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  • feedwordpress 09:00:03 on 2019/05/23 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , , , Lori Gottlieb, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, mental health, , therapy   

    “The Most Important Habit I’ve Changed Is Going from Being Self-Critical to Being Kind to Myself While Holding Myself Accountable.” 


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    Interview: Lori Gottlieb.

    Lori Gottlieb is a bestselling writer and a practicing psychotherapist. I can't remember how I became aware of her work. Did I meet her at an event? Did I read a magazine story she wrote? Do we have a mutual friend? It's lost in the sands of time, but for some reason, for several years, I've paid particular attention to the career of Lori Gottlieb. I know I read her books Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough and Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self.

    Now she has a new book, an instant New York Times bestseller: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed.

    She also has a weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column in The Atlantic.

    I was eager to hear what she had to say about happiness and good habits.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Lori: Breathing! This might sound strange, but as a therapist, I notice that sometimes people forget to breathe—I mean really replenishing themselves with air. We tend to take shallow, short breaths as we rush through our days, but a simple way to make you happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative is to close your eyes and take a one-minute breathing break (slow, deep breaths) every so often throughout the day. It resets you both physiologically and emotionally. This one easy practice really works wonders!

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    I’ve discovered that happiness—a lasting sense of peace or contentment—is simply a byproduct of living your life in a fulfilling way. This will mean something different for each person, and that’s important to remember when comparing your own happiness to what you imagine other people’s happiness looks like. (You’re often wrong.) If you live your life with intention—What am I doing and why am I doing it? Am I really trapped doing what I don’t like or are there other options? Am I wasting time today on people or activities that don’t matter?—the happiness follows.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I started to notice that many of my therapy patients were so unkind to themselves. There were these critical voices in their heads that they weren’t even aware of. I had one therapy patient write down everything she said to herself in the course of a few days, and when she came back the next week, she was almost embarrassed to read it to me. “I’m such a bully to myself!” she said. “If I talked this way to any of my friends, I wouldn’t have friends anymore!”

    The more I saw this in my patients, the more I made a concerted effort to be kind to myself. Being kind and having self-compassion doesn’t mean that you don’t take responsibility for your mistakes or what you’d like to do differently. But you don’t have to self-flagellate while you take responsibility. In fact, the kinder you are to yourself, the easier it will be to make the necessary changes.

    Also, having self-compassion breeds compassion for others, so being kinder to yourself also tends to improve the other relationships in your life. Hands down, the single most important habit I’ve changed is going from being self-critical to being kind to myself while still holding myself accountable.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    According to the quiz, I’m a Rebel. Not surprising, given that I went from being a film and TV executive to medical student to journalist to therapist! It was a very circuitous route, and people often thought I was crazy to leave what I was doing for something else. But I did what I wanted to do—it was my life to live, after all, not theirs—and in the end, it makes so much sense. Everything I’ve done and continue to do are related to my greatest interests and passions: story and the human condition.

    I went from telling fictional stories (in film and TV) to real people’s stories (in medical school), and then from telling people’s stories (as a journalist) to helping people change their stories (as a therapist).

    If I hadn’t had some “Rebel” in me, I wouldn’t have taken those risks.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    In the book, I write about my experience treating a young newlywed who’s diagnosed with breast cancer. Her doctors think she’ll be fine—it’s a very treatable form of cancer—and after surgery and chemotherapy, she is. But then, six months later, on a routine scan they discover a rare, aggressive form of cancer, and they tell her she has only a few years to live.

    “Will you stay with me until I die?” she asks. It was such a profound experience, looking death in the eye with her in way we normally don’t, and it made me consider my own mortality in a new way, a healthier way. We can deny death completely, even though we’re all going to die one day—and most of us have no idea how or when—or we can have some awareness of it so that we can pay more attention to the time we do have.

    There were many lightning bolts moments with her, but one stands out. In a session, she said that because of her illness, she noticed how much other people put things off for the future—I’m going to apply for that job I really want next year; I’ll try dating again after I’m done with this project in the summer; I’ll apologize to my sibling or repair that relationship when I’m not so busy—but what, she wondered, is everyone waiting for? I remember sitting in that session and thinking, “What am I waiting for?” It changed how I approached my daily life—I stopped putting the important things off for “later.”

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) 

    “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” - Viktor Frankl

    In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    I think a common misperception of therapy is that you go in, talk about your childhood ad nauseam, and never leave (or leave years and years later). In my book, I wanted to bring people directly into the therapy room to show them what therapy really is. Therapists will hold up a mirror to you so that you can see your reflection more clearly. We all have blind spots, ways of shooting ourselves in the foot over and over and ending up in the same place because of something we’re doing that we aren’t aware of.

    Therapy is about helping people relate to themselves and others more smoothly so that they don’t have to struggle so much. We all struggle, of course, but we can change our role in it, and our response to it. That what therapy teaches you how to do. And then you leave—our goal is to encourage your independence, to get you not to need us anymore, to be able to manage life’s universal challenges more easily with the insight and tools you gained in therapy. As the late psychotherapist John Weakland famously said, “Before successful therapy, it’s the same damn thing over and over. After successful therapy, it’s one damn thing after another.”

    Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:35 on 2019/05/09 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , failure, , It's Great to Suck at Something, Karen Rinaldi,   

    “Happiness Doesn’t Mean We Are Feeling ‘Happy’ All of the Time.” 


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    Interview: Karen Rinaldi.

    Karen Rinaldi has a double bookish identity. She's worked in the publishing industry for decades, and is now the publisher of Harper Wave, an imprint that she founded.

    She's also a writer herself. She wrote the novel The End of Men, and now she has a new non-fiction book with an absolutely great title and premise: (It's Great to) Suck at Something: The Unexpected Joy of Wiping Out and What It Can Teach Us About Patience, Resilience, and the Stuff that Really Matters.

    She makes the case for why it's great to push yourselves, try new things, and find joy in the pursuit rather than the goal.

    I myself have been trying to tap into this kind of joy during my frustrations at trying to learn to play the ukulele!  (#7 on my "19 for 2019" list).

    I couldn't wait to talk to Karen about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Karen: Surfing!

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Karen: Happiness doesn’t mean we are feeling “happy” all of the time. We can be “happy” but still experience sadness, frustration, anger, loneliness—which are all part of what it means to be an open-hearted human. Our attachment to those negative feelings is what gets in the way of our happiness. But respecting those more uncomfortable feelings, making room for them, and not judging them allows us to release them and make room for happiness.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Karen: I don’t know yet what my readers think but what surprised me the most while writing my book was that with every deep inquiry, in much of the research and reading, the philosophy and the science—it all kept leading me back to concepts and questions of the divine. I wasn’t expecting to wind up there at each turn, but it was a beautiful and unexpected journey. I was humbled by humankind’s constant search to understand meaning and to grapple with our mortality. This is as true for physicists as it is for poets, for doctors as it is for philosophers.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit?

    Karen: Yes—I have been able to change a bad habit when I was finally convinced that it was bad (it’s easy enough to lie to ourselves about stuff to keep us at it) and I’ve started new habits with the expectation, understanding, and self-forgiveness that I would fail to uphold it, so that the pressure was eliminated.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Karen: I would consider myself a Rebel, but according to the criteria and the questionnaire, it turns out that I am an Upholder, which I think is funny! It’s probably true and just shows that we like to think of ourselves one way, when we are really something else. Can I be a rebellious Upholder? (Probably not, right?)

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

    Karen: Yes, my tendency to be an Upholder (now I know!) sometimes puts obligations before personal health and happiness. But that said, I’m pretty good at pulling back to focus on what I want, even if it results in actually fulfilling that obligation. I make a habit of asking myself why I am doing something that I might at first resent or resist doing, only to realize that I’m doing it because I want to do it. I make the best decisions when I respect the tension between volition and duty, productivity and rest, and accept that none of it is binary.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Karen: Yes, there are three times specifically in my life when this happened. The first was when I was in my late twenties and struggling with my self-confidence, I was complaining to someone that so-and-so “made me feel stupid.” My friend’s response changed my life. He said, “Karen, no one can make you feel anything.” That one comment gave me agency in my responses to all kinds of things. It still does.

    The second time was when my son was struggling at school—he was eight years old at the time—and a father of one of his classmates said to him, “Rocco, it’s so great to suck at something.” Rocco’s eyes lit up and I think it helped him enormously. I had been five years into my efforts to surf (which I still suck at doing) and John’s comment became my mantra. It allowed me to keep failing but to embrace the joy of it anyway. Rocco became valedictorian of his high school class and I didn’t give up paddling out. That one aha-moment turned into a more than decade-long journey to this book and new way of living for me.

    The third time came with a diagnosis and year-long- everything-gone-wrong battle with breast cancer. I finally understood the age-old wisdom of how “Why me?” is only answered with, “Why not me?” These three experiences were lessons in freedom.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Karen: From Samuel Beckett: “Every tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.” That about sums it up for me. Anything is possible in that framework.

    Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Karen: I wouldn’t say that there is a single book that changed my life, but I couldn’t imagine my life without books. As a reader, editor, and writer, books—or, rather, the intimate communion between writer and reader—have helped me in absolutely every single aspect of my life. Books are like oxygen or water—completely essential.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Karen: If my field is publishing and writing, I would say that, like anything else that looks simple from the outside (surfing, for one)—and all those books out there in the world would indicate otherwise—it’s harder than it looks!

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:32 on 2019/05/03 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , , , , Nora McInerny, , The Hot Young Widows Club   

    “Our Hearts Are Like the Hogwarts Room of Requirement—They Magically Open Up a New Room Just When We Need It.” 


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    Interview: Nora McInerny

    A few years ago, Nora McInerny went through tremendous period of grief and loss. Within a month, she miscarried her second baby, her father died of cancer, and then her husband Aaron died from a brain tumor. She explains, "These are all really sad stories, but they are not only sad stories. They are love stories and life stories and sometimes even funny stories." She has a terrific podcast, Terrible (Thanks for Asking) with honest talk about sorrow and loss.

    She's written several books, such as It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) and No Happy Endings: A Memoir, and her latest book is The Young Hot Widows Club: Lessons on Survival from the Front Lines of Grief.

    As it happens, I have a friend who is a member of this club—though in his case, it's for "young hot widowers." So I was very interested to read Nora's new book.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Nora: I’m from Minnesota where the winters are absurdly long and the days are short. I really couldn’t live without my medical-grade SAD lamp. I’m an early riser, often up by 5:30 am. I blast myself with light while I read or write first thing in the morning. Not only does it help me feel physically better, It also helps my winter depression a ton. Some of my best writing sessions happen while I’m sitting in front of the lamp. I highly recommend them for those of us surviving northern climates.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    I didn’t know much about happiness when I was 18 because I was a truly miserable person. I thought happiness meant checking achievement boxes. Get into a “good” college. Check. Move to NY. Check. Work in advertising. Check. It wasn’t until my boyfriend was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor that I decided to start living in the ways that taught me pursuing happiness did not mean the absence of pain. We got married one month after Aaron’s diagnosis and first brain surgery. I knew that happiness meant being with him for as long as I could. Being with him also meant becoming a widowed mother at age 31.

    Happiness can live alongside pain, grief, and sadness. They are not at odds. Though we are often taught that happiness is a perfect, permanent state of being, sometimes saying “yes” to happiness means saying “yes” to a whole bunch of other feelings.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I stopped drinking about two years after my first husband died. I realized that I was using alcohol to cope with grief and that it wasn’t helping or working. It wasn’t particularly hard for me to stop. My dad was a recovering alcoholic, so I know first-hand that it's much more difficult for some people. I realized that I had succumbed to some wine-mom culture peer pressure and thought that drinking rosé was the cool way to deal with grief, but when I interrogated that belief, I realized it was empty for me. I didn’t really enjoy drinking that much and from there I just stopped. Also, drinking made me sleepy, and kind of a jerk!

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Lots of things are disruptive to habits, but I find social media an especially appealing and destructive distraction. I can skim through hundreds of positive comments on my work and completely fixate on that one negative review. I know the first and last names of everyone who gave my books a less than four-star review on Amazon because I’m a super healthy, normal person. When I’m deep in the internet rage machine, I hand over my passwords to someone trusted (Hi, Hannah!) and take a break for a week. It feels great.

    There are certain habits I just don’t bend on, no matter what is happening. When I’m in book writing mode, I write 2,000 words a day, five days per week religiously. My writer friend, Jo Piazza, taught me that no one needs to write more than 2,000 words a day. Sometimes it feels like pulling teeth and it’s all garbage. Sometimes I’m inspired and can write for hours. I’ve written four books and countless scripts for my podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking this way and it gets the job done.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    My life today is very much the byproduct of a major lightening moment when in 2014 I miscarried a pregnancy, lost my dad to cancer and my husband, Aaron, died of a brain tumor all in a matter of weeks. When losses so profound and at such a dizzying rate struck my life, the very foundation on which I stood shifted. Everything changed. I quit my job after going back to my cubicle seemed impossible. My financial advisor did not recommend this strategy, but gratefully I had a safety net when friends, family, and perfect strangers showed up to make sure my toddler son and I could live. I started my non-profit, Still Kickin, in honor of Aaron. Since then I’ve made over 70 episodes of the Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast and written four books. Watching my dad and Aaron die without fulfilling all their creative potential really lit a fire in me to stop waiting for the perfect time to do things and allow myself to take risks because the worst had already happened.

    Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl. If you can’t learn from a Holocaust Survivor, you are BROKEN.

    In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    You might think that what I do—talking to people about the worst and most terrible moments of their lives—is the exact opposite of what The Happiness Project does. But, there is no real way to access happiness without also understanding suffering, which is a universal human experience. Everyone you love is going to die. There’s no way of getting around it, no cheat, no hack, no habit that can save us from that reality and so many other terrible realities. (I’m really fun at parties)!

    There are lots of ways to look at this. One is to simply says, “This is hard.” And it is. You are not obligated to make lemonade from your lemons! Sometimes they are just lemons and they’re sour and it sucks AND we can move on with these life-changing, painful experiences. We can experience grief and joy simultaneously, sometimes even in the same breath. When I met my current husband I thought the part of my heart that loved Aaron would shut down, that there was only room enough to love one person at a time. That could not be further from the truth. Our hearts are like the Hogwarts Room of Requirement—they magically open up a new room just when we need it. This is where we can find new joy and new love. The rest of the castle is still there. We just keep building new wings.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:54 on 2019/05/02 Permalink
    Tags: A Way to Garden, author interview, , , gardening, , Margaret Roach, , ,   

    “I Garden Because I Cannot Help Myself—But It’s the Best Kind of Compulsion.” 


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    Interview: Margaret Roach

    Margaret Roach worked in publishing for many years, at places like the New York TimesNewsday, and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Then at the end of 2007, she left the city and "success" for a life lived much more quietly and closer to nature.

    She's a passionate gardener; has published a popular garden website since 2008; opens her garden for tours a few times a season; writes books; and lectures frequently to help foster an interest in gardening.

    Not only that, she has a highly praised, weekly gardening radio show and podcast called "A Way to Garden," produced at “the smallest NPR station in the nation” in nearby Sharon, Connecticut.

    Her new book A Way to Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season was described this way by Publishers Weekly: "Filled with expert information, this book is less a 'how to' for novices than a meditation on 'why to' for veterans. Those with dirt already under their fingernails will treasure Roach’s in-depth knowledge, wry humor, and reflective look at how seasons in gardening mirror the passage of time."

    I myself love reading gardening books, though I have no interest in gardening, just the way I love reading cooking books, though I have no interest in cooking. A great writer makes these subjects compelling.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Margaret about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative? 

    Margaret: I always say that I garden because I cannot help myself—but it’s the best kind of compulsion. With the garden as my lens on life, I have opened to matters of both science and the spirit, gaining a tiny glimpse of how all the pieces fit in each realm.

    I have written that by becoming a gardener, I accidentally—blessedly—landed myself in a fusion of science lab and Buddhist retreat, a place of nonstop learning and of contemplation, where there is life buzzing to the max and also the deepest stillness. It is from this combined chemistry that I derived the motto of my website and book: “horticultural how-to and ‘woo-woo.’”

    I discovered a connection to plants—and in turn, to nature’s complex interconnections—in my mid-20s, during a time that was anything but happy. I found myself suddenly back at my childhood home, managing the care of my widowed mother, who was barely 50 years old but had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. One can only sit inside and watch so much daytime TV. Miraculously someone gifted me a garden book, and I started ordering plant catalogs and then plants, gradually conducting horticultural therapy on myself in the front yard. Daily contact with the world outdoors has been my life practice since.

    Just go outside, already. Not willing or able to make a garden? Get a pair of binoculars and the eBird.org app, and go chat up some local birds.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    That solitude, and stillness, are not to be feared, but rather to be cultivated, because each of us requires the nourishment they provide.

    My impression, perhaps like many other young women of my generation, was that key to fulfillment was finding Mr. Right, like the spirit of that “Jerry McGuire” quote, “You complete me.” (This was decades before that movie, of course.) I chased a lot of boys before it dawned on me: It turns out the “you” in that kind of equation alludes to “yourself,” not another (though loved ones are immense treasures, too).

    Learning to kindle joy in regular doses of solitude, rather than rushing to cram every moment with something or someone, was my best life lesson ever. As a complement to that, I make time to really focus my emotional energies on a few key, years-long and devoted relationships (and yes, I suppose the garden is one of those).

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I got a first insight into how my own habit-modification inner thing works at the onset of severe asthma in my 20s, when I became a vegetarian, after being advised to “reduce” intake of animal foods that might contain drugs like antibiotics or hormones. A vegetarian diet evolved and has stuck, but first—after considerable struggling—came the revelation that I am a very black-or-white, on-or-off person when it comes to changing habits. It was simpler for me to give up meat, poultry, fish than to “reduce,” and eat it once in a while. (And yes, I still miss bacon.)

    That it’s easier for me to flip the switch to “off”—to stop something completely rather than limit it—was an important trait to come to recognize and accept, rather than continuing to bang my head against the wall of attempted moderation, and “failures.”

    One other trick I have learned around exercise, which I loathe: I am more likely to show up if I set an appointment involving another person. Though I am happy to do garden chores anytime the weather permits, no urging required, I am highly resistant to formal “exercise”—aerobic workouts or classes at a gym. Making a date, which my brain regards as a contract, means I show up. I won’t let another person down (but I will wriggle out of a workout, endlessly excusing myself, if it’s “just me” scheduled to attend).

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    The quiz says I am a Questioner. As a career journalist, I suppose that makes sense, but the so-called 5 W’s that used to be taught—of who, what, when, where and why—are at this age mostly centered on the why’s. I’ll admit I can be a bit pesky on this score, but what is life without incessant curiosity? I question, therefore I am. [Gretchen: Hmmm....your answers to some of these questions make me wonder if you're actually an Obliger.]

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Though friends long said I was “not Type A but Type AAA,” a being can throttle it up only just so long.

    A decade or so ago, I made a complicated decision to leave the city and my career for my former weekend home and garden, in a rural small town. The incessant stress and skyscraper existence—total disconnection from nature five days a week—just did not nurture me, I had to finally admit. Though I was described as “successful,” I had to acknowledge that the relentlessness back there also eroded my happiness and wellness, because I was fighting my natural rhythm and inclinations.

    The change required that I give up many things, from a salary and benefits to the proximity of some people I love and the city’s amazingness. I wrote a memoir about the transition, called And I Shall Have Some Peace There (a line from a Yeats poem, written about a place in nature that sustained him, as the place I have chosen does for me).

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    All of the above, or so it seemed that some key decisions were sudden at the time, as if the next step has just occurred to me in that instant. Looking back at most of them from a bit more distance, though, I can see that they were not sudden at all but that I had simply reached an “enough is enough” moment. (No wonder we have multiple expressions for such thresholds, like “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and lately “the tipping point.”)

    The book or conversation or birthday was catalytic, maybe, but I’d been brewing the change beneath the surface for some time. The decision to drop out of my career, and the city, was like that—sudden, and not so sudden at all.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to“Be Gretchen.”)

    Various ones, but among them is “Keep weeding,” as in: working my way through the tangles that life (and a garden) can present, hoping to stay ahead of becoming engulfed or overwhelmed.

    I guess in the same spirit, I often find myself ending emails or letters with the one-word sentence: “Onward.”

    There is a line from a Wendell Berry poem, too: “All we need is here.” That is what I think of gratefully as I look out the window each day.

    A corollary to that (probably watering down a tenet of Buddhism once stated far more gracefully): “Want what you have, and don’t want what you don’t have.” Simpler said than done, but sound advice worth remembering.

    Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Jack Kornfield’s 1993 A Path With Heart, the title of which hints at which fork in the road to choose. I think the core lesson I took away was that struggling to make change—trying through some act of will to change—just reinforces patterns of self-judgment, and isn’t helpful (nor does it achieve any transformation, typically).

    Lots of lessons in Kornfield’s teachings are about compassion—including compassion directed at ourselves, which even many of the kindest people I know often forget to cultivate.

    In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    I know that a big barrier to trying gardening is the impression that it is too hard, time-consuming, or expensive. But I also know (because hundreds of people tell me so each year) that those who succeed with even one houseplant can experience unexpected, inexplicable elation. Go ahead.

    It should not be a barrier, either, that we are powerless over a lot of what gardening places you face-to-face with—like the weather, or that your subjects are living things (meaning: they may die). In this world of 24/7 connectivity and instant answers from Google and all of it, finding ourselves humbled by forces bigger than ourselves through an undertaking like gardening is a good thing, a reality check, an antidote for hubris. The word humble comes from the Latin humus, for earth or ground. Ready to surrender?

    a way to garden cover

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:40 on 2019/04/11 Permalink
    Tags: , author interview, , , dessert, Emily Luchetti, Erin McHugh, , , , So Who's Counting   

    Emily Luchetti and Erin McHugh: “We Are Big Believers in Doing at Least One Fun Thing a Day, However Small.” 


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    Interview: Emily Luchetti and Erin McHugh

    How I love quotations—I collect them myself in giant troves, I collect books of quotations, and I love sending out my free daily "Moment of Happiness" newsletter with a terrific quotation about happiness or human nature (sign up here if you'd like to get it).

    So of course I was immediately intrigued by the new book from two friends and authors Emily Luchetti and Erin McHugh. So Who's Counting?: The Little Quote Book About Growing Older and Still Kicking Ass is a book of quotations that remind us that with age comes the opportunity to ask, "What's next? What do I really want? What have I learned the hard way?"

    I couldn't wait to talk to Erin and Emily about happiness, habits, aging, and self-knowledge.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Emily: Exercise. Either a hike or working out at the gym in a TRX/weights class. The former I do on weekends with my husband and a friend. The classes first thing in the morning during the week. I feel more productive, energized, and ready to take on the world once I have gotten my body in gear.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Emily: Don’t worry so much about what other people think. And don’t compare yourself to others. Be your own authentic self. Now that I am older I take many things less personally. I can keep myself and others happy. I don’t have to forfeit what I want over others’ needs.

    Erin: That it isn’t an inalienable right. Happiness is work, and it needs constant attention and upkeep. Feed it and it grows. And that, along with the time to pursue it, happiness is worth more than any commodity on earth.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Emily and Erin: What turned out to be a revelation for us while we were working on So Who’s Counting? was getting to delve in and discover more about the people we quoted, not just the quote that ended up on the page. We conferred on every passage in the book—more than once—and researched where each came from, whether it was a speech, a letter, a passage from a book. But in doing so, we went down the most intriguing and rewarding rabbit holes. We found that Julia Child’s family had a cook growing up, and young Julia could have cared less about food. We were reminded about Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War draft, how it caused him to lose all his titles, left him on the sidelines during his best fighting years, but became the beginning of his journey as a humanitarian. How Maya Angelou’s life was burdened by a past as a sex worker, and a childhood in the Jim Crow South. And though these were people we had never met, we found then began to influence us in profound ways.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Emily: I took the quiz (I love things like this!) and am an Upholder. “I do what others expect of me—and what I expect from myself.” In my younger days only the first part of this sentence would have been true. I took care of others needs and put myself last. A real plus about getting older!

    Erin: I’m a Questioner. By profession I’m a writer and an interviewer: so it’s no surprise that curiosity drives me even when I’m practicing neither!

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Erin: Time—especially as one grows older—seems to whiz by. You’ve got to keep it in your grasp! A good calendar with some structured activity, whether it’s yoga, writing, getting together with friends, and whatever else pleases you, is key. Then the distractions don’t seem as...well, distracting. And Emily and I are both big believers in doing at least one fun thing a day, however small.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Emily: When I turned 60, I became aware of time in a good way. It hit home that we each only have one life and should live it to the best—whatever that means to you. For me, it’s a different answer each day. Some days it will be all work, sometimes all play. Sometimes something totally new, sometimes something I have done a zillion times. That’s what makes life exciting. I never really celebrate my birthdays but at 60 I wanted to make a statement to myself and saw it as an opportunity to do something I always thought would be fun but never did, I had a luncheon (cooked by Chef Jonathan Waxman) for about 70 women in the food world. It was electrifying to be in that room. Since then I have tried to make more time for these friendships and connections. We are always all so busy. You need to make a concerted effort to get together. And it’s worth it.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Emily: “Someday is Today.”

    Erin: Singer Lauren Hill says at the end of one of her songs, “Everything is everything.” From the first time I heard it, I have found it such a valuable reminder for me. It means “Every little thing matters,”  “Every moment counts,” and “Even the tiny things sometimes end up being the thing that makes the difference.”

    Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Erin: I wrote a book a few years ago called One Good Deed: 365 Days of Trying to Be Just a Little Bit Better, in which I tried to do just a small, positive thing each day as I went about my business. Almost immediately it clocked the way I looked at the world, and how I approached life on a daily basis. It trained both my head and my heart to be aware, mindful, kinder. I treasure the experience and take myself back to its pages constantly to remind myself that better doesn’t have to be hard.

    In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Emily: "Never trust a skinny chef." For sure, I know how hard it is to not succumb to sweets. Especially when there are several ten-pound boxes of chocolate on the shelf. But it is possible to enjoy desserts and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s all about moderation. I started a movement around it called dessertworthy. Pastry chefs like to bake but we also like to exercise, eat veggies, and fit into our jeans. People don’t automatically assume a wine maker is an alcoholic or a pharmacist is a drug addict.

    Erin: Writing a book is never a simple task. It’s long, arduous, vexing...but always rewarding.

    SWC COVER

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:16 on 2019/04/04 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , , Laura Gassner Otting, Limitless,   

    “I Think the Best Antidote to a Rut Is Action, So I Try to Remind Myself that Anything Beats Nothing.” 


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    Interview: Laura Gassner Otting

    Laura Gassner Otting founded the Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, and has been involved in many nonprofit boards around the country. She writes and speaks frequently about the world of mission-driven work and getting "unstuck" in our lives. As she describes herself: "I help people discover how they align what they do with who they are, to achieve limitless potential."

    As if that's not enough to keep her busy, she has also just published a new book: Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Laura about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Laura: I hang out with “framily,” those people who aren’t the family I was born to—they are lovely but geographically distant—but the friends I have made as an adult who have become my close knit kibbutz. These are the people who know my hopes and dreams, who see my stress and anxiety, who cheer me on during my successes and pick me up during my failures. They don’t keep score, they don’t play the comparison gave, they know we are all on our own path. They bathe in emotional abundance, rather than scarcity. I am better for the fact that they are in my life, and I work hard every day to make sure that I uplift them in return.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Ever the gold star chaser, I was entirely certain that if I just collected all the right degrees and titles, I’d be happy. But it wasn’t until I was much older, fueled by my own journey and also twenty years of studying, recruiting, and stewarding leaders through massive career shifts, that I realized that success as externally (and often myopically) defined, didn’t equal happiness. It wasn’t until I realized that we need to create our own definition of success, and lean into that specifically, that the success we achieve will truly bring us the happiness we seek.

    In your new book, Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Life Your Best Life, you have a different take on success, and its role in bringing happiness. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Over the course of my research, what I’ve learned is that success doesn’t bring happiness when it’s merely us following someone else’s path to someone else’s definition of success. It’s why Lean In didn’t ring true for so many; some were angry about the privilege that Sheryl Sandberg used to achieve her success. I didn’t blame her for that; frankly it would've been folly not to use it. My issue wasn’t how she achieved success, but how she defined it, as this one unflinching, myopic view of the fastest and most expedient path to the corner office.

    What I now know is that happiness through work comes from consonance, from when the “what you do” matches the “who you are.” Each of our true definitions of success will be a personalized rubric of calling, connection, contribution, and control.

    • Calling is a gravitational pull towards a goal larger than yourself—a business you want to build, a leader who inspires you, a societal ill you wish to remedy, a cause you wish to serve.
    • Connection gives you sightlines into how your everyday work serves that calling by solving the problem at hand, growing the company’s bottom line, or reaching that goal.
    • Contribution is an understanding of how this job, this brand, this paycheck contributes to the community you want to belong, the person you want to be, or the lifestyle you’d like to live.
    • Control reflects how you are able to influence your connection to that calling in order to have some say in the assignment of projects, deadlines, colleagues, and clients; offer input into shared goals; and do work that contributes to your career trajectory and earnings.

    We will all want and need these in different amounts at different ages and stages throughout our lives. I’ve set up a quiz that people can take to understand how much of each of these elements they want in their lives, and how much of each they’d like to have. And, of course, it gives some immediately actionable tips on changes to make right here, right now to get unstuck and become limitless. That quiz is at www.LimitlessAssessment.com.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    When I turned 39 years old, I walked into my kids’ elementary school and saw the principal, whom I hadn’t seen in a few months. “Ellen,” I said, “You look amazing. Either you’ve been really sick, or there’s a new man in your life, and you look too good to have been really sick!” And she replied, “There is a new man in my life, and his name is Mike. Coach Mike.”

    And she dragged me to a boot camp where I spent six weeks trying to run the first mile of my life. (Seriously, I’d had 634,598 excuses to get out of P.E. throughout my childhood and the only reason I was picked last for every team was because there wasn’t a position after last.) But then I did it. I ran my first mile without stopping.

    Fast forward nine years, and I’ve run three marathons and row on a competitive team. Whenever the coach calls out, “OK, athletes, next we’re going to…” I get giddy. Still can’t believe anyone would think of me as an athlete, and loving the multitudes within myself that I am discovering as a result of letting myself be (very) uncomfortable in the middle of my otherwise comfortable life.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    I am an Upholder. The last thing I do before I go to bed is check my schedule for the next day, and mentally walk through and schedule in time to complete my tasks, be present for others, and take steps towards my personal and professional goals. My husband likes to joke that “If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist.” To wit, I schedule in shower time after a workout, picking up my kids, and answering email, all things which (eek, the kids!) would either be forgotten or expand across the day (gah, email!) if unchecked.

    And, really, there’s nothing like clear expectations and a full set of data when it comes to making plans and dreaming big dreams, right?

    Oh, and yeah, I’m that person who puts the thing on my to-do list that I have done, even if it wasn’t on there before. Nothing is more beautiful than an organized day and a clean slate morning.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    I am the human embodiment of Newton’s First Law of Physics: a body in motion stays in motion. So when I’m in a groove, I’m golden. But when travel, bad eating, sickness, injury waylay me, I’m at risk of falling off the path. That said, I think the best antidote to rut is action, so I try to remind myself that anything beats nothing, and then I call a friend and ask them to join me the next day in The Thing I Need to Do. Accountability always gets me back on track, even when everything in my core is clinging to malaise.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Show up. Shut up. Do the work. (Pretty Upholder of me, huh?)

    For me, it’s about being fully present, getting better by listening and learning, and doing the hard yards in the dark that nobody sees (or cares about) so that I can show up in a way for my message, my family, my community, and my causes.

    Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    At the risk of being so cheesy and fangirly: The Happiness Project. [Awwww thanks!]

    When The Happiness Project first came out, I scoffed and thought, “What does this women of privilege know about being happy? Her life must be really happy already.” But then I thought, “Well, I’m pretty privileged and I’m not happy.” So I bought the book.

    And then, on pretty much the first page, you called yourself out about the privilege, and from that moment on, you had my heart.

    I made my husband read it the second I finished it, and even though this would normally not be his thing, he dutifully read it for me—perhaps because he’d not seen me so animated about a book in quite some time—and we began to immediately implement the changes you outlined. This book changed our lives because it changed the way we looked at our lives, and what they could be, and how we use our privilege and the choices we made every day to be happy.

    So, I’ve been waiting a long time to say this, but: thank you.

    In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    I’m on a crusade to get us to stop listening to the messengers riding in on the Four Horsemen of the Success Apocalypse: balance, purpose, happiness, and passion.

    Purpose! This idea that the only careers that matter are ones that fix the world, the one that demand the shirt off our backs, the ones where service is only service if it also means sacrifice.

    Balance! This fleeting, ephemeral, impossible to reach idea that work and life must be perfectly separate and always equal to one another, as if work and life should have nothing to do with one another.

    Happiness! That terrible phrase that kills our dreams before they even leave our mouths, “I’ll be happy when…” I’ll be happy when I go on vacation. I’ll be happy when I pay off my debt. I’ll be happy when I get married. I’ll be happy when I find a new job. Why can’t we be happy now?

    Passion! We’ve all seen her. That beautiful, perfectly beach waved flaxen haired beauty, staring off into the sunset over the dunes or, um, Coachella. “Follow Your Dreams!” It’s the spoken word illegitimate sister of the Live Love Laugh tattoo!

    The four horsemen set up a false choice. A binary choice between whether or not we have purpose or are pushing paper, whether or not we have perfect balance or the edges of our lives bleed together, whether we are happy by these false standards, or whether we have passion or are miserable sell-outs. I’m calling bull on all of it. The four horsemen build a create a false foundation on which we build a life, and then we realize that that life was meant for someone else. It’s no wonder we can’t live boldly into that life.

    You can’t be insatiably hungry for other people’s goals, for other people’s definitions of success. So, what does success look like for me? What would make me truly happy? If we could all, collectively, say, “Screw the Joneses!” and fail at living into everyone else’s expectations, so that we can make room for our own.

    Besides, why are we taking advice from girls in flower crowns, anyway?!?

    limitless book

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:26 on 2019/03/28 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , , , , , , The Home Edit   

    Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin: “An Efficient and Beautiful Space Gives Us Peace of Mind and Streamlines Our Routines.” 


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    Interview: Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin.

    Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin are friends and business partners. They started "The Home Edit" to reinvent traditional organizing and merge it with design and interior styling.

    The Home Edit service will organize every space in the home, from bedrooms and kitchens, to closets and pantries. Every project receives meticulous attention to detail, carefully considered systems, and a signature aesthetic. They can come to you—even if you're in a different state—or work online.

    This team serves as the organizers to the stars, including huge celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon.

    Their new book just hit the shelves: The Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals.

    As you can imagine, I couldn't wait to hear them discuss their views on clutter, organization, habits, and happiness. More outer order for all!

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Clea and Joanna: Can we say organizing or is that too obvious? But, seriously—an efficient and beautiful space gives us peace of mind and streamlines our routines. When you know what you have and where it is, it’s the simplest thing and yet so gratifying.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    As two people who’ve now made a living off of their type-A (or let’s be honest, neurotic) personalities, we’ve come to learn that following your intuition and passion is worth the risk—even if it scares the hell out of you at first. In fact, we didn’t know much about each other when we decided to start a business together. We had lunch—a four-hour lunch—and discussed worldwide organizing domination. The only thing we could really discern is that we felt like we had a similar work ethic and that we didn’t do anything halfway. We got that gut feeling that we’re just the kind of people who go all in—and thankfully, we did.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    As organizers, we’re the first to say that routine is everything. And when it comes to making or breaking a habit, we believe that it comes down to being honest with yourself and creating systems that simplify and ease you into the process. For instance, I hate working out and I’m constantly making excuses for why I need to skip. So I started packing a gym bag and putting it in my trunk. The fact that I didn’t have to do the extra step of choosing what clothes to wear or having to go home to change was what I needed to jumpstart the habit, without me even realizing I was doing it.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    We travel a lot—especially now that we’re on our book tour. We’ve both woken up on multiple occasions and completely forgotten what city we’re in. We literally have to remind each other. In order to stay sane and not lose our routine, we’ve become better about prioritizing our time and commitments—and not feeling guilty for it.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    We have two particular mottos that we live by that have actually become parallel to our brand—Surviving Not Thriving and Low Bar Lifestyle. It’s all about setting the bar just low enough that you can accomplish all kinds of bite-size victories because life is too short to feel residual guilt about not wearing real pants or making it to the gym every day. We feel the same way about organizing. There’s nothing wrong with starting with a smaller project, then taking the confidence and knowledge you gain from that and applying it to something larger.

    In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    We find that people tend to view organizing as extremely overwhelming or near impossible. The truth is that if we can do it, you can do it. It’s why we decided to write our book in the first place—to give people the tools and a step-by-step guide to creating efficient and beautiful spaces in their own homes. The other common misperception is that an organized space will take a ton of effort to maintain. The truth is that when you create systems that work seamlessly with your space and lifestyle, maintenance is as simple as putting things where they belong and setting aside time each month for a mini edit. Labeling and color-coding with ROYGBIV are methods we use that act as instructions (or a guilt mechanism) to put things back in their designated home.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:26 on 2019/03/28 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , , , , ,   

    Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin: “An Efficient and Beautiful Space Gives Us Peace of Mind and Streamlines Our Routines.” 


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    Interview: Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin.

    Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin are friends and business partners. They started "The Home Edit" to reinvent traditional organizing and merge it with design and interior styling.

    The Home Edit service will organize every space in the home, from bedrooms and kitchens, to closets and pantries. Every project receives meticulous attention to detail, carefully considered systems, and a signature aesthetic. They can come to you—even if you're in a different state—or work online.

    This team serves as the organizers to the stars, including huge celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon.

    Their new book just hit the shelves: The Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals.

    As you can imagine, I couldn't wait to hear them discuss their views on clutter, organization, habits, and happiness. More outer order for all!

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Clea and Joanna: Can we say organizing or is that too obvious? But, seriously—an efficient and beautiful space gives us peace of mind and streamlines our routines. When you know what you have and where it is, it’s the simplest thing and yet so gratifying.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    As two people who’ve now made a living off of their type-A (or let’s be honest, neurotic) personalities, we’ve come to learn that following your intuition and passion is worth the risk—even if it scares the hell out of you at first. In fact, we didn’t know much about each other when we decided to start a business together. We had lunch—a four-hour lunch—and discussed worldwide organizing domination. The only thing we could really discern is that we felt like we had a similar work ethic and that we didn’t do anything halfway. We got that gut feeling that we’re just the kind of people who go all in—and thankfully, we did.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    As organizers, we’re the first to say that routine is everything. And when it comes to making or breaking a habit, we believe that it comes down to being honest with yourself and creating systems that simplify and ease you into the process. For instance, I hate working out and I’m constantly making excuses for why I need to skip. So I started packing a gym bag and putting it in my trunk. The fact that I didn’t have to do the extra step of choosing what clothes to wear or having to go home to change was what I needed to jumpstart the habit, without me even realizing I was doing it.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    We travel a lot—especially now that we’re on our book tour. We’ve both woken up on multiple occasions and completely forgotten what city we’re in. We literally have to remind each other. In order to stay sane and not lose our routine, we’ve become better about prioritizing our time and commitments—and not feeling guilty for it.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    We have two particular mottos that we live by that have actually become parallel to our brand—Surviving Not Thriving and Low Bar Lifestyle. It’s all about setting the bar just low enough that you can accomplish all kinds of bite-size victories because life is too short to feel residual guilt about not wearing real pants or making it to the gym every day. We feel the same way about organizing. There’s nothing wrong with starting with a smaller project, then taking the confidence and knowledge you gain from that and applying it to something larger.

    In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    We find that people tend to view organizing as extremely overwhelming or near impossible. The truth is that if we can do it, you can do it. It’s why we decided to write our book in the first place—to give people the tools and a step-by-step guide to creating efficient and beautiful spaces in their own homes. The other common misperception is that an organized space will take a ton of effort to maintain. The truth is that when you create systems that work seamlessly with your space and lifestyle, maintenance is as simple as putting things where they belong and setting aside time each month for a mini edit. Labeling and color-coding with ROYGBIV are methods we use that act as instructions (or a guilt mechanism) to put things back in their designated home.

     
  • feedwordpress 11:00:48 on 2019/03/21 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , Catherine Burns, , Occasional Magic, storytelling, The Moth   

    “If We Do Nothing But Try to Manage Well What We Do Have Control Over, We’ll Find We Have More Control Than We Think.” 


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    Interview: Catherine Burns.

    I met Catherine Burns when we had an hour-long conversation at a rooftop deck party thrown by a publishing house. Not long after that, we did an event together about podcasts. Every time I see her, I love getting the chance to talk about storytelling, speaking, audience engagement, and every other topic we wander into.

    She's the long-time Artistic Director of The Moth, which is a non-profit group in New York City dedicated to the art of storytelling. They're best known for their storytelling events, where a group of people each tell a carefully crafted story—a true story—around a theme.

    The Moth is a live event, a podcast and a radio show. And now there's a new book: The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories About Defying the Impossible. "From storytelling phenomenon and hit podcast The Moth—and featuring contributions from Meg Wolitzer, Adam Gopnik, Krista Tippett, Andrew Solomon, Rosanne Cash, Ophira Eisenberg, Wang Ping, and more—a new collection of unforgettable true stories about finding the strength to face the impossible, drawn from the very best ever told on its stages."

    I couldn't wait to talk to Catherine about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Catherine: Hands down: exercise. It really is medicine for me. If I can get either 10,000 steps in or a vigorous 2- or 3-mile walk in, I feel like a different person. It reduces my anxiety and seems to make my brain cylinders fire faster. I used to think I didn’t have time to exercise, but I’m so much more efficient on days when I work out that I now feel that I don’t have time not to exercise! I’ve been trying to add a longer walk on weekends—there’s a six-mile loop that goes from from my house in Brooklyn over the Manhattan Bridge, through Chinatown, then back over the Brooklyn Bridge to home. Doing that walk makes me so happy!

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    That nobody is coming to save me, and that happiness is a choice. I used to have this fantasy (Well, I see it as a fantasy now. At the time, I thought it was a fact.) that if I did X, Y, or Z the world would just fall into place. When people did things that made my life more difficult, I took it very personally—it would hurt my feelings and I’d feel like a victim, which was exhausting for me and also for the people around me. Now I know that my happiness comes from how I choose to react to the circumstances of my life, not from the circumstance itself. Most of us are lucky in that we have more agency in our lives than we may realize. If we do nothing but try to manage well what we do have control over, we’ll find that we have more control than we think. This realization makes it easier to deal with the things we actually can’t control.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    My work at The Moth involves people telling stories from their own lives in front of live audiences around the world. The best stories end up on our radio show and podcast and in our books. There’s a narrative being shared in the media right now that we are a country divided, and that the damage of that division is beyond repair. But I find again and again that what connects us to one another is almost always bigger than what separates us. I’ve seen people from very different backgrounds, with differing belief systems, bond deeply after hearing each other’s stories. On our first national tour, our storytellers included a retired NYPD detective and a former pickpocket who had spent years in Attica. Back in the day, their turf was Greenwich Village and they definitely would have been at odds with each other. But through telling their stories night after night they became close friends. We see this again and again. More recently, there’s David Montgomery, who has a story in our new book, Occasional Magic, about quitting his job to follow the Spice Girls around on their last world tour. The story is really about him becoming comfortable in his own skin as a gay man and how he and his mother were able to repair their strained relationship. After the story aired, he received several emails from parents of gay children who heard his story and then reached out to their own estranged children. We were all blown away by this!

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I have pretty much cut out sugar and I no longer drink soda. I was able to do it by focusing on how much better and more energetic I feel without it!

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    I am definitely an Obliger, though I wanted to resist that when I first heard about the Tendencies. What gave me pause is that I’m very often Obliger-like, but I also have a pretty strong streak of Rebel in me at times. One day I heard you talking on your podcast about Obliger Rebellion and a big lightbulb went off. I realized I’d been obliging for so long that in some ways (as I later joked with my friends) my life had become one big Obliger Rebellion. Embracing this has helped me bring about some meaningful change in my life. For instance, I’m working on eating healthier and exercising, and as an Obliger I benefit from outward accountability. But it doesn’t entirely work without a few Rebel rules thrown in (like telling myself that I’m the kind of person who runs in the park every morning, or that I’m the kind of person who sets a healthy example for my nine-year-old son).  

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g., travel, parties, email)

    The disease of busyness is always a threat to my habits. When I’m away from work and completely in control of my own time, I tend to do well. I wake up early, read, meditate, walk daily, cook, and eat healthfully. I hear about people indulging too much on vacations, but for me it’s usually just the opposite. But when things get busy it’s very easy for my healthy habits to fall by the wayside. It helps me to remember how much happier I am when I stick with my habits, and actually doing things every day keeps me from the dreaded “decision fatigue.”

    This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I have quotes and poems that inspire me set to pop up regularly on my electronic “to-do” list so that I re-read them daily/weekly/monthly and then check them off as “done.” The quotes change depending on what I’m working on right then, and they help keep me in touch with my deepest values instead of getting dragged down by the details of daily life. One of them is actually a quote from you, Gretchen, that speaks to this: “Habits are freeing and energizing because they get us out of the draining, difficult business of making decisions and using our self-control. When something’s important to us, and we want it to happen frequently, making it into a habit means that it does happen, and without a lot of fuss.” Amen!

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    I am stumped by this question, but I will say that thousands upon thousands of Moth stories are about a lightning bolt moment—something that happened that forever changed the storyteller.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    “The price of glory is high.” My high school marching band director used to say that, and it’s true. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by my to-do list, I try to remember how lucky I am to have a job that I love, doing work that’s meaningful to me. So it’s worth the occasional sacrifice.

    Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Yes: Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup. I always say that if I could force everyone I love to read just one book it would be that one. Kate is the chaplain for the Maine game wardens, so she’s the person sitting with you if your child is lost in the woods. She also takes care of the game wardens themselves when things go wrong. The book is about how to hold space for your community during difficult times, and I read it during a particularly challenging period in my life, when I was trying to show up for our staff after a tumultuous event. Kate’s work has helped me find the courage to lead and show up as my best self even when I’m not feeling particularly strong or capable in the moment. She writes about a lot of serious things, but she’s also one of the funniest people I know, so the book is a joy to read. Kate has gone on to tell a number of riveting stories at The Moth.

    In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    People think that by practicing telling a story it won’t feel spontaneous and you’ll make the story worse. But the opposite is true. The more you know the beats of your story, the more you can have fun with it and play with it on stage. You need to have the scaffolding in place and really know where the story is going if you want to be able to improv and play on stage. Moth stories aren’t memorized, but a great deal of time goes into crafting them so they can be told well in ten minutes. Ironically, it takes a lot of practice to appear spontaneous on stage!

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:11 on 2019/03/19 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , , , Julie Zhou, , , The Making of a Manager,   

    “It’s Okay for a Manager to Say, ‘I Don’t Know, But Let’s Figure It Out Together.’” 


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    Interview: Julie Zhuo

    Julie Zhuo is one of Silicon Valley’s top product design executives. She leads the teams behind some of the world's most popular mobile and web services used by billions of people every day. She writes about technology, design, and leadership on her popular blog The Year of the Looking Glass and in publications like the New York Times and Fast Company. She graduated with a computer science degree from Stanford University and lives with her husband and two children in California.

    Now she's written a terrific book about her insights, experiences, mistakes, and conclusions called The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You. It's a fascinating look at how to manage—especially when your team keeps getting bigger and bigger.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Julie about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Julie: I take 10 to 20 minutes every night before I go to bed to do something that’s just for me. Seventy percent of the time, it’s me lighting a candle and reading a few pages of my “book of the moment,” (I’m currently reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas), but I also sometimes do crossword puzzles, watch a video, or catch up with friends over text. I started to do this during a period of my life when I was extremely stressed after coming back to work from parental leave, which I talk about in my book, The Making of a Manager. I was having trouble falling asleep at night because I was furiously working until my head hit the pillow. I realized I needed a “transition” period into sleep—some time that was solely for me where I could do anything I wanted without feeling guilty about it. So that’s where this habit started. I’ve slept a lot better since.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Julie: That as time passes, happiness feels less like pure joy and more like deep satisfaction or contentment. It’s like the flavor has changed from fireworks to a lovely scenic view.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Julie: Fitness is my Achilles heel. I love the idea of being strong and healthy and having a daily regime. I hate the actual feeling of exercising. All of those people who rave about getting that “runner’s high” where you’re in this blissful state where it feels like you can just keep on going forever? Nope, that is the opposite of my experience. Every time I am exercising (and I have tried many, many times to get on that bandwagon), the only thing that is in my mind is, “Wow, this sucks. When can I stop?” I’d start classes or set New Year’s resolutions or train for a 5K over the course of weeks, sometimes even months, but inevitably I’d slip back into my old habit, and I’d lapse into months of no exercise again. This was the pattern until about four years ago, when I stumbled upon an insight of building "tiny habits." I started to set a goal of exercising for 10-15 minutes a day every morning. It felt like so little time that there really was no excuse. I could always manage to squeeze it in right before a shower. And it was short enough that the pain would be relatively contained. I found I was able to keep this habit going indefinitely.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Julie: Upholder. I take my obligations to others and to myself seriously. If you come over for dinner, I will stuff you silly with great food but also stuff myself silly.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Julie: I’m pretty good at staying present, but I am been known to succumb to the power of an overactive phone lighting up with pings and e-mails. I’ve found the best solution is to quarantine the phone for specific hours of the day, especially weekends, so I can focus on spending time with my family.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a "lightning bolt," where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Julie: I love January and the feeling of the the promise of a New Year, so my husband and I have a tradition called “Cleanuary,” where we try to create a recurring lightning bolt. For the month of January, we set ambitious health and cleaning goals and stick to them for 31 days as a cleanse from the excesses of the holidays. On the health side, we’ve done things like Whole30, a month of yoga, a Paleo diet, running every day, etc. On the cleaning side, we go through and Marie Kondo our entire house. Since it’s only a month, we ask our friends for suggestions on the latest health and lifestyle trends and incorporate them into our Cleanuary experiment. It’s much less daunting than the “stick- to-a-resolution-for-a-whole-year,” and sometimes little habits will emerge that change our lives beyond the month. For example, we eat much less sugar now than we used to, we learned to love black coffee, and we live with less stuff.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Julie: I don’t have a particular favorite saying or motto, but in starting my blog, one of the quotes I happened upon was from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass: "I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” I liked it because it carried the whimsy of Wonderland, and also because it suggested growth—that every day we can learn and change and become better. I ended up calling my blog “The Looking Glass” because I wanted it to be a reflection of my personal growth.

    Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Julie: This one is easy. Mindset by Carol Dweck. I grew up as a perfectionist with the notion that there was a “correct” or “best” way to do everything. I believed life was a series of tests where you tried your best to achieve that “best” way. When I read Mindset, I was stunned to discover that this mentality had a name—fixed mindset—and was an incredibly limiting way to think about the world. The alternative mindset was growth mindset, which meant adopting the stance that there is no such thing as perfect. Everything can be improved with will and effort. This was so powerful to read and completely changed my perspective on how I approach failure, how I give or receive feedback, how willing I am to take on new challenges. Every day, I see examples of tension or lack of confidence in the workplace, and so much of it boils down to people’s mindsets. Recognizing and addressing this is something I talk a lot about in The Making of a Manager.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Julie: The Making of a Manager is about management, so here’s one of the biggest misconceptions: that managers know all the answers. This is a huge fallacy, and makes many early career managers feel secretly inadequate or come to the table with a case of savior’s complex. A manager’s job is to help a group of people get to an answer, not to know everything herself. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out together.” It’s okay to express vulnerability. In my experience, doing so wins you more credibility and nets you a stronger team effort than pretending like you’ve got that perfect master plan.

     
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