The Utility of Marking Time (Even Cheesy Anniversaries)

I’m not generally into anniversaries and birthdays. I’m pretty bad at celebrating my own; they always felt over-indulgent or kind of meaningless to me (I know this isn’t totally rational and maybe a little weird).

 Photo by  Adi Goldstein  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash.

But, in the past few years, I’ve become a big proponent of marking time in terms of our accomplishments. To me, it’s a way of resisting the temptation or tendency for us to always focus on what more we want, what more we wish we’d have accomplished by now – the never-ending, insatiable wish for MORE. NEXT. FASTER.

The reason I’m thinking about this now is because November 10 marks the third anniversary of Embrace Change🎉 Previously, my natural tendency would’ve been to say, “Wow, three years, I should’ve accomplished so much more by this point.” 

Pretty negative, huh? 

But, current me is going to say this instead: “Wow, look at everything I’ve done in the past three years!”

I’m not lying when I say that choosing the second option…feels better inside!

 Photo by  Marion Michele  on  Unsplash .

And you can do this for yourself, too! Take your work, a passion project, being a member of a particular community, a hobby or side interest, your relationships, your relationship with yourself. Think about how long you have been investing your time and energy into that. It doesn’t have to be a round number of years or months. Of course, you can make this a regular practice to mark round anniversaries, but I also want you to just try this out now – regardless of the amount of time that’s passed.

Make a list of what you have accomplished in that area of your life since you started investing your time and energy into it. Don’t worry too much about making it chronological. It’s more of a brain dump. But memorializing this on paper or electronically is critical. And don’t worry, this should only take you 5 to 10 minutes :)

 Photo by  Aron  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Aron on Unsplash.

Here’s my selected list as a guide:

  1. I started a business.

  2. I figured out what my mission and services would be. 

  3. I made a website. 

  4. I put myself out there and pounded the pavement looking for work and potential clients I could help. 

  5. I pivoted my business. 

  6. I got more traction in each successive iteration. 

  7. I pivoted and narrowed my services even more, refining everything about the work that I was doing.

  8. I started to feel a lot more comfortable, “at home,” with – and proud of – the whole Embrace Change thing ;-)

Having lists like these makes it so that now, at the three-year mark, I can look back and recognize that, you know what, I have done a f^&*ing lot in the last three years! In the last year alone, I’ve worked with well over a dozen clients individually, I’ve group coached about 100 women, I created my first online workshop (learning video and audio editing myself as I went) and debuted my third in-person workshop. I’ve hired 3 women of color to help me with various pieces of my business at various times.

 Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash .

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

And metrics are all well and good, but there are also the intangible accomplishments. Like #8, above. And feeling excited to tell people about what I offer, what I can do for people, and why it’s important. And liking, or even loving, my work. Those are accomplishments too.

They might actually be the most important accomplishments.

If you decide to start marking time in this way, you might just find that it’s easier to motivate yourself on those days when it feels like you’re spinning your wheels and you want to quit.

Happy anniversary, everyone! You are doing GREAT.

What Keeps Us From Asking For More?

I know so many strong, powerful, and accomplished women. I feel lucky to have met so many who are total badasses. It keeps me inspired and motivated. And I like knowing I’m in good company :)

What surprises me, though, is how many of these women – who are often fierce advocates for others – don’t advocate on their own behalf. Sometimes it’s not wanting to negotiate a job offer or increase in pay; other times, it’s not negotiating a conflict or boundary.

I hear all sorts of reasons why. “I don’t want to be seen as a problem or selfish or ungrateful for pushing too hard.” “I don’t want to lose the job because someone would do it for less.” “I don’t trust myself to negotiate ‘right’ and I don’t want to fail.” “I’m afraid of how it will feel to hear no.” “I don’t think I have a lot of power or leverage.” “I want to be liked and I don’t like conflict.”

What’s at the bottom of all of this?

Yep, you guessed it: FEAR.

Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of retaliation, fear of loss. Because, it’s true, when we negotiate, we are taking a risk.

But, there are also risks – sometimes grave ones – to not negotiating, to not asking, to not advocating for ourselves.

We have to weigh these against each other in each situation that comes up. But fairly. What do I mean by that? I mean that before we choose to forego (forfeit) a negotiation, we have to have done our due diligence to identify and address our fears. Only once we’ve made some progress in this area can we clearly see what the risks are on both sides and how they square with each other.

 Photo by  Mohammad Gh  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Mohammad Gh on Unsplash.

I’m willing to bet that most of us are plenty familiar with the risks to negotiating (rejection, embarrassment, loss, etc.), and find it much more challenging to name the risks to not negotiating (e.g., a different kind of loss, defeat, surrender, settling, disappointment, stagnation, regression, maintaining the status quo).

So what can we do about this?

Here’s one thing you can try: first, identify what’s holding you back from negotiating for more. Write down all the fears present for you. Is it fear of failure? Is it fear of losing something?

Once you’ve identified them, journal about the worst case scenario that’s playing in your head or lurking in the back of your mind. Don’t be afraid to dig deep.

 Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash .

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

Then, zoom out and try to take a more objective view. Ask yourself how realistic that worst case scenario is. What, really, are the chances of it happening in real life? 20%? 40%? 5%?

Next, do a similar process for the risks associated with not negotiating. What will you lose if you choose not to negotiate? What’s the worst case scenario of not negotiating? And how likely is that to become your reality if you pass on negotiating?

Hopefully, this introspective process helps bring you some clarity. And don’t forget to be compassionate with yourself throughout. This is heavy stuff that takes a lot of time and work to unpack.

Obviously, you know my bias here, which is that we, women, should be negotiating and asking for a helluva lot more than we currently are. Because I think it’s really important.

I want all women and non-binary folks to understand and really internalize that everything is negotiable. It’s past time for us to start demanding our due (and then some).

***By the way, if you, like me, are into this kind of thing, check out We Deserve More. I’d love for you to join us for a half-day workshop and circle on negotiation on Saturday, October 20!***

What Getting Stitches Taught Me About Goals and Deadlines

 Photo by  Alexander Lam  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Alexander Lam on Unsplash.

This summer I had to get 10 stitches in my left hand. For those who want the gory details, click here and I’m happy to tell you everything. If you get queasy about stuff like this, click here and you won’t have to see any of it ;-)

All things considered, I was lucky and the situation (stitch-uation??) was not serious. But, of course, there was pain – both in getting the stitches and in the healing that came after.

As you know (especially those of you who follow me on Instagram), I had grand plans this summer – my whole #SummerGoals thing. Like many people, I tend to procrastinate. That was partly why I wanted to set these public goals for myself – so that I’d have that external, social pressure to actually do many of these things by the end of summer.

But, sometimes unexpected shit happens. Like injuring myself, which jeopardized my ability to achieve some of my goals.

In any event, my kickass doctor at urgent care, Dr. Pehr, told me the stitches would have to come out after 10 to 14 days. I thought, “Great! That’s not too long. I’ll be back to my normal self, able to fully use both hands, in no time!”

But, of course, Day 10 rolls around and the stitches don’t look ready to come out yet – at least about half of them. Day 13 rolls around and it’s clear the stitches need to come out, but one of my wounds wasn’t really healed back together yet.

On Day 14, the stitches were removed (so that other complications wouldn’t arise), but one of the cuts needed to be held together, still. Luckily, on Day 13, I was having brunch with not one, but THREE doctors, who all looked at it and told me that it was fine, the stitches should come out, but I could use crazy glue or liquid bandage to hold it together after that.

Long story short, I’m now on my third method of trying to hold the cut together (liquid bandage, then off-brand butterfly bandages, now off-brand Steristrips) and it’s clear that this thing isn’t going to heal on my timeline.

So what can I do? Nothing, but let my body continue to heal itself and try not to make things worse, while still doing what I’m able to do. I can’t rush this. I can’t order my hand to be back to normal simply because there are things I want to do by a certain date. Life doesn’t work that way.

And this happens a lot with the goals we set in our career and in our lives. We have an idea, a dream. We set a goal to make it a reality. Maybe we even make a SMART goal and create systems to support getting to that goal by our deadline. Go us!

And sometimes things work out perfectly!

But other times, wrenches get thrown, unanticipated delays happen, and our timeline is set back. We need clear goals in order to drive us forward, to keep us growing and reaching. But we can’t have a death grip on them either.

Life demands that we allow for room to breathe, a little leeway and flexibility in the dance between pushing forward and going with the flow. 

I mean, we can still try to fight it.

But, at least in my current situation, what’s going to happen if I resist? More pain, a longer healing time, a bigger scar, and possibly even more stitches.

 

 

If you want the gory details…

 

 

Summer Goal #6 was to make another cork bulletin board. I had made one a few years ago and enjoyed the process and it looks great! It’s hanging in my living room with lots of happy mementoes pinned to it.

When I made the first one, friends and family who knew about it started giving me their used corks. It was great! And even after I finished the first one, people still gave me corks. As a result, I had a TON of leftover corks and I figured I would simply make a second cork board and give it to a friend!

So that was one of my goals for the summer.

Now, in making a cork board like this, the corks have to be cut length-wise so that the flat side can be glued to the back of the frame. So most of the process of making one of these things is the cutting of the corks.

I normally cut corks in small batches because it’s tiring and can be kind of boring. But my deadline for finishing the cork board was looming, as my friend was coming over for dinner that next week. So I wanted to push through and do the last batch so I could start doing the design and gluing them down.

Unfortunately, I got to one very tough cork, I was a little tired, and my attention was waning. And my very sharp knife slipped from the cork and went right into my left hand, cutting it in 3 places (one was super shallow and didn’t even need stitches).

 The finished product.

The finished product.

Luckily, as the amazing Dr. Pehr later said, I only “filleted” myself and didn’t cut myself deep in either place (no tendons, muscles, nerves hit – only fat). But there was a good amount of blood initially.

As soon as I realized what I had done, I jumped up put pressure on the cut on my palm (the bigger one) and ran to the bathroom. It took maybe 10 minutes to stop the bleeding. Then, with a bunch of gauze taped to my hand and while still applying pressure, my spouse got me to the urgent care.

And Dr. Pehr took it from there! There was a lot of pain until the anesthetic really starting doing its job. But I knew I was in good hands (ha!). And I had just listened to an episode of Radiolab that talked about working through massive amounts of pain, so I had new techniques to put into practice!

So that’s basically it. I got 6 stitches in my palm and 4 in my thumb. I got really grateful for being able-bodied and having the use of both hands normally.

And I feel fine knowing I might never cut a cork again! At least not lengthwise and not with a super sharp knife :)

5 Ways to Dig Into Dreaded Deep Work

 Photo by  Emre Gencer  on  Unsplash

Photo by Emre Gencer on Unsplash

I’m a person who kind of relishes deep work. I like having solitary, long(-ish)-term projects that I’m working on, and I hate the feeling that I’m in an endless cycle of sending and answering emails, working on quick and discrete tasks, spinning my wheels in the mud of the daily grind.

Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s still often extremely difficult to get myself to dive into my deep work projects.

It’s like with many people and exercise – I know I’ll enjoy it once I get going and definitely after I’m done. But still, the barrier to getting started can prove insurmountable some days.

Part of it is that many of our work environments are physically and structurally designed to constantly distract us from getting into the deep work. There’s the constant urgent-and-important, “putting out fires” kind of work that pulls at us. There are demands on our time – from other people, systems we work within, and emails – that are urgent-but-not-truly-important. And then there are the other insidious factors that play on our tendency to procrastinate in moments of weakness – social media, push notifications, so many spam-y emails (not-important-and-not-urgent).

It’s much easier to allow ourselves to be distracted by these than to do the harder thing, which is to pay attention to the important-but-not-urgent work.

The projects that will really be meaningful in the long run. The ones that will push us to grow. The ones to which we often attach so many unnecessary emotions – to the point that we really can’t get started.

 Photo by  Samantha Sophia  on  Unsplash

Recently, I’ve had to battle my procrastination demons in order to work on creating an online version of my Stop Settling in Your Career workshop. I’d known I had wanted to put together an online workshop like this for a while and had been collecting the footage in order to create a workshop with the best parts from my live workshops. I was excited about it, theoretically. I talked about it enthusiastically and couldn’t wait for it to be done and ready to share with people.

But when it came time to actually start working on it, I can’t tell you how many weeks I pushed it off for. I could not seem to get started!

Much of the problem was that I had attached so many extra emotions to it: dread, shame, fear, anxiety.

I was afraid to watch the footage I had collected. I was anxious about how I’d look, my nervous tics, my awkward movements. More than that, I dreaded hearing my voice. For many years I’ve had a serious aversion to hearing my voice on tape, which was mostly why I could not bring myself to review the video and audio for the longest time.

Finally, I realized that I’d be way off my target deadline if I didn’t get started soon. So I had to apply a bunch of different strategies all at once in order to simply start. Here’s what I did, in case it’s ever helpful to any of you too!

 Photo by  Marvin Ronsdorf  on  Unsplash

Scheduling it into my calendar

First, I scheduled working on the online workshop into my calendar in two different ways. I made it a several-weeks-long event so that there was a bright banner across multiple weeks of my calendar reminding me that I needed to be working on the workshop. I also scheduled in 2-hour blocks of time each day to work on it and I did my best not to book anything else during or close to those hours (more on this strategy here).

Scheduling it in strategically

I also scheduled these blocks during the mornings, when, based on my circadian rhythm (more on this on this podcast, at the 1:05:00 marker), I have the greatest mental energy and capacity to do focused work.

Breaking it down

I also broke down what I’d need to do into much smaller tasks and chunks. Instead of: Make Online Workshop, I created a laundry list of bite-sized tasks like, Transfer videos from iPad to computer; Upload video files into iMovie; Find audio files; Transfer audio files into iMovie; Open notes documents from each live workshop, etc.

Putting all the tasks into a sensible order

Then I put them into some kind of a feasible order and put one or two onto my daily To Do list, sometimes broken down even further into micro tasks.

 Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Clearing my physical and electronic work space

I also tried to remove visible distractions. I cleared things from my workspace so that I wouldn't be tempted to work on other things during my protected time. I would have to close my email tab on my browser sometimes (or even the entire browser). And I put my phone away from me and face down so that any notifications that did come up wouldn’t derail my work.

Troubleshooting obstacles

One of the hardest things about doing the video editing was that I couldn’t use one of my main go-to tools for focusing on deep work: listening to classical music. Whenever I have to do serious work, I stream my classical station, which plays random pieces of music (in a big loop; I’ve been listening to it for years, but it kind of helps that it’s often the same pieces over and over because it doesn’t distract me). But with the video editing, I had to listen to the audio – OF MY OWN VOICE. So I couldn’t use the trigger of the classical music to send me into a mental place of focus.

Another challenge was the tedium. It was high-level brain work, in a sense, because I had to figure out how to combine the variations of what I’ve presented at live workshops into one cohesive, sensible, “best of” workshop. But on the other hand, the actual manipulating of video and audio files and combining them with slides got extremely boring after a while. For this, I had nothing to rely on except my longstanding tendency to attack things with brute force. My work motto used to be: “Just do it till it’s done.” (Yikes.)

So to counter balance these obstacles, I told myself I’d be allowed to do something fun after, as an incentive and reward.

I’d give myself 15 minutes to send personal emails, 15 minutes to waste on the internet, let myself work on my puzzle later that day, or spend some time doing a mindless administrative task that I found at least a little fun. (Go ahead, judge me on how I define fun lol!)

Predictably, just like with the exercise dread, once I dove into the video editing and hit a groove, I started to enjoy it – even the most tedious parts!

All I had to do was get started.

 Photo by  Samuel Clara  on  Unsplash

Photo by Samuel Clara on Unsplash

Summertime!! Time for some Summer Goals!

 Photo by  Clem Onojeghuo  on  Unsplash

As we roll into another summer, it struck me that I often start out each summer with lots of exciting ideas of all the fun activities I want to do. But, pretty much every time, by the end of the summer, the opportunity to do all those fun things has come and gone and I won't have done any of these fun things.

I’ll have put them off and put them off, until it’s September and there’s no way I’m going to devote time to them.

Here’s an example of how this happens. At the beginning of the summer, I’ll tell myself I’m going to go roller skating. I really like roller skating, it reminds me of my childhood in that fun, carefree kind of way, and I even own roller skates! (Yes, the ones with four wheels, or “quads” for those in the know.) I also want to support roller rinks because they’re going the way of the dinosaurs and print media.

 Photo by  Josh Edgoose  on  Unsplash

Photo by Josh Edgoose on Unsplash

Every year, I say I’m going to go. Do I ever? No. 

At least not for the last few years. Sometimes I even make a plan to go with other people that inevitably falls apart. Or I never even make a plan because I’m always preoccupied with work (of which there is always more!), other people’s events, being lazy, or sleeping.

This year, I’ve decided to take a different strategy. 

Since I’m extremely into goal setting, I figured why not use goal setting for fun things (or not-so-fun, but still important things that are, say, health-related) that I tend to procrastinate on?

For updates on my progress and actual proof that I’m achieving my
Summer Goals, go to my Instagram and check out the
Highlighted Stories labeled
🎯!

Well, one obvious reason is that it’s such a dorky – and seemingly un-fun and uncool – thing to do. But this is me, after all, so why the hell not?

A few weeks ago, I started thinking about what I wanted to focus on. There were lots of discrete activities I wanted to experience this summer, but I wanted to figure out what my overarching mission was with these Summer Goals. As I reflected on it, I figured out that everything I wanted to do fell under 1 of 3 subgoals:

  1. to have more fun
  2. to take care of my relationships, and
  3. to take care of my health.
 Photo by  MI PHAM  on  Unsplash

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

For now, I've narrowed it down to the following 18 specific sub-subgoals (a nice #18for2018, if you will!):

Have More Fun | Take Care of My Relationships | Take Care of Myself

  1. Do 1 outdoor activity per week (can include: hiking, camping, working, journaling, drawing, walking outside)
  2. Take a road trip
  3. Go to archery once
  4. Go roller skating once!
  5. Take a pottery class
  6. Make another cork board
  7. Do another printmaking project
  8. Paint or draw something once
  9. Give 3 high-quality hugs per day (with consent, of course!) 
  10. Call my parents once a week
  11. Send a postcard to someone from any / all of my trips 
  12. Send a handwritten letter to 1 friend per month
  13. Do 1 phone date per month with a friend
  14. Do more physical activity (can include a light, at-home workout, my physical therapy exercises, doing a weekly tap class in the summer, doing a fun workout class)
  15. Eat at least 1 fruit and 1 vegetable per day 5 days out of the week (I know, this is kind of a sad goal)
  16. Go to the eye doctor (I haven’t been in over a decade!! 😱)
  17. Donate my clothes and things that I don’t use or love anymore
  18. Wear clothes that make me feel good, instead of simply picking up what’s lying around

I’m really excited for these goals and am hopeful that having specific benchmarks will help me have more fun, strengthen my relationships, and improve my health! I also anticipate adding additional sub-subgoals going toward these 3 meta categories, but I didn’t want things to feel overwhelming and turn into something NOT FUN, so I’ve left it here, for now.

Curious how this is going to go?? Me too!

For updates on my progress and actual proof that I’m achieving my Summer Goals, go to my Instagram and check out the Highlighted Stories labeled 🎯!

If you want to do your own Summer Goals project along with me, drop me a line at cynthia@embracechange.nyc! We can hold each other accountable!