Sunday, October 16, 2011

Learning Lessons from…social media

I’ve been flirting with the idea for years – threatening to go back and get my Ph.D. whenever work is not going my way or I feel disillusioned with my life. If I ever do stop talking about it and actually apply, I already know the topic for my dissertation. Most people are addicted to their mobile devices, constantly checking countless channels for endless updates. Why? As a society, does this make us happier?

I realize that the network effect provides a very compelling argument why individual users may experience satisfaction from a continuous connection to cellular technology and social media. If all your friends are texting, you need to text to communicate with them. But what if no one was texting? What if cell phones ceased to be pervade our communities and Facebook didn’t exist? Would we be a happier, more productive society if we still mailed letters and talked to our friends face to face?

These questions keep me wondering.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lessons Learned from…bad haircuts and doughy brownies

At the accounting firm where I work, there’s a big push for “innovation.” In a highly regulated industry that generally attracts rule-abiding people, this is a paradigm-shifting concept. As our CEO acknowledges, the corporate culture does not accept failure. If we want to be innovative, we have to embrace the risk of failure. After a weekend of personal innovative failures - a horrendous haircut (I tried an edgy new salon) and brownies that refused to set (I replaced butter, sugar and flour with applesauce, yogurt and black beans) - I’ve been thinking a lot about what innovation means.

Innovation comes from the Latin word novus. Its English meaning is pretty much what we’d expect: finding new methods and ideas, generating change. But I like to dive into Definition 2.0 and explore other English words that have the same Latin root:

1. nova – star showing a sudden burst of brightness and then subsiding
When we approach innovation, our initial energy does not have to be sustained. In fact, it’s natural that it will fade over time. Sometimes we avoid new projects since we know we can’t devote time and energy for an extended period, but life is made interesting by ‘sudden bursts’ of new ideas. Bring them on, I say!

2. novel – a fictitious prose story of book length, typically about the ordinary life
Innovation doesn’t have to involve the extraordinary. When novels were first written in the 18th Century, they differed from Epics and Odysseys because common people were the protagonists. Innovation can be as simple as taking a different route to work or eating lunch with someone new. Every time we do something ‘novel’ we expose ourselves to the opportunity for a mini adventure.

3. novice – new convert; beginner
We’re petrified of looking stupid. But if we innovate, we won’t be immediate experts; we’ll be starting at the beginning. This can be scary if we’re used to knowing what we’re doing, what to expect and what we’re up against. But we have to be prepared for failures if we’re going to have any successes.

A definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Innovation is the perfect hedge. So my new campaign is called Project Haircut, Mission Brownie. With these concepts in mind, I’m going to try something new every day. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll make the best of it. Who knew undercooked brownies tasted so good frozen?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lessons learned husband

Last night I was cranky. The house was a mess, I felt like a mess, so I decided to make a mess of my evening as well. Unfortunately this means making a mess of my husband’s evening as well. Luckily for me, Scott is used to pulling me out of moody slumps. After a walk around the block and a bowl of chocolate pudding, I was feeling myself again.

This morning Scott told me I look like a princess. If you know me, you know there is no one less like a princess. I walk around in ripped clothes, trip over my own feet and wash my hair as little as possible. However, this morning was the first day of summer sunshine and I decided to wear a flirty new dress, a jaunty ponytail and a smile. I guess I honestly did remind him of a princess.

Scott is the ultimate rock, pillar, unflappable support. I’m the flag floating in the wind, he is the flagpole. He brings me back to centre whenever I stray. This is great, but I can be my own flagpole too. There’s no reason I can’t tell myself that I’m a princess (even if it’s the paper bag princess) and believe it. There’s no reason that I can’t remind myself of the royalty inherent in all of us whenever I am tempted to self-destruct. God save the Queen!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lessons Learned from…Bus drivers

You can tell a lot about a city from its bus drivers. Are they helpful? Hostile? Overworked? Underpaid? The bus drivers in Halifax are some of the friendliest I’ve ever encountered. Most of them make passenger assistance their personal mission – waiting for you as you run to catch the bus, letting you put in double fare next time if you don’t have change, and generally behaving like driving a bus has been their lifelong goal. I doubt it has been, but it’s a solid lesson in ‘bloom where you’re planted’.

Last Friday I found myself taking the bus for the fourth day that week; our nonstop rain made me leave my bike at home once again. Halfway to work, I hear a bang. Our bus has rear ended the vehicle in front of us. I’ve been the cause of (many) accidents. My typical post accident-routine is to pass through several stages of freaking out, but this bus driver clearly had a more grounded outlook than I. He invited the other driver on the bus, exchanged insurance information and calmly wished him good day. All with serenity, as if he was buying toilet paper. I watched the entire scene in envy and awe.

For Lent this year, I decided to give up being hard on myself. It was immensely successful for the isolated 40 days, but after Easter I felt myself slipping back into my old habits. Beating myself up over spilled milk, spoiled muffins and soiled clothing once again became my norm. I’m a dweller and “moving on”, even over minute details, is challenging. Understandably, this tends to drive those around me a little crazy.

But today, using the experience I gained during Lent and the example of the bus driver, I finally made some progress. Paying bills this morning, I accidentally paid $98 to the wrong account. You know what I did? I acknowledged that I made the error due to carelessness and called the bank to deal with it. Already I feel the memory receding.

Sometimes learning a lesson takes time. Sometimes we need to learn it multiple ways, from various angles, until it sinks in.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lessons Learned from…Eyeliner sharpeners and grumpy cosmeticians

I recently bought a new eyeliner sharpener at the drug store. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but since I’ve been getting by on a slimy five-year-old sharpener that sends waxy eyeliner all over the bathroom sink every morning, I was pretty excited. It didn’t work. It only half sharpened the eyeliner so that I had a quarter-inch-thick line of charcoal under my eyelid instead of a daintily painted crisp black line.

I decided to return it.

Apparently I could not return it. It had been used, insisted the underworked and overdressed cosmetician. Yes, I conceded, it most certainly had been used, but it had definitely not been useful. I insisted that it did not sharpen the pencil properly; she insisted it did. She suggested I produce an eyeliner pencil and she would demonstrate the proper sharpening method to me; I suggested she use her own pencil for the demonstration since I did not have one. She did. Look, she said, the pencil is sharper: it works. Look, I said, the pencil is not as sharp I need it to be: it doesn’t work properly. Yes, she maintained, but it works.

Lesson #1: There’s a difference between working and working well
I was born and raised with the 80% rule, although lately I have to admit that it’s becoming more like the 70% rule, or even the 60% rule. I’ve long upheld that if something fulfills its primary function, it need not do more, but lately I’ve been reassessing this mantra. I know that a coat’s main purpose it to keep you warm, but if you can find one which also looks great and makes you feel amazing, isn’t that important too? In fact, although the search for the final 20% or 30% can be painstaking and arguably superfluous, it’s often that final attention and aesthetic that adds a certain je ne sais quoi. And let’s face it: the je ne sais quoi is definitely more appealing than the oui, je sais. It’s what keeps us thinking, exploring and blogging. So maybe I’ve been giving up on the final 20% too early.

Lesson #2: Be true to yourself, but be kind to others
I don’t blame the cosmetician for staking out her ground. In fact, as someone who worked in retail and experienced all sorts of idiots trying to return all manner of damaged goods, I respect her for it. It’s her nastiness I didn’t appreciate. But there are ways to hold your own with class. I detest it when people suggest how I should think or behave and try to influence by thoughts and behavior. I dig in my heels and refuse, usually in quite an immature and spiteful way. It’s a paradox: I get upset when people try to exercise control over me, yet I let them control me when I get upset by their demands. It makes no sense. So from now on I’ll stand my own ground in every sense: both how I act and how I react.

All in all, I think I got my money’s worth for the $3.50 I spent on the sharpener.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lessons Learned from...Falling and scaping my knee

I sense the lesson you expect: learning to take your time, everything happens for a reason, pain is beauty, prevention is the best cure. Nope. Not one of these lessons did I learn. You see, I ripped my pants. The humiliation of falling, the pain of a bloody knee, the fact that I almost missed the bus, all was erased by the fact that, momentarily, I thought I had ripped and ruined my pantaloons. Indeed, there is a large tear below the right knee. But then I considered my options. Ripped jeans are in style now: why not ripped dress pants? I could cut them off above the knee and make shorts. Au courant, n'est pas? Or...I could patch them and strut my stuff. I chose to strut my stuff.

However, when I went to the fabric store (and Wal-mart, and the seamstress), it was near impossible to track down a decent patch. I had pictured something funky - a cute paisley, perhaps a Scottish plaid, maybe a vintage floral? The only thing I could find besides boring taupes and beiges was an iron-on camouflage print. Not even a hot pink. So be it.

It made me think: nobody mends things anymore. The word is barely part of our modern lexicon. Just yesterday I bought a new CD player (yes, a CD player. I still haven't figured out how to work a MP3 player, or a blackberry, or Facebook...come to think of it, it's a wonder I'm even blogging...). My old boom box (another one to preserve in the lexicon) died. So did I take it to the stereo repair shop? Nope - I wouldn't even know where to take it or if professional tradespeople even fix it anymore. Any why would I bother? It's cheaper to buy a new one.

So my lesson learned? Another one my Papa has been trying to teach for years - 'wear out the oldest first'.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lessons Learned from...Being Busy

It's been a crazy winter thus far - trips to Toronto, planning for Canada Games, executing Canada Games plans, trying to Detox, fighting off the winter blahs, giving into the winter blahs. But amidst all my success and unsuccesses (not failures!) this winter, I've put together some macro lessons learned, what I like to call "The 10 Commitments: MB's mantras to Live. Right. Now."

1. True priorities dictate actions. Actions reveal true priorities.
Simply verbalizing a priority does not make it one, it has to be proven in the way we live.
2. It doesn’t have to make sense, but it has to feel right.
Note: Feeling "good" in the moment is not the same as feeling "right" long term.
3. Stress is only useful if it catalyzes change.
Don't get wound-up for naught. Stress out with purpose.
4. Make everything made with love.
Potential for love is almost everywhere. If there is no potential for love, never mind.
5. You are your own and only foundation.
Gotta be true to yourself, baby.
6. Consumption has opportunity, cost and opportunity cost.
So make it count.
7. Balance flexibility with firmness and rigidity with regularity.
An example of commitment #2.
8. Savor the flavor – don’t waver.
Commit to the moment.
9. Don’t compromise on essentials, but don’t essentialise unnecessarily.
Know what's important.
10. Play. Laugh. Grow.
Fisher Price is onto something.

Sure, I don't always follow them, but then again they're not commandments; they're commitments. I renew my commitment to these mantras everyday.