When you make a dumb decision…

I try very hard not to make dumb decisions. Despite my best intentions, though…they happen.

Last Friday was one of those times. I was at a conference in Des Moines (I thought about not saying where, but since location is key to my dumb decision, it didn’t make sense…). I went down Thursday, had a wonderful day Friday (poster presentation, catching up with former students and colleagues, and even some current colleagues who I see infrequently), and then drove home Friday night. I needed to be home for the weekend not only to work, but also because I really need to be in my routine as much as possible right now. Life is (still) crazy, and it’s one of the things that’s keeping me (mostly?) sane.

So, let’s put the pieces together: Friday afternoon departure. From Des Moines (in the middle of Iowa, for the geographically unsure). And a weather forecast that was, shall we say, not ideal. They were calling for severe thunderstorms and there were tornado warnings. But when I looked at the timing, and the predictions, it seemed like my planned departure would work well. The storms should have moved through by then, and I’d be in the clear for my 5-hour drive home.

You should probably start shaking your head about now, if you’re a shaking-the-head kind of person.

Let’s just say it was a…challenging ride home. The storms were in front of me, sure – when I started. But then I started to catch up to them. And just over an hour into my trip, I found myself on a 2-lane highway in, well, a deluge. So I pulled over, like a good midwestern driver, along with all of the other good midwestern drivers on the road.

It eased up, I moved on, and then, half an hour later, really dark skies and…was that hail? My car may be almost 11 years old but… hail damage was not something I really wanted to deal with right now. I managed to find one of the few overpasses on the road and pulled mostly under it to save my car from the worst of it.

And when it eased up, I moved on. Sensing a pattern here? There was wind (so much wind), there was rain on and off, there were a few stupid drivers. But I kept white-knuckling through, determined to get home. And I did get home – obviously, as I’m writing this post. But it got me thinking about how I am the type of person who, when I make a decision, I pretty much stick with it. I am not the kind of person to second-guess, or change my mind. It takes me forever to MAKE a decision, sure. But once it’s made? It’s done.

I’m wondering whether this is always the best approach. It works well for many things – make a decision, commit, and move on. But for other choices, perhaps a more nuanced approach is better? The option to revisit the choice I made and see if it’s still the right choice for me.

Despite my tendency to stick with my choices, I have changed my mind and made a different choice more in my career than in any other area of my life. So far, it’s worked out…okay. I haven’t talked about my long and winding work history, but let’s just say that the years just before I came here were a bit more unsettled, and I made some choices that I do question, even 7 years later.

I’m wondering if I need to give myself permission to, well, make different choices in other areas of my life. Maybe this hard-headed tendency to stick with it at all costs isn’t the best option. Maybe I should think about different options, choices, approaches… and the ways those might impact my life. This is probably most relevant, right now, to my chronic overwork situation. Definitely some food for thought…

A few random quotes to end this… although I will come back to it, for sure.

It’s okay that life is messy. It’s okay that we take wrong turns all the time, even get lost once in a while. It’s okay that we’re still learning how to do it better, or make a different choice. As a beloved friend said recently, “Don’t let perfection get in the way of what’s good.” ~Melanie Harth (note: this was from something I saved in 2016…and is one reason I love my digital “scrapbook” of quotes and articles in Evernote…)

This one resonates even more, from Ozan Varol:

What you want from your life can also change as the world changes around you and as you change as a person. In fact, pursuing your curiosity will inevitably change you, by taking you off the path you’ve followed in the past and introducing you to new ways of being in the world. As long as you choose it intentionally, there’s nothing wrong with changing your direction.


I read this recently on Rachel’s blog: On Friday I listened to this episode of Deep Questions and I’ve decided I need to be much better about my remote work discipline.  So often I find myself in the almost meditative state of replying to emails, sending teams messages, finishing one random thing from my inbox.  I know that this isn’t efficient but I love the tiny series of accomplishments I get from the bits and bobs. BUT, no one is going to promote me because I responded quickly or wrote 60 emails in a day.  

I need to be a lot better about big picture. 

Me again…

Oh, Rachel, me too. Which brings me to my other nudge word this year, which is grounded. I don’t mean it in the sense of me being grounded and stuck in place (a la, “You’re grounded for missing curfew”, which ha, would never happen since I’m rarely up past 8:45, let alone midnight). Instead, I’m using grounded to describe how I want to be this year, as I work to engage more with life.

Being grounded, to me, means being clear in my priorities and values, and ensuring that those priorities and values guide my engagement with the world. I could engage more by working more. By (further) blurring the links between work and home. By continuing to work all-day, every day, with my only breaks coming for sleep, exercise, and the occasional Engie adventure.

But that’s not my intent with choosing engaged for my word. And it’s why I think grounding myself in my values and priorities is critical this year, and as I move into the next phase of my life. I still don’t know how that is going to look – there will be a LOT of work-related uncertainty for the next year + – but I can figure out what matters to me, what priorities I have for engaging with the world, and what I value as I work to (re)build my life in a way that lights me up.

I was trying to figure out how this word popped into my mind. It’s not entirely clear, but on reading through the quotes that I saved from the fabulous Keep Moving, by Maggie Smith, I realized that her book may have been part of the reason. A sampling of the phrases and statements that jumped out for me:

  • Stop rewinding and playing the past in your mind. Live here, now. Give the present the gift of your full attention.
  • Today, take one step, however small, toward creating a life you can be proud of.
  • Close the gap between yourself and your spirit – the person you know you can be. Let your choices reflect the person you want to become, not just the person you think you are.
  • And maybe the one that resonated most: Even if you don’t believe you have “a purpose”, think about the work you can do in the world that would make a difference to others.

Reading these words also coincided with me seeing the phrase “Be here now” in multiple places.

It’s important to me to ground myself in the now, while simultaneously figuring out how I want to reach, and extend, from that solid foundation.

These are Big Ideas and Big Thoughts, and obviously this is not a one-month or even one-year process. But good grief, it’s time to start.

And so, to end, with a quote from Oliver Burkeman’s newsletter:

“In fact, to paraphrase Cope, you may really only have one meaningful choice, which is either to move in the direction “becoming who you are” – becoming more and more yourself, in whatever situation you find yourself in – or else to hold back from doing so.”

Setting the record straight

Subtitle: a fun get-together with NGS/Engie/NGradStudent.

As those of you who read NGS’/Engie’s blog know already, we met up at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens last Saturday, during their open house. To be clear, we were not intending to go the weekend of the open house, but, well, that’s how it turned out. Despite the crowds – and my hideous social awkwardness – we had a wonderful time, and had some unexpected, fun experiences.

The best surprise? They had the greenhouses open! As in, “here’s where the magic happens”. It turns out that Engie is – not surprisingly – someone who also loves to ask questions and who also will engage with and ask questions of guards and volunteers. I’ve been known to engage security staff and volunteers in places like Hampton Court, in England. There, I thoroughly annoyed and embarrassed my then-spouse by talking with the security guard in one section for about 10 minutes. They know so much! And they spend so much time there, observing others, that they have fascinating stories to tell. (Side note: The Baltimore Museum of Art had a fantastic exhibit about a year ago that was curated by the security guards. I was so bummed I couldn’t go see it…)

We learned a ton from Don, a volunteer in the greenhouse, who told us how they rotate stock in and out of the conservatory exhibit/display every night. As in, grab the plants that look a little worn out, funky, or overgrown, and (ta da!) replace them with ones from the green houses! How cool is that? Don also taught us that banana trees are grasses. And that they are cut back nearly to the ground in the winter. I. Had. No. Idea. (Also, you really do learn something every day…)

But the best part of the greenhouses – particularly the tropical one – was the temperature. It was 80 degrees. And humid. And wonderful. I nearly took off my coat! (I did get to see the Famous Heated Vest of NGS lore. :>).

Engie even convinced me to put my (exceedingly limited) painting skills to work and do a little watercolor on a postcard. It was so immersive and fun – almost meditative. I’m reposting the picture she sent me and adding a caveat, to set the record straight:

OK, see the boring, monochromatic, exceptionally dull postcard on the left? That’s mine.

See the lovely, colorful, and just gorgeous postcard on the right? Painted by someone who knows that color is not something of which we should be afraid? That’s Engie’s.

Clearly, one of us is more creative than the other. I shall leave it up to you to make the final determination.

The best part of the day – other than meeting Engie, of course – was that this forced me to ENGAGE. This helped me live up to that word that I picked a few (long) weeks ago. I got out of my apartment! I did something fun, that did not involve one of the two people with whom I have Done Stuff since I moved here (a very short list: a coworker [one lunch], and my ex-MIL). It was so enjoyable that I’m starting to (gasp) think about other things I could do on the weekend, other than work. This is… not typical behavior for me, my friends.

I shall be back – I promise – to share the Other Word, soon. In the meantime, thank you NGS/Engie, for nudging me out of my comfort zone. 🙂

You can avoid uncertainty, hide within the familiar comfort of the status quo, and keep doing what you did yesterday.

Or you can step into the unknown, confident that you can use your considerable abilities to handle the cosmic curve balls that will inevitably come your way…if you stick to the familiar, you won’t find the unexpected. ~Ozan Varol

Showing up

It’s already one week into February, and I’m finally at the point where I am ready to set an intention and some related aspirations/intentions for the year. I know most people do this in January. I wish I could do this in January. But thanks to the vagaries of the academic calendar, and my tendency to schedule my annual review as soon as possible in the Spring semester, January is not a good time for me to be looking forward.

And yet. I’ve had my word(s) for the year selected for weeks now. I’ve been considering some aspirations (let’s not call them goals…otherwise I shall hold myself to them and feel quite let down when I do not achieve them…). And I think I’m ready to share. But this morning, when looking for words from another that would help me express what I want to do, who I want to be this year, I hit upon another possible word. Of course! This is the way it always works. Despite my initial despair at questioning my word, I realized after a few moments that the two might actually work together.

My first word is Engage. I am a notorious over-consumer of information. But my consumption is more surface level. For example, I was ‘following’ an insane number of blogs. Blogs that were added somewhat mindlessly to my Feedly. But I realized, as I’ve been desperately trying to catch up (and falling dreadfully behind…) that there are some/many I always skip in favor of others. Why am I following them if I am not following them? I removed them from my feeds, with the goal of engaging – and connecting – with a smaller group of people. I felt lighter the minute I did that, and I look forward to (oh, please, Universe) catching up on blogs and staying a bit more current with those people with whom I feel a deeper sense of connection. More engaged, as it were.

I want to do the same with my books-to-be-read. It will surprise none of you that I download a ridiculous number of samples from Apple Books. Will I ever read many of them? Likely not. So one of my aspirations for the year is to go through my list of samples and remove those that no longer interest me. Same with my Goodreads Want to Read shelf. I’m trying to get on there more frequently so I can use it as one way of tracking what samples I have available, and which ones I might want to actually read.

If it sounds like a lot of digital decluttering, well, yes, it is. Because that’s where I tend to overconsume. Which, of course, pushes back against my plan to Engage more. I want to go deeper with the content I do consume. I want to think more about the books I read – books that I select more carefully – and think about how they might apply to my own life.

But I want to engage in other ways, too. With my family members, and friends. With people who were – and are – important to me, and who I have lost contact with. I want to engage in travel and exploration – an aspiration greatly aided by my planned trip to Ireland. Will it be the ideal, perfect, once-in-a-lifetime trip? Nope. But it will be a wonderful (I hope!) reintroduction to travel and the wider world.

These are just some initial thoughts and related aspirations. And I haven’t even mentioned my other word. I will soon, I promise. But I wanted to devote this post to engage, and why it speaks to me in this moment. Enough with the surface. I want to go deeper.

It’s possible to be so focused on safety, on staying small and the same so life feels manageable and predictable, that we forget that we’re not here to remain an acorn, a caterpillar. We’re not here to stay put. We’re here to change and grow and become…Our being isn’t ever a singular thing. Each of us is in fact a community of parts, and we’re always negotiating between the parts of ourselves that have vastly different needs…Yes, of course, we needed to build that safe haven. But we were never meant to remain there. We were always meant for more. More can be such a small thing. ~ Fanny Priest

Routines, ringing bells, and reality

Oliver Burkeman (yes, I know I need to read Four Thousand Weeks…) writes one of the best newsletters I receive. Recently, he wrote a long post titled, “Because the bell rings”. I wound up saving the whole post, but will only share pieces here. I can forward you the email if you are interested in reading it, though. It really resonated with me, particularly as I face reality on February 1, and rip off the band aid. So to speak. 🙂

From Oliver Burkeman’s newsletter, December 19, 2022:

…there’s often a deep tension between the desire many of us feel to exert control over our time – because we believe, if perhaps only subconsciously, that something will go very wrong if we don’t do so – and the possibility of actually being fully absorbed in that time.

…And the amazing truth that I apparently have to keep relearning is that there isn’t a choice that has to be made, here, between “going with the flow” or “getting things done”. Again and again, it turns out that going with the flow is the way to get things done.

You can spend your life holding yourself back from full psychological participation in this reality – yearning for a mythical alternative version full of perfect routines and precisely scheduled periods for focused work – and make yourself miserable in the process.

Or you can understand that this reality is the actual terrain of your real life. It’s the only place, in other words, where meaning could ever conceivably be made. So you might as well jump in and start making it.

Me again. I usually don’t share that much of someone else’s post in my own, but… wow. That hit me so, so hard. I have not been facing reality. I have had this mythical “future time” in my head, where everything is crossed off the (never-ending, always-growing) to do list, and I find peace. And time for contemplation. And reading. And journaling. Catching up with friends.

But you know what? That’s not my reality. This is the life I chose. This is the life I want. This is the life I have.

I know I keep saying this, but this year (for me, well, January was such a chaotic mess that I’m designating February 1 as my “new year’s day”) I need to focus on figuring out how to live the life I have. I’m not going to have someone else’s life. I love reading about all of your lives. I really do. I love reading about your routines, your self-care, and sometimes? I admit it, I get jealous. But then I look at my own life, and I know that deep down? I really do love it.

So, time to do the hard work of finding the moments and the hours that are for ME. Figuring out how to be me, how to make the life I have the “ideal” life I keep striving for.

More to come… and thanks, as always, for listening. <3