Intending to be Human
I am in the editing phase of producing my book, Natural Reflectors. It's a time of reviewing from different levels, soliciting feedback, and attempting to respond to all the insights. I feel like the text is now working it's way through a machine with all sorts of steps and rules.
I've found my brain can focus on editing for about 2 hours. Sometimes I keep on by formatting the citations, but I find the the day is less productive if I do not stop and take a break.
Taking a break was easier when I was creating a #manuscript. It felt like I was hitting a wall at two hours. The editing is tedious, but not as draining. Maybe I've become stronger or maybe I'm not as emotionally attached. Whatever the reason I am not hitting a wall and I am unlikely to take a break. I am tempted to crank out more.
I reflected on this and realized that I've lost focus on my intention. It is easy to focus on the goals that help produce a book, but my intent is to share my thoughts and contribute to the world. The machine cranks out the goals, but it is my time as a human that manifests the intent.
While I love the adventure, I find that I only have so much energy for figuring things out. I often find it is not the solution, but the process that requires iterations, so that I can get the outcome I desire.
I consider where I choose to spend my energy. I focus on those things that are more enduring and less of a fad. I look at my expense of energy as an investment. Does figuring this process out give me a skill that I can then apply to other projects?
The only way I can know is to go into the world and #learn how things are accomplished. I start by reading or observing, but I like to have the #experience of accomplishing the new task myself. In the doing, the awkwardness and the solving, I glean the most insight.
My favorite space to do this is in an artist's studio. I am a #maker at my core, but a professional artist always shows me there is so much that I do not know. I come away humbled, but greatly empowered with a new perspective that broadens my view of everything I make from then on. And that drives me to do more.
Nature as a Research Participant
Biomimicry is a fascinating topic and I enjoy applying it to how things are accomplished. So far, I am just having fun with the newness of it all.
But I am becoming inspired to move beyond entertainment. I'd like to collect stories of the power of nature and add my spin on what one might do with what nature teaches.
As I move from reflection to what action I should take, I wonder how to start. There are studies to read and videos to watch, but I am reminded of my interview with Elizabeth for Natural Reflectors.
Elizabeth was an exchange student in Ecuador and spend half of her time with an indigenous tribe. Being immersed in their world, she fully experienced how to interact with nature for everything. She came away driven to look at her world differently.
Her story reminds me to interact with what I study and I remember the design process. I can begin with the secondary research from the internet, but it will be in the observations in design research that I personally conduct that will bring the breakthroughs. And I laugh at the thought of nature being a participant in design research! But why not?
With the book campaign complete, I turn towards editing. Just as the campaign closed, I received my first feedback on the entire manuscript from the editor. I spent time absorbing her words and waking my mind as to what I need to do.
Before the pandemic, I would have simply pushed forward tossing the work of the campaign aside. In my process, I have changed to focus on three things during a transition - reflecting on what just ended, let go of what didn't work and celebrate what did. These three have become a way of mentally taking a bath, so that I am free to completely focus on what lies ahead.
Reflecting on the campaign, I mused that a campaign begins years before one even knows that you will run one. Small decisions, like being too busy to connected with someone on social media when I met them years ago, affected how well I was able to run the campaign. I have to admit those opportunities are lost not only for the campaign, but just to know those people.
The flip side is I did have a number of people I have kept up with. When pre-selling a book, it's about who will support me and may be interested in the book. I am able to now have tangible proof that I am supported and for that I will celebrate!
Just when I "know" it all...
When I feel like I have mastered something, I get concerned I am getting set in my ways. I have shifted my thinking that there is no mastering truly. I still believe there is a collection of knowledge and converting that to skills that allows me to participate in many aspects of life, but I am starting to believe that I also have the choice to take it further.
Say I take a look at 21 month old black Labrador, Lucy. We are in the honeymoon phase of her training. She understands how to coexist with humans, to ask to for her needs to go outside and eat, and to be respectful of furniture. I can honestly relax around her and simply enjoy her for as long as I get to.
Or I could choose to go deeper. There is a dog Stella who has a human (www.hungerforwords.com) who taught Stella to "talk" by pushing a series of game buttons. It has inspired me to understand more of what goes on in Lucy's mind and see where that can take us.
Nature is always a source of inspiration for me. It started as being energized when interacting with nature in a new way. I can remember the thrill of seeing two kiwi birds in New Zealand in a natural habitat after dark using what I had learned about their sounds and a red flashlight. Moments like that still energize me.
It wasn't until I went for my industrial design degree that I was introduced to the concept of looking to nature on how to solve problems. I heard about how ants were used to inspire algorithms to prevent dropped #cellphone calls. And of course, there is the story of how the woodpecker was used to better understand how to prevent concussions for football players. These stories somehow thrilled me as much as the kiwi.
It felt obvious to also look to #nature on how to manage my life when I was developing my process. The same thrill came as I made the connection which keeps me going whatever kind of day I am having.
With the #book campaign, I have been encouraged to expand my social media presence. That has lead me to finally getting on Facebook. This, of course, has allowed me to reconnect with people from my past.
It's terrific to see how their lives are going, but I will say that it has been a stark reminder of how different my life has been. I have all sorts of memories of these people, but it somehow seems like a dream.
This feeling has helped me also understand my disconnect with various careers, groups, and projects. I can spend time looking at the differences and measuring the miles between here and then. I can even indulge in a sense of loss.
This feeling can happen anytime that we strike out on our own. It often returns as I work my own process. I just have to remind myself that life is about choices and to see what all I have gained in the choices I have made.
Letting it Be
Like many people, I have gone through stages of change in quarantine. The most noticeable is my hair. For decades, I tortured myself and my hair with the latest techniques trying to force my locks to behave.
In quarantine, working from home with very few video calls, I let go of most of the routine. Over time, I grew to accept what my hair "wanted" to do and then researched techniques on how to encourage my hair to "be itself".
The amazing part is that I have likely reduced my effort at least 90% and I am thrilled when I catch a glimpse in a mirror. I no longer see all my work undone due to the wind or humidity outside. In fact, I like to think it even looks better!
I now use my hair as a symbol to remind myself to stop forcing what is so obviously not working. Then examine what would be a another way. There can be a number of prototypes, but in the end, it brings me joy and frees me to focus my energy elsewhere.
Long Game Consistency
This is the last week of my book campaign and I feel like it is the end of the semester. I am a procrastinator, but I still feel the pressure of what hasn't been finished!
One difference this time is I have coaching from my publisher on handling the campaign. Like a semester in school, there is optimistic energy in the beginning, a steady slog in the middle and a surge at the end.
My coaches made it clear how faithful I was to the steady slog would determine how well the surge at the end goes. There were days that the slog did not feel like it was going anywhere and they would pull the graphs out again from other people's campaigns.
I can hear them now that I have developed my own process and have seen how consistency is for a long game. I look at each day as a brick being laid. Wherever you are, take a moment to look at what all you have done. It has made a difference and supports you as you go through a short term surge!
I have always struggled with the darkness in the winter. In fact, I do a little dance on the solstice since the days will become longer. With days like we have had the last month, I can feel myself emerging from a cave. I start to find myself having the energy to do more.
Last week, the weather for my part of the USA became rather cold and my efforts were slowed. I became frustrated. It wasn't so much that projects weren't progressing, but it was because I enjoyed that surge of energy behind the projects. I felt alive.
A weather front finally moved through yesterday and the temperatures will be 20-30 degrees F higher this week. I am excited to get moving again. I've made a note though to consider how I take better prepare and take advantage of the moments of energy. I don't want the feeling of being alive to pass me by!
Ever had that nagging feeling what you are choosing is not what you want? At times, I make the choice. I go to a restaurant based on a craving. I'll scan the menu avoiding my go-to meal. I "force" myself to make a new choice. It's not what I want, but logic says it would be the adult thing to do. I end up with a meal that doesn't thrill me.
An okay meal isn't life altering, but other decisions are. It is understandable when feeling nervous or fearful, that we seek logic to gather our courage. In those moments, we may be tempted to ignore our gut, because we've been taught feelings aren't relevant.
This issue isn't that feelings shouldn't be trusted. It's that we have ignored them for so long we have no idea what they are saying. Are the nerves telling us to not make the choice or pointing out what we should watch out for? Or is it that we are really excited? Deep down you are the only one who knows. Isn't it worth finding out?
What is the value of things?
We can refer to monetary value and determine the selling price to the market. Another angle is the #impact of interacting with the product has on people's lives. How many of us would not let a broken smart phones go a day without dropping everything to get it fixed? Another view is a personal connection. You could say it is when a house becomes a home - when the thing touches you deeply. This kind of connection cannot happen overnight. It requires time, experiences and claiming the object to be something you want in your life.
Is it not the same for rituals or experiences? I went to Clemson University and I still feel the same excitement when I hear TigerRag played by the band - even over the TV. I'm sure you have similar sounds, sights or smells that take you to a certain feeling or time.
Building meaning to what we have in our lives is a choice. And I hope it is one that we will make.
Celebrate Along the Way
One of my quarantine lessons was that I do not celebrate small successes very well. I think it's because I don't define or don't see them as successes. For example, I start a project and imagine what the final outcome will be and force myself to wait until that is realized to feel any success.
The issue is that every project has a number of steps and each of those is needed to get to the outcome. Some steps may require learning some new skill or facing a fear of putting myself out there. In any case, conquering those steps is worth acknowledging. More than that, it is worth celebrating!
Today is Earth Day - a day set aside to rally support for environmental protection. I wonder how well we protected the earth through a global quarantine. It may be easy to dismiss that and look for what is not working well. I hope that for a moment that we can acknowledge what what was positive this past year. And to celebrate even though the effort is in progress.
Life is more than Either / Or
I've recently finished reading Brené Brown's Braving The Wilderness. One key point is that there are more than two choices to anything.
The point keeps coming up because I get tangled in this idea that I do "it" my way or the system's way. "It" can be anything, but for 2020, "it" was developing my own process on how I choose and manage projects to move life forward. Quarantine allowed me to isolate while I explored and not fight the system.
What I learned was the choice is not either or, but and. I had assumed to develop my own process I could accept nothing from the system. In hindsight, that showed a lack of faith in me - or a lack of belief that I could be strong enough to make my own choices.
When I was brave enough to choose myself first and focus on what would allow me to produce my best creations, then everything (including the system's ways) becomes just another tool in the toolbox. I can select each tool when when it is needed.
Is this what I want?
I don't know about you, but I have four #Google mail accounts. There is the personal one, the job application one, the business one and the old school one.
I don't know why, but despite having all of them set up on all my devices, I am still missing a number of events on certain #calendars. It bothers me, because I certainly don't want to miss a meeting, but also because I get a false sense of openness on my #calendar. My mother calls this "a white day" - when the date was completely blank because there was nothing written on the day - and that meant that there was a childlike #freedom to the day.
Why cannot I not feel that good when there is appointment on my calendar? I think I feel bound when the events are not something I have bought into. I am now reflecting if those events should even be there. Am I building a life that I want? Is this how I want to spend my time?
Being open to change
If you are like me, here is Monday morning and you are getting oriented to the day and planning out the week. There are many times that I look back at the week on a Friday and see all those plans were not what happened. Sometimes I am okay with the change, and sometimes I am not.
I think the difference in feeling the week was a success or not comes from whether I am judging myself on how well I followed the plan or if I am reflecting on the quality of the outcome.
There is comfort in a repeatable process that lets us assume that the outcome is repeatable - like baking a cake. The truth is that the outcome is dependent on so many variables and most weeks are not like baking a cake.
So I am encouraging myself today as I plan to also be open to where the plan may take a right turn and to also see the potential of how beautiful the unplanned outcome may be.
I am a human being
There are some characteristics to our nature that are just part of being human. It doesn't matter where you are from, what you look like, what your experiences are. When I was a designer, I liked to call these enduring human needs. That meant whatever the focus of the product, experience or design, it would be beyond a fad and solve an need that lasted generations.
An example is the enduring human need to record and share experiences. It started with cave drawings, paintings and made a huge leap forward to the middle class with film and the camera from George Eastman. Today, with digital cameras in our phones and social media, we record and share far more than anyone can digest.
It is hard to see enduring human needs as life speeds by and when we can only see differences between peoples. Just for today, make and record a beautiful memory. Then share it with the world. In that, we can all take a moment to celebrate all of us being human.
Intention is a choice
This week has gotten away from me. I woke up this morning and suddenly realized it was the weekend again. I don't consider that a bad thing, but I now take a moment to consider how to keep that blur to just one week versus a month or a year or a decade.
I want to experience my life versus having it all flash before me. I have learned experiencing my life requires being present and being present takes being intentional. The beautiful thing is being intentional is a choice.
What is your masterpiece?
Do you believe that you have one?
With so many messages bombarding us to conform to rules and norms, our uniqueness is sometimes lost. It may not even be so much conforming as simply surviving this day that leaves us without the energy to consider much less do anything unique.
I have struggled with the idea that I must succeed with that uniqueness and if I cannot see it as successful, I don't spend my energy on it. One part of my time in quarantine has been to shift my thinking that my responsibility is to simply put my uniqueness out there. Whether it is accepted or not is out of my hands.
That shift has made me more comfortable with the risk of putting myself out there knowing those who I am meant for will show up. That shift has made it easier to quit beating my head against a brick wall. And for that I am grateful!
Everyday is a winding road
Sometimes you don't know the value of something until it is refined.
At first, Sheryl Crow, Jeff Trott and Brian MacLeod were not happy with Everyday Is A Winding Road. It was in producing a simplified version for the movie Phenomenon, they realized "there actually is a really good song in there, and it's just being covered with layer, upon layer, of instruments."
The song is one of Crow’s top 10 hits of all time. The video's solid visual storytelling may be why. It is a story of growing up, putting on an appearance the world expects which only masks how one feels about how everything is changing. In the video, we follow Crow from childhood onward not knowing what will come. She has the choice of holding on to the memories of simpler days like leaving up a faded sign. She can choose to take life so seriously or just lay back and enjoy the show.
It's a message that still resonates as we look at how to face 2021.
Creating Our New Normal
A year ago, there were resources galore on how to handle going into quarantine. Now that the vaccine is being delivered and the world is opening up, there are little to no resources on how to transition out of quarantine. It seems to be an assumption that we simply "go back to normal."
The reality is there is a significant portion of the population who does not want to. Now I know staying at home all the time is not the most healthy for me, but the pushing and the chaos that I had going before 2020 was not either. I feel I've gained some control over my life and I am not interested in simply handing that over just because the quarantine is lifting.
The lack of resources on the transition is likely not for lack of caring, but because each of us has found our own unique way through the last year and it is up to each of us to define our own transition.
How phrases change
I find it interesting how phrases change over time. This became particularly apparent when I was working with students at NCSU.
One day I asked a student if we were going to meet despite the group leader not being present. He said that would be good - he was down. I said I would join the group in a few.
When I was in school, one would say yes to something with "I'm down WITH THAT". So when we got into the meeting, I started the conversation by asking what the student was down about - i.e. what was bothering him. Laughing through tears, he thanked me for my concern.
Another phrase that's changed over the decades is "drinking the Kool-Aid". Today, it is used so lightly. I think that we forget not only it's historical significance, but the reality of what that phrase means. In essence, it means we are giving up ourselves.
My hope is no matter how phrases change, we will always choose to care for ourselves and those around us.
How We Define Time
I often "push" myself to make the weekend different than the week. It naturally happened when I worked outside of the home, but I have become more intentional in making the weekend different for the past year while I work from home.
It felt awkward, but eventually I found a rhythm that felt more like breathing. The weekends became the time where I would breathe in to take in energy and the week would be when I breathe out to send energy into the world.
I felt a naughty changing my my days. When I heard Carl Honoré's TED talk, In Praise of Slowness, I was inspired when he spoke of how our definition of time influences our behaviors. In American culture, time is linear. It is always something we lose. In other cultures, time is cyclical and ever refreshing.
His talk gave me permission to structure specifically for certain tasks versus piling on a todo list of chores. Planning the cycle left me feeling productive versus behind because another cycle coming.
Stress of No Control
Sometimes I can feel life has gotten out of control. One of the little tricks I play on myself is find something that I can control. It can be as simple as which tea cup will I enjoy using today. It brings me back present to myself versus giving into the pushing to meet all the demands that are coming my way.
Jeffrey Pfeffer work on leadership helped me see the feeling of not having control was more the source of my stress than the demands themselves.
If I am smart, I take a moment with that tea cup and #reflect on those demands to see which ones are truly urgent, which ones are necessary and which ones simply need to hear my "no". Those moments help me then see what choices I have and that gives me a sense of control. I then know what action to take. I move to the driver seat versus hanging off the back bumper.
How to Combine 2 Worlds?
In 2013, I started a Master's in Industrial Design at NC State College of Design. I found that my background in engineering and all the processes that I learned prior were challenged. It was why I chose the classroom versus working with design firms I knew I needed to change the way I thought and process information.
Reevaluating everything became a way of life. This new design thinking was pushed further when I joined the NC State Wilson College of Textiles as I entered engineering, but offered my perspective on design. How would I combine the two worlds?
Even now, my time at North Carolina State University pushes me to continue reevaluating and seeking my own process. Learning at any point in life freed me to look for my way of running my life and for that I will always be grateful for those at NC State who stood and stand by me!
Make It Amazing
I love that space where what I do is exactly what energizes me. I understand there is a part of life that requires taking on tasks that aren’t my favorite. At work, we coined the term for taking on those tasks as “eating your veggies.” You know - something that has to be done, but we don’t want to do it.
Eating an over-cooked tasteless plate of mush is something that even the most avid of vegans would not want to do. The thing is now there are well crafted experiences around “eating your veggies”. These experiences are so inspiring, there has been a 6x increase in the number of Americans who claim to be vegan since 2014. The experiences may entice many to try, but I imagine the feeling of health and wellbeing keeps them on the diet.
Why do we not do the same with our “eating the veggie” tasks at work? Why do we ever settle for letting tasks feel like drudgery? What can you do today to spice up that task and make it amazing?
Let Myself Be Human
I was finally able to get my COVID vaccine. I have watched a number of other people go through the rounds. The stories were about how sore their arms were, the drain from the second dose and even the first dose having side effects. I knew that I had a lot going on, so I took some time to prepare - things like cooking a few meals, making sure the laundry was done.
I appreciate that I considered this just before the shot. I can say that is an improvement from my pre-quarantine behavior of pushing through everything no matter what. What concerns me is why don’t I do this all the time? Probably because I rarely see the event coming that could interfere with my energy levels.
What I hope is that I accept the fact that good days and bad days happen. I hope to consider my humanity more often and plan my life such that I set myself up to succeed no matter what kind of day presents itself.
Our world is full of processes and benchmarking. Someone else must know the best way to get things done. I find it interesting that few of us trust ourselves enough to think that we may know the best way for us. When we study others, we are only looking from the outside seeing the actions and results of those actions. We have no idea what is going on inside. We can interview and listen, but there is only so much that we can glean from it. Even if we had all the little tidbits, are we even sure that we are in the same place as the person we are observing?
No matter what, there comes a moment where we need to reflect. What does what we see mean? Does it even apply to where we are? If this is going to be what I adopt, what is the first step? Is what I am trying taking me where I want to go?
The Quality of Our Choices
How are you feeling? Monday mornings can be stressful, but are particularly higher after a holiday weekend. No matter how well we take on our downtime, we can come back to the "grind", feeling behind and out of control. There are studies that have shown that shift into work mode can cause 20% more heart attacks to happen on Monday morning.
My question is not whether Monday mornings and work should be or not. My point is whether what you are choosing is worth the risk. Only you know. Before you jump in, take a moment and check that instinct. What does it tell you about the quality of your choices?
Easter which is a large celebration for Christians because of this belief of opposites - that someone who was dead could also be alive again. Christians are not the only ones who believe opposites are important. There is talk of good and evil, light and darkness, heaven and earth, physical and spiritual realms in many religions.
While we may prefer one opposite over the other, there are times where only having one will be harmful to us. Talk to anyone who works third shift on how well they are adjusting to sleeping in the light and working in the darkness. Or how about a child who only eats candy!
There are also times that combining two opposites can propel us forward. For example, if we take the time to reflect on our actions. It is easy to get caught up in doing, but it is also easy to let days fly by without knowing why we are doing anything. A moment of reflection can anchor the action.
We live in a fast-paced world and look to those who succeed in it as inspiration on how to navigate through the chaos. We particularly laud the #achievements of the elite and even dissect every moment of their days hoping to break the code.
One such example has been the constant analysis of the career of Lionel Messi, one of the most successful athletes in our time. Many want to understand how to reproduce his achievements. The issue that I see is that there is a lot of analysis on his physical actions and how to get into his mind.
He will tell you though that there is a third place that defies analysis - the instinct. The place where we understand the quality of the decisions that the logical mind makes.
Working With Nature
I have often taken nature for granted. Believe me when there is a storm, I take notice. To look to nature for guidance is a new concept to me. Each time I listen, I am always rewarded greatly.
Take the Ever Given cargo ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal on 3/23/2021 where high winds pushed the ship sideways into both banks of the single-lane section of the canal. At one time, 400+ were ships waiting for the canal to be cleared.
People tugged at the ship and dug at the banks, but it was the full moon that changed things. We know well that the phases of the moon affect the tides. In this case, the full moon was closest to the earth and the tides rose about 18 inches. That extra distance made all the difference.
It is one thing to look to nature for inspiration. It is another to work with nature to get unstuck.
What would it be like to work with nature to get unstuck?
I thought about the engineers working to free the #evergivenship. I can see them on 3/24 assessing the situation, bringing out all their mental strength to calculate what this was going to take in moving sand, in number of tug boats and in how high the water would need to rise.
Let's say 5 days later, with 400+ boats waiting and the world's eyes watching, the engineers have determined they have completed all that is humanly possible and must now wait for the full moon high tide. What do you think the reaction would have been?
I think the pressure would make people frenzied so it looks like something was happening. Busyness for busyness sake.
There has to be a better way, a more effective way.
Listening and Accepting
During quarantine, I have looked for laughter. One source has been the Australian version of "Last One Laughing" where 10 comedians are locked in a room for 6 hours all attempting to make each other laugh, but if one does, they are booted out of the room. Many said it was horrible since they LOVE to laugh.
I also researched on improv and went to "Whose Line Is it Anyway?" In an interview, Colin Mochrie said. “The thing about improv is you have to do everything that you're not used to doing in real life. The two basic rules are listening and accepting people's offers. .... [We are] relaxed enough with each other, to actually go out with absolutely nothing. And trust that it's somehow going to work out, and it's basically just us riffing with each other, listening, accepting and then building and taking it into whatever direction we decided to go.”
I've learned I need to trust things will work out more and know when I combine opposites - laughter and work, listening and speaking, receiving and building - the results will take me where I want to go.
Creating A Hairball
In the process of writing this book, I found myself being pulled into a hairball and hairballs suffocate me. Years ago, I was introduced to "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" by Gordon MacKenzie. The premise is that creatives are suffocated by the processes of corporations, BUT will float aimlessly around if they are not connected somehow. The suggestion is that creatives should orbit which allows them to be outside of the process but to still connect their work to the larger organization.
One insight MacKenzie gives is this idea that creative organizations can create their own hairball even while they are orbiting the larger hairball. This has happened to me with writing the book. So many expectations, rules and procedures - most of my own making - have piled on. It's a gradual thing, but then I wake up one day and realize that I'm no longer enjoying this. I realize that I've forgotten the spirit of the process and am living by the letter of it.
When opening my eyes to the meaning of the process, I found myself once again orbiting and feeling free to be creative.
Inspired by Nature
I've done my own reflecting on what all went on in 2020 and came across this video of my puppy, Lucy, on her first trip to the beach. We went as part of her training to be comfortable with water.
She explored all the scents and invited the surf to play with her. Each discovery propelled her to the next one. Then there was a moment where the surf reaches back to her and she was NOT sure what she has gotten herself into. I, of course, laughed out loud at her surprise and admired her for deciding to stop and sit to better understand what was going on.
This memory has resonated with me beautifully as I've been working on a chapter for my book this week. I am writing on looking to nature for inspiration - not only to help us take an energizing moment for ourselves, but on good advice on how to solve problems and how to develop processes. I think there is lot to learn from Lucy on how we can interact with nature to learn how we fit in this world. It's an adventure to be explored, not just for vacations, but to actually help us develop into better people.
How has nature inspired you?