to jump out of bed and face the day. He said often, Mr. Positive and Mr. Negative would have words with one another. Often times, Mr. Positive would have to kick Mr. Negative’s ass. It was a funny motivator, but it worked for him and it works for me. It’s not always about goodness and light. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth, throw back the covers and kick Mr. Negative’s butt.”

The same is true of closing the gap between “thinking about doing something” and taking action. Whether it’s pursuing a dream, starting an exercise program, eating better or mowing the lawn, procrastination is not your friend. Think about Mr. or Ms. Positive and doing what it takes to close the gap between success and failure. Now go out there and kick some butt!

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guilty or Not Guilty of Laziness?

Some people run marathons, I run my mouth. I had a marathon phone day earlier this week and caught up with several old friends. There seems to be so much to do around Christmas time, but it is also a time I think about the many friends I’ve had the privilege of knowing.

So instead of working on my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, writing Christmas cards, cleaning the house, pitching story ideas to producers or any number of things – I chose to reconnect with friends.

At the end of the day I thought about what I had accomplished, Years ago, a day without visible work results would have been deemed a failure in my mind. Not only would I beat myself up for my lack of initiative, I’d sprinkle a healthy dose of guilt on my psyche.

In the past, the guilt would plague me and rob me of a good night’s sleep. I would not only confine this guilt to the present situation, I would delve into my memory bank and pull out every rotten transgression (imagined or not) and emotionally torture myself. I’m not, nor have I ever been, a mean-spirited person. But I am forgetful. And forgetfulness can lead to hurting others.

In addition to the typical careless remark, missed appointment or angry word, I remember lying awake at night lambasting myself over absolutely ridiculous transgressions. I would feel regret for all the cups of coffee I forgot to serve my customers when I was a waitress, or that I failed to remember table 27 needed a bottle of ketchup. Never mind the fact that I haven’t been a server for years. These mistakes were torturing my soul. And of course those mistakes would trigger memories of other errors in judgment.

The ironic thing is that nothing of value comes from this type of self flagellation. It took me years to figure this out, but now I don’t engage in this painful process (or at least not for long.) When a guilty feeling springs forth, I focus on a solution. If I do this during the day, I can usually come up with a plan on how to avoid a similar mistake, how to make amends etc. What do I do when I try to problem solve at night? I fall asleep. It’s too much work to take this on when I’m sleepy. I let my subconscious take over. I either get a solution through a dream, or I just fall asleep and forget about it. No harm, no foul.

Not all guilt is bad. It can serve a purpose. Here are a few pointers.

• Recognize what you are feeling guilty about and use this recognition to grow, mature, and perhaps modify future behavior. If you are just beating yourself up and nothing of value results from your thoughts, say “stop” and redirect your mental meanderings.
• If your guilt is the result of unhealthy behavior (drinking, smoking, overeating etc) come up with a plan of action to change. Then stick to it. If you fail, try again.
• If you have hurt another, make amends. And do it as quickly as possible. The person you hurt may or may not accept your apology, but that is out of your control. Do your part by making the effort, try not to repeat the bad behavior in question, then move on.
• Accept that you are not perfect.
Whether you are religious or not, the Serenity Prayer offers great comfort and insight. If you need to substitute the word, God, for something else, then do so. The message is still the same:
Grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage, to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom, to know the difference.

After my marathon phone day with my friends, I did a little work the next morning and played softball in the afternoon. Then I had two of my team mates over for a potluck dinner. I was going to clean the house before they came over, but I ran out of time. You know what? They didn’t care that the house wasn’t pristine. We had fun. That evening I received a message through Facebook from a high school friend I hadn’t heard from in decades. Of course I wrote her back right away.

I suppose I could beat myself up for not working harder. And it’s not that I condone sloth or laziness. But there is no glory in beating myself up for something from the past – including a day of no work. I was fueling my soul with the joy of reconnecting with dear friends. And I’m not about to apologize for that. Not even to myself.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Deficit Thinking

You don’t need to be a financial guru to know that you need to earn more than you spend to get ahead. What is not so obvious is that the same applies to our thoughts. If we put our attention and energy on what we are lacking, we will always come up short. With so many of us suffering from the effects of the troubled economy, it is easy to resort to a scarcity mentality of “there isn’t enough”. Unfortunately this results in a downward spiral that is not only depressing, it also robs of us the energy we could be using to tap into more positive and creative thoughts to change our circumstances.

For instance, I have a public relations firm. When the economy was merrily buzzing along, I had more than enough clients to take care of needs and I enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. However, when the housing boom melted, the domino theory trickled down to my business. I lost some valued clients – some from bankruptcy – others to a severe shortage of funds. Not only was my client base reduced, some of the existing companies I was working with were not paying the money they owed me. As a small business person, this was pretty rough.

Each time I lost a customer I had a running tally of the deficit. My inner dialogue was something like, “I need $1,000 to make up for ABC client, $500 to make up for DEF client and another $1,500 to replenish the income from GHI client. Needless to say, I was not successful in my pursuits. I kept trying to bring everything back to where it was before. My focus was on what I was lacking, and I was motivated by fear.

Fear may be useful to keep people from doing something stupid – like jumping off a building – but it is not a good stimulus for creativity. And as a public relations practitioner and freelance writer, creativity is the juice that keeps me going.

I took the normal precautions one should take with a loss of income. I cut my expenses. It is good to be optimistic, but one has to be realistic too. You shouldn’t spend what you don’t have. So I ate less pizza, curtailed unnecessary costs, drove less and increased the deductible on my health insurance. These were all necessary (and in the pizza-eating case) healthier choices.

Unfortunately, I started resenting my circumstances and my focus turned into a wee bit of negativity. However, I know better and I didn’t dwell in my emotional basement for long. Years of experience has taught me that negativity NEVER changes a situation for the better.

So what did I do to turn things around? I played tennis.

I had been sitting on my duff and I hadn’t been taking any action. That is not to say that I wasn’t using the internet to find more work. I sent out letters and proposals. But that is so stagnant. I was using my brain, but not my body. So I went out and played some doubles tennis in the evening. I am no Venus Williams, but I had fun. Because of my physical exertion, I slept better. When I was physically dormant and consumed with worry, my nocturnal thoughts evolved into frustrating nightmares. But the night after I played tennis I had empowering dreams. That gave way to a few new ideas for increasing my business. Then I found out about a new form of publishing for my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. Then I contacted a former client and came up with a great pitch I could make to the local morning show producers. For the first time in a couple months, producers were contacting me again.

Once my creativity started flowing, so did the work. I felt empowered and that new mindset was making me a magnet for success. Instead of focusing on the work I lost, I concentrated on my original intention – helping small businesses succeed through creative, cost-effective public relations strategies.

New clients, albeit with smaller retainers, were coming my way. I started to rebuild my business again, almost from the ground up. It was a lot like my tennis game. I wasn’t acing anyone with the brute force of a 100-mph serve, but I was slowly gathering points by staying in the game.

We all suffer setbacks in life. I am no exception. And even as the author of a self help book on the value of positive thinking, I have my moments of tarnished thoughts. But I can honestly say nothing is ever restored to brightness from grousing or crying into a pity pot. It is only when we challenge our obstacles, shake off defeat and use creativity rather than negativity to combat our problems that we can truly shine.

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