Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Feature: Successful Starts

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I always enjoy reading about the habits of successful people. Sometimes, I even find that I'm already following a few of the suggestions in the articles.

What's fun about this piece in Entrepreneur -- besides its slide show format -- is that it includes links to the businesses of and apps recommended by the leaders it features. Even better, the diversity of the ways in which each entrepreneur begins his or her day makes it clear there's no one pathway to a successful day.

Now if only there was more than one woman represented.

Baby steps.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

6 Questions From the Porch Swing for Rosemarie Mercer

Today, Marita's mother, Rosemarie Mercer, joins me on the porch swing. As we begin, she's very unhappy with me, as a series of maternal responsibilities of my own delayed the writing of this post, and I had to reschedule her to this afternoon. So, with apologies, I'll begin.

Where will we find you when you’re not on the page of the book we’re reading?
Rosemarie: Well, today you will find me re-arranging my schedule in an effort to accommodate this blog post. Usually, I'll be busy with my volunteer work, at church, or perhaps even at home with my husband, Judge William Mercer, who is retired, but still plays a vital role in the community. 

What’s something we’d be surprised to know about you?
Rosemarie: I suspect there is quite a bit you'd be surprised to know about me. Unlike my daughter, I believe in discretion and prefer that my private life remain private.

What are your thoughts on children?
Rosemarie: Today's children are spoiled. Parents simply do not discipline them. When I was raising my granddaughter, she had limits. Charlotte understood, even from a young age, that there are consequences that accompany bad behavior.
What regrets do you have?
Rosemarie: I regret that my daughter chose to rebel and reject everything her father and I stand for. 

Whom do you admire? 
Rosemarie: My husband, of course, and the ministers at our church. They do God's work.

It seems that Jim's outlook on life is more similar to yours than Marita's is. Did you ever wonder if perhaps he should have gotten full custody of Charli? 
Rosemarie: Of course not! A child belongs with her mother. If Jim had wanted to be a parent, he should have accepted his paternal responsibilities from the very beginning. His late arrival has less to do with what's best for Charli and more to do with what's best for Jim.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Enthusiastic Perfectionism

Last Sunday night, as I was cranky because I took the "day of rest" very seriously and did more napping than schoolwork, my husband told me that he thought perhaps the goals I'd set for myself were too high.


The timing of this conversation was interesting. I'd just finished teaching a unit on time management and goal-setting with my freshmen, and was about to launch into our discussions on perfectionism.

Perfectionism is a funny thing, and it's very good at hiding. If you took a look at my house, you'd never believe I could be afflicted with it. And, generally speaking, I don't expect it from other people. But more and more, when things don't go according to plan, or, more accurately, I don't accomplish what I set out to accomplish, that ugly p-word makes an appearance. I become disheartened. Grouchy. Defeated.

Tons of fun to be around.

This type of all-or-nothing thinking is a hallmark of perfectionism -- and not the good kind of Hallmark, with cheery verses and flowery covers either. Instead, it's the kind of thinking that leads us to dismiss our accomplishments as trivial, even when they're anything but.

Being aware of this counterproductive mindset isn't enough, and often, it takes observations from others to nudge us toward doing something about it. Next week, as I simultaneously free my freshmen from the pressure to be perfect in my class and beat myself up when I don't finish grading their papers in the (possibly unrealistic) time frame I've assigned myself, I need to step back with my husband's observation in mind. I need to ask myself whether my enthusiasm for what I'm doing has overwhelmed my realism.

And yes, enthusiasm can put us on the path to perfectionism. New ideas and new discoveries lead to new possibilities that collide with realities like calendars and time constraints and the need to do things like sleep, eat and live in a semi-clean environment. Suddenly, that thing we were previously doing seems hugely inferior and, rushing in to change things -- to perfect them, if you will -- we skip the process and, instead, race toward the result. Painting the dining room in a rush of weekend energy. Cooking a gourmet meal when we're really more about takeout. Laboring away at a project until it's just right, no matter how long it takes. Then, we feel frustrated when we arrive at the finish line and the result is sub-par.


But we can change the way we manage the race. Enthusiasm and conscientiousness are good things, and we can harness them with the use of one very simple word, a word that often gathers dust in the corners of the vocabularies of recovering perfectionists.


No, I can't do that right now. No, it's not reasonable to let a part-time project become an all-consuming endeavor.

No. More is not always better.

Oh, but it's hard to say "no" guilt-free. We often need to cloak it in apologies and explanations and rationalizations.

Even when we're saying it to ourselves.

No. There simply aren't enough hours in the day.

And, yes. Conscientiousness is better than perfectionism. Something is better than nothing. Sleep is better than exhaustion. Balance is better than running full-tilt until we hit the wall and wonder why it hurts so much.

When I put it that way, it makes so much sense. Perhaps I should give it a try.

Won't you join me?

If your calendar is full, feel free to say no.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fitting Fashion

Recently, I've become fascinated with trying things out by mail. I ordered eyeglass frames from Warby Parker to try on at home. I ordered jewelry from a company I saw advertised on Facebook. I love my Dia & Co. clothing boxes so much that I'm writing a Tech Talk blog on the subject for next month.

Given the metrics collected by social media, it's possible that those purchases -- particularly my boxes full of clothes -- are responsible for this article by Project Runway's Tim Gunn showing up in my newsfeed. While I know I struggle to find clothes I like that fit both my height and my shape, I had no idea some designers stopped their sizing at a 10 or a 12.

I shouldn't be surprised. Anyone who's gone shopping with a preteen or a teen who's not model thin has wondered about the sizing and target audience of some of the mall stores. And I won't even go down the path of finding clothes that are a good fit for the age, size and budget of women over 40 -- a group that's nothing if not heterogeneous.

What fascinated me about this article was that it wasn't written by a woman; rather, it was written by an advocate of fashion and style on behalf of both consumers and the industry he loves. Gunn sees a potential win-win here that much of the fashion industry is ignoring.

Let's hope the designers listen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

6 Questions from the Porch Swing for Trevor

As I set out to write this post, I realized that Trevor (Bets' boyfriend) doesn't have a last name. He really should, don't you think? If you have a suggestion, post it in the comments below. I might just use it in the next book.

Where will we find you when you’re not on the page of the book we’re reading?
Trevor: Probably at the bar. It's a pretty interesting place to work, the tips are good, and Bets can come hang out any time she wants. Of course, I do take her out for real sometimes. 

What’s something we’d be surprised to know about you?
Trevor: That I have a degree in political science. I originally thought I'd go to law school, but a summer job at the bar turned into lots of hours and good money. Now, listening to the lawyers who come in, I'm not sure law school is really something I want to pursue. I'm more interested in opening a business of my own.

What are your thoughts on children?
Trevor: Kids are great. I hope to be a dad someday.

What regrets do you have?
Trevor: Just the usual indiscretions of youth. Oh, and my first marriage. 

Whom do you admire? 
Trevor: Anyone who can balance business and pleasure.

Bartenders listen to people's problems all the time. Have you ever thought of becoming a psychologist? 
Trevor: Nope. Too much pressure. And too depressing. Sure, some of my customers are bummed out when them come in, but just as many are celebrating something.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance

It's 1:30 PM on the first Monday (of classes) of the semester and I'm just beginning to write this blog. I started a post last night, but it hasn't quite come together yet. I came up with another idea in the shower this morning, and thought I might steal some office time to write it after I finished with my class and my meeting, but that didn't happen either.

What did I do, you might ask?

I taught a class, met with a student, made some copies, did some planning and talked with two colleagues.

Then, I walked across campus and got a chair massage. I mean, what better way to kick off the first five day week of the semester?

I've been considering taking the plunge for some time. I've even pulled up the schedule a few times, but never actually made an appointment. Something -- usually time constraints -- always stopped me.

But this morning, my seminar fellow and I were talking about wellness, and the subject of massages came up. I pulled up the schedule to answer a question we had, and, after she'd left and I'd checked a few things off my list, I decided to go for it. I'm proud of myself. It's only taken me six semesters to take the leap.

Why now?

As you know if you're a regular reader, my daughter left for college last month. I said then that if she was happy, I'd be happy. And I meant it.

Well, the votes are in. She's happy. And I'm happy for her.

But I also need to be happy for me, and part of that happiness is starting to make some progress on the list of "things I'd like to do sometime." To take advantage of the fact that my schedule is flexible and be a little more spontaneous. To sign up for a weekend trip or do something new, or even just something I've been meaning to do.

Like get a chair massage.

When my daughter first left, I couldn't bring myself to think of the fact that our life as a family would never be quite the same again. I knew it, of course, but emotionally, I wasn't ready to think in those terms.

Only recently has it has begun to dawn on me that this shift is not necessarily a bad thing. That sameness is, perhaps, not all it's cracked up to be. That change is whatever we choose to make it, and we can mourn or we can dance.

And I'm gonna dance.

Or at least get a chair massage.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Feature: How to Save Money on Textbooks

As a college instructor and parent of a college freshman, I have a love-hate relationship with textbooks. Well-constructed, reasonably priced textbooks can be a wonderful addition to a course, providing the basic material students need and allowing the instructor to go beyond the text and explore topics in greater depth.

Unfortunately, these kinds of textbooks seem to be difficult to come by. Too often, students are plunking down upwards of $200 for one textbook which may or may not meet the above criteria.

Is it any wonder that students often choose to go without?

I hate to see kids skip textbooks. Rather, I'm a fan of finding the cheapest possible options, so I was pleased to find this common-sense article, albeit from an unlikely source. Who'd expect one of the biggest suppliers of college textbooks to offer information on ways to save money on a product that's their lifeblood? And yet, the National Association of College Stores has done just that.

Here, as with any other major purchase, "let the buyer beware" is good advice. Making sure you're informed about all the options before handing over your credit card is the best way to stretch your textbook budget without bursting it like an overinflated balloon. A quick online search allows you to compare prices among the major players (your college bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Chegg are the ones that come to mind for me) as well as investigating the available formats (hardcover, paperback, e-book, loose leaf) and the ever-popular new vs. used.

And who knows? If they offer a price match, the college bookstore might turn out to be the best option after all.