Memorable Mottos and Words of the Year

img_6455As I read, I often latch on to a phrase that sticks with me and comes to stand for a trait, habit, or aspiration that I want to remember. I keep these in little notes on my desk and taped to my mirror and on the wall in my office. Last year, I tied my goals to them.

Some people call these mottos (Mystie has good ones for her kids, and Heather has beautifully calligraphed selections for her family), others call them rules to live by (such as Gretchen Rubin’s Personal Commandments). I suppose mine are a little of both. And, yeah, mine are a little weirder than what the links include, but at least they are memorable.

This year, I again tied my goals to my mottos (different goals, but in the same categories of aspiration) and I also selected one for my phrase of the year. Thanks to the idea from Mystie and Heather (links above) I am also applying the mottos to my kids, and plan to develop kid-type applications for all of the mottos over the course of the year.

Love is the horse.

You may recognize this year’s motto from the weekly newsletter–it’s taken from a quote by George Vaillant: “But who could have foreseen…that he would die a happy, giving, and beloved man? Only those who understand that happiness is only the cart; love is the horse.”

My natural bent is to prioritize efficiency and productivity. This, I’ve slowly and painfully come to realize, makes relationships…a challenge. But since a fair part of my life’s work is parenting and educating five children, I need to find ways to work to my strengths AND grow in my weaknesses.

When I read the Vaillant quote this fall in The Sweet Spot, I started seeing all of the ways that I push on problems to solve them with speed and efficiency rather than pausing to apply love and grace.  And often my way winds up exacerbating the issue or making it take even longer to solve. What if, I asked myself, love is the horse that could pull all of these things forward better than I can push them?

I need to learn this now. My kids do, too. Whatever seems important in the moment–getting something done, getting out the door, solving a dispute, cleaning up a mess–an attitude of love will probably get better results than a hasty, sharp hustle. And by “probably” I think I mean “definitely.” When I’m 80, my relationships will matter. Whether or not we got to the Post Office before it closed will not.

In case you wondered, here are my other mottos. Bonus points if you can remember the book each one came from!

  • Love is the horse.
  • Be the Band-Aid.
  • Ride Icelandic ponies.
  • Throw candy.
  • Don’t hug the cactus.
  • Fence the table (for the kids, who are Wingfeather fans, this one became, “Fence the Spookies.” Ask Sarah for her rendition. It’s priceless.)
  • Light a candle.
  • Bring your basket.
  • Sharpen the sword.

Do you do mottos or words of the year? What did you choose for 2017?

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Stuck: thoughts on risk and faithfulness

Stuck: How to Balance Risk & ResponsibilityIn The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau advises those who are not chasing their dreams to ask themselves “what’s the worst thing that could happen if something goes wrong.” The tacit implication is that you should not be afraid to chuck your comfortable life to do something risky/different/awesome.

And depending on your stage of life, it could be terrible advice.

Sure, in some situations, the risk is not great. If you’re 24 and single and your business idea fails, you sell your car and go live with your parents for a few months and there you are–ready to start another venture having learned a lot, but having lost very little.

But if you’re 34 with three kids and a mortgage and your business idea fails, you’ll run through your savings pretty fast. If your idea fails, “the worst thing that could happen” is going to involve homelessness, being unable to feed your children and pay their medical bills, crippling debt that will follow you for years, and debilitating stress.

Worth it? Maybe not.

So, if you have dependents and responsibilities, are you stuck? Do you have to give up all of your dreams and plod wearily along for the duration? Should you give up on the follow-your-dream genre entirely?

Not necessarily. I think the key is to balance risk and faithfulness and keep a positive mindset. The Art of Non-Conformity also says to “Begin with a clear understanding of what you want to get out of life.” When you have a family, what you want to get out of life begins with them. Sure, you may hanker for adventure, but ultimately you’re choosing to prioritize your family’s flourishing. In some seasons, your family may flourish as you pursue your dreams. Sometimes, the bold choice is to do the faithful thing. To take the boring job that puts food on the table. To put others’ needs before your own desires.

But remember, this is something you are actively choosing, not something that is just happening to you. The circumstances may look the same, but the radically different attitudes make the difference.

The stuck attitude starts out feeling resigned, then spirals into negativity and winds up in bitterness. The attitude of personal agency is positive, able to see chances for small changes, and leaves room for joy.

Maybe you can’t chuck it all and move to Thailand to start a record label right now. But The Art of Non-Conformity and Guillebeau’s more recent Born For This could still help you:

  • Test out big steps with small experiments. If you don’t have capital to try your business idea, maybe you could do it as a hobby, with the option to scale up later.
  • Start living a fuller life. Begin by saying no to one thing you only do out of obligation and saying yes to one thing that feeds your soul. Just one thing could make a big difference, or start a snowball effect.
  • Avoid the glory days trap. Look for ways that your current situation can be formative and learning intensive. Can’t swing grad school right now? Make your own syllabus and read on your own time.
  • Lose the all-or-nothing approach. Think about what you love to do and what you’re really good at, and move toward those things in small increments. Your joy, money, and flow don’t all have to come from the same source.
  • Beware of false choices. You don’t have to choose between being responsible and being fulfilled. Or between exercising or playing with your kids. Or whatever. Test your assumptions. Many either/or problems can be reframed to both/and lifestyles.

Maybe you’re in a position where the awesome travel hacks and inspiration for big leaps in Guillebeau’s books are doable for you. If so, I’d definitely recommend The Art of Non-Conformity and Born For This. But if you are feeling tied down and stuck and foiled at every turn, I might recommend them even more. Rather than seeing books like this as not practical for my stage of life, I think of them as sources of ideas I can customize to my situation. It all depends on your mindset.

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A perfect book for graduates, 30-somethings, and probably retirees, too

perfectgraduationgiftMaybe this is how selecting graduation presents goes at your house too.

Me: We need to get a graduation gift for so-and-so.

Josh: OK.

Me: I was thinking…something like…a journal?

Josh: Oh geez, a journal? That’s like the boring tie of graduation gifts. Get something they need.

But what do college students/grad students/young professionals really need? Cheapo Target decor? Caffeinated water? Their heads screwed on straight?

Since there’s really no way to predict where a person’s tastes run when it comes to spangled wall hangings and inflatable couches, and we trust that the aforementioned young person can source their own stimulants, maybe a tool for clear thinking would be in order.

And that is why I think from now on we will gift graduates with a copy of Kevin DeYoung’s excellent book, Just Do Something. I love the alternate title too, “Or: How To Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing In the Sky, Etc.”

As you might guess from the alternate title, Just Do Something is funny and wry. But it’s also incredibly solid, Biblical advice for a culture where a surfeit of possibilities and a deficit of responsibility inclines us to falsely spiritualize indecision.

Yep, I said “us.”

Because, when I first began reading I immediately thought the book would be perfect for graduates, but after a couple of chapters I realized that I was under conviction as a 37-year-old too. And really, the mirror DeYoung holds up in Just Do Something reflects our entire milieu, not just millennials, my nameless generation, Gen X, Baby Boomers, or whatever we’re calling ourselves.

We want to know God’s will, DeYoung says, for all the wrong reasons. We want to know what’s coming next so that we won’t be out of control or uncomfortable. We are obsessed with what house to buy, what job to take, who to marry, and so forth because we think those things are going to make or break us, but the Bible says God is after our sanctification. Instead of being frozen in indecision, DeYoung asks if we’re living 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

“Are you joyful always? Are you praying continually? Are you giving thanks in all circumstances? You ought to be. For this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.”

Basically, DeYoung boils seeking God’s will and looking for your purpose (which he discusses in very helpful detail) down to knowing God, praying for wisdom, and then, as long as our options aren’t unbiblical, just taking the leap so that we don’t waste our lives.

“If we had done something—almost anything, really—faithfully and humbly and for God’s glory for all that time, we could have made quite an impact.”

Because I’m a product of my culture and milieu just like everyone else, I really needed to read this book. I wish I had read it when I was 18/22/28/32 too. So I’ll be buying Just Do Something for graduation presents, but I’d highly recommend it for just about anyone on your list, and for yourself.

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A couple of things about sleep

a-spirited-mind
A friend of mine broke her arm and had to have physical therapy to help her regain full use of her hand. The therapist told her that the motion we use to pull apart a sealed bag (like the ones inside of cereal boxes) is terrible for our hands and no one–regardless of injury–should ever pull one of those bags apart. I don’t have any problem with my hands now, but after talking to my friend I am absolutely using scissors to open those sealed bags from here on out!

Sleep is like that. I am a terrible sleeper. Sometimes I have stretches of decent sleep, but more often I have problems of various sorts, whether or not I currently have a waking baby. Many people, however, seem to have little trouble sleeping. Obviously people like me need to read up on sleep research, but what about people like my husband who–in spite of really bad sleep habits–inexplicably sleep soundly whenever they want to? After reading a couple of books on sleep lately, I think it’s probably wise to understand sleep better even if you’re not having trouble with it.

sleep revolutionIf you’re totally new to healthy sleep, of if you’re not convinced that sleep is important, you might want to start off with Sleep Revolution. The book is kind of like a compendium report of the latest and greatest sleep research, mixed in with all of the reasons you can’t get by on too little sleep (really, even if you think you’re pulling it off, you’re not). While it’s informative, the book lacks much practical punch. The suggestions for getting better sleep are pretty thin, or the sort of thing you could find online in those “10 Ways to Sleep Better” slideshows. Still, if you need convincing or an overview, Sleep Revolution could be your book.

Sleep-Smarter-book

Lots of resources will tell you that sleep is important, so do things like get to bed on time and don’t drink caffeine after 4pm. Those are great tips as far as they go, but some of us need more than that to get good sleep. If you’re going to get REALLY SERIOUS about sleep, I’d recommend Sleep Smarter. This book is chock full of action items to improve your sleep. Some of them are easy to implement, some of them are a little out there, and all are fully discussed in enough detail to really put them into practice. There is a good amount of research included, but it’s readable, and it moves quickly into things you can actually do to improve your sleep.

I’m making several changes to my routines to take action on things I learned in Sleep Smarter, and I’m working on them for me and for my kids.

Of possible interest, Gretchen Rubin linked to this article on insomnia that suggests not eating if you wake up at night. Sleep Smarter suggests a before bed snack high in fat and low in carbs so you won’t wake up hungry. I do find that if I eat something like a hard boiled egg right before bed, I sleep better.

What works for you when it comes to getting good sleep?
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Ordering the rhythms of our tables, calendars, and hearts

a-spirited-mind-1We live in a time in which we are fortunate to have lots of options. You can eat strawberries in November and wear sweaters in July. From where we live to how we eat, even to how we observe or ignore the weather, we pretty much get to chart our own course.

Because we have this freedom, it’s even more important that we pay attention to the underlying framework that drives our choices. I’ve recently been reading and thinking about this in light of seasons and rhythms.

I’m not against the convenience of modern life. I’m writing this post in my air conditioned office while it’s 94 degrees outside. I’ll be putting a can of tomatoes in tonight’s dinner, and I buy everything from books to pajamas to eyeliner on Amazon. But I do see a difference between using modern conveniences as tools and being blindly co-opted by our consumer culture.

As I read I began articulating some impressions of unease I’ve had about how (or if) my life reflects my beliefs on a number of fronts. I’ve made some steps to change our rhythms with things like moving to a term schedule for school (generally six weeks on, one week off), and we’ve always done a Jesse Tree for Advent. Still, in reading thinkers like James K. A. Smith and others, I’ve found myself examining our life looking for the liturgy embedded therein–we all live a liturgy, Smith says, it’s just a matter of what we base it on.

circle of seasonsIn a roundabout fashion this brought me to Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s excellent book The Circle of Seasons. Ireton didn’t grow up in a high church tradition, so her study of the church year as an adult gives her a valuable outsider perspective. Ireton avoids the temptation to create or uphold empty ritual, and digs into the value and symbolism of various church traditions.

For example, in looking at Advent as a season of waiting and preparation for Christ’s birth followed by a twelve day feast of Christmas, Ireton ties in ways Christians can move beyond the commercial Christmas to enjoy a season of peace and then extend joy and love when everyone else is tapped out and suffering a post-holiday slump. What if we had a Christmas party the week after Christmas? What if we invited people over for a Christmas dinner on December 28? How would that impact our family’s ability to enjoy Christmas and be a blessing to others?

Likewise, Lent offers a chance to think about the true purpose of fasting–not self-denial or being absorbed in yourself, but creating space for God to work in and through us.

I appreciated how Ireton thoughtfully examined ways that the church calendar can break us out of our tendency to passively trudge through life, and make us more mindful of our days.

irrational seasonI’ve already mentioned The Irrational Season, but it bears repeating here because in the book Madeleine L’Engle writes her reflections on the year in a way that is informed by and immersed in the church year.

L’Engle did a masterful job of showing how being aware of the church calendar can direct our thoughts and contemplation. Thinking about Jesus’ coming birth during Advent leads to being watchful for His return. Considering the events of our lives in light of Epiphany, Easter, or the Trinity helps us to understand them in a truer light, and orient our own experiences in light of a bigger story.

Reading The Irrational Season won’t be so much a practical primer on how to celebrate the church year as an inspiration for how being aware of seasons and traditions can be a rich avenue for study and contemplation. I’m thinking about this a lot as I structure our school terms for next year.

feastOne of the e-books in a bundle I bought recently turned out to be an interesting resource on the Christian year. Feast! is full of practical tips and recipes for aligning your family culture with church culture.

The first two sections–on Advent and Christmas–were particularly helpful. I liked the ideas for ways to build up to Christmas and make that our focus, but without seeming Scroogey or anti-Christmas. A lot of the tips were ideas that would help to keep December less frantic by spreading out all the things we love about the season into a longer and more relaxed celebration. I’ve always felt that Christmas was this weird abrupt stop after a couple of weeks trying to cram too much in. I really like the idea of a more restful Advent and then a great fun long Christmas with plenty of time to listen to music, make gingerbread houses, and read Christmas books rather than putting everything away. The authors suggest adding to your Jesse Tree until Epiphany, which I remember my mom trying to do for us some years. The Stewarts suggest adding the names of God or attributes of Jesus for those extra twelve ornaments. I have this on my list to try.

I will say that after the Easter ideas the book wasn’t as applicable for me. The authors are Catholic and so they have special saints days they celebrate at different times, which isn’t something we do. But there was enough good food for thought in the other sections to make Feast a worthwhile read for me.

life giving home

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-giving Home is arranged around the year too, although I didn’t take as many notes on practical things to do in January versus May or anything like that.  Those ideas are there, but I found the book to be more helpful to me in giving me a stronger vision for the way that my home and life can better express the truth and beauty I believe in, versus specific decorating or menu ideas.

I love the point the Clarkson’s make about how our homes and family cultures are ways to engage with the broader culture and a means to tell the story of what is most important to us. This is true no matter what we believe, and certainly worth serious thought. Are our lives–from our time to our traditions to our decorating aesthetic–telling the story we want them to? Are they restorative and life-giving for our families and friends and neighbors?

jameskasmith-youarewhatyoulove

If you want to dig more deeply into how our lives tell a story of what we love and reveal our vision of the good life, you should certainly check out James K. A. Smith’s latest work, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. This book is powerfully insightful and profoundly challenging.

Smith talks about the way that our worship must incorporate not just our minds, but also our hearts. If we fail to capture and reorder our hearts, our head knowledge will not be enough. “You are what you love,” Smith writes, “because you live toward what you want.”  When we have misdirected loves it’s not because we have bad ideas, but because “our desires have been captivated by rival visions of flourishing. And that happens through practices not propaganda.”

So if we are formed by liturgies whether we admit it or not, we ought to devote careful consideration to what those liturgies are. As a parent and teacher, this gives me a lot to think about. Of course we want to give our children truth and sound ideas, but are we going beyond that to capture their hearts with truth and beauty? Does our worship and our family culture give them a vision for what it means to flourish, or are we giving them second-rate music and sappy stories and then wondering why their palates incline them to cartoons and the mall?

This has so many implications for how we structure our time, our family culture, our schools, our work…while the book may seem the odd one out in this post, it really forms the basis for why and how we follow (or don’t) seasons, rhythms, and traditions–Christian or otherwise.

There is so much in You Are What You Love that I can’t begin to touch on all of it, but I highly recommend it if you’re interested in habits, virtue, the good life, spiritual life…well, really I’d recommend it for anyone.

I haven’t finished thinking all of this through yet, so can’t give you my conclusions, but I’d be interested to know if you’ve considered these things and, if so, how you shape your family’s calendar or traditions as a result?

 
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The Bookmarked Life #15

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

I’m thinking about seasons and rhythms and the original purpose of the liturgical calendar. How might we do Advent and Easter and our school terms differently to renew focus and reduce the way holidays tend to breed frenzy? I like the idea of longer seasons and a contemplative approach to the year. We have to be careful not to get caught up in meaningless rituals, but in our milieu I think maybe there is more danger in meaningless seasons if you hew to the culture than if you follow some version of a church calendar. This is tied up in more thinking and reading about liturgy and habits and may wind up shifting how I schedule the next school year.

…Furnishing My Mind

IMG_5642Margaret was baptized in early May and we celebrated by having a picture that actually included all of us. It turns out that it’s really, really difficult to squeeze a family of seven onto a loveseat.

Related to the loveseat: people often ask why on earth I have white couches when I have so many kids. The truth is, these couches were super cheap at Ikea and the slipcovers are fully removable and washable. They hold up really well–I did not stain treat them and I only wash them 2-3 times a year, sometimes tossing the seat cushions in more frequently. We use the couches all day long and they do sometimes get a little grubby, but nothing a soak in Oxiclean can’t fix. IMG_5558Overall, I feel like they make me happy and are much easier to maintain than a couch you can’t wash.

My parents came to visit for the week of Eliza’s third birthday and Margaret’s baptism, and we had a nice visit as well as a mini-break from school.

IMG_5791Jack turned nine at the end of May and had a “Lego Inventor” party. It was a madhouse but he seemed to enjoy it. He made the cake topper himself, and it was nice to just go with it and not try to do some fantastical thing with fondant. Chocolate cake with lots of chocolate frosting (the Hershey’s recipe is easy and way, way better than any store-bought version) is good regardless.

Jack is very creative, loves to read, and is super intense about everything he does. Parenting him can be a wild ride, but he’s interesting and fun and very affectionate.

 

…Living the Good Life

IMG_5671We joined the Children’s Museum and Zoo this spring and have enjoyed frequent trips to both as I attempt to justify the cost with lower cost-per-visit averages.  🙂 So far we’ve done the museum nine times and the zoo five times. As you can see in the picture, the zoo has a cool exhibit going right now of giant animal sculptures made of Legos.

For some reason it often feels easier to take the five kids out than to stay home. It sort of diffuses the noise and energy! We’ve also been going to more parks and finding interesting new parts of the city to explore (that is a nice way of saying, “Mama often gets lost but then enjoys the scenery.”)

…Teaching

We finished our required 180 days of instruction last week, but don’t tell the kids since we will still be doing school through the rest of June (after a break this week for VBS). It works better for us to take July off and then have more flexibilty throughout the year for term breaks rather than having one long summer break. To the surprise of no one, I have changed some things up this semester, so I’ll do an end-of-year wrap-up later in June.

…Boosting Creativity

IMG_5833

I think it’s so great to be creative in different ways.  Somehow being creative in a totally different medium can help with creativity in my usual tracks.  A couple of times lately a friend of mine has hosted a painting party–a local artist comes to her house and we all learn some techniques and paint a small picture. This one is a sprig of balsam fir.  I really like the way the colors in the background turned out.

When I was reading The Irrational Season, I was struck by Madeleine L’Engle’s schedule–she always made time for a walk outdoors, an hour of study and reading, and an hour of practicing piano in addition to writing and caring for her family and whatever else. She felt that the outdoor exercise, study, and piano were part of her creative process, and she was unabashed at saying that was what she needed for her creative life. I was inspired to pick up some of my old piano music and have been tackling Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor.

…Building Fitness

IMG_5771 We are boldly embarking on hikes! I don’t know what it is about having five children that has made me delve into all of the things there are to do around town. Obviously it’s TONS easier to tote five kids to attractions, right? But in any case we have now met up with a friend and her two kids to do two hikes at state parks nearby. Surprisingly, Eliza (age 3) has been able to walk pretty far. And Margaret does well in the baby carrier. The big kids got these nifty water bottle holders (the friends we hike with introduced us–they are far more outdoorsy than we are!) and are allowed to eat granola bars whilst hiking, so they are all in.

I moved my regular workouts to the evening after the kids go to bed, and am now mostly doing my own circuit of heavy (for me anyway!) weights. I got this idea from Crystal, which led me to this free e-book (salesy, but informative), and so far it’s a nice break from routine.

…Seeking Balance

Work (the paid sort anyway) has been lighter this past couple of weeks, and that has been good in its way. It’s funny how the older kids, while not requiring the same hands-on vigilance as the littles, seem to be in phases that require more time and emotional energy right now, so it has been good to slow down and be able to focus on those needs lately. I’ve been doing more personal writing too, which is restorative and fun. I still have no idea how to work the schedule to include paid work, personal writing, study time, school, and intentional parenting all together. But if I look at things from a weekly or monthly perspective, it does all fit in.

…Listening To

The kids and I are listening to The Chronicles of Narnia books on audio (unabridged, not dramatized) in the car–what a great series to listen to one after the other! This is perfect for summer car trips or just for going around town. Highly recommended!

…Keeping In Mind

“May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time, and cherish each day as an extra grace.” –Andrew Greeley

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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On Purpose and Flourishing – a course and a few books

I like to think about things like goals and living on purpose, and I try (more or less desperately) to live a life of flourishing regardless of circumstances. The events of the past year have made me more deliberate in this regard, but also much less hubristic about the whole thing. Of course, since this is me, I keep learning!

UpstreamFieldGuide-464x600Being someone who generally learns better from books than from audio, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Tsh Oxenrider’s (author of Notes From a Blue Bike) course Upstream Field Guide. I had looked at the course several times because I liked the premise of uncovering and living into your life’s purpose even if you’re swimming upstream of the regular culture, but I was always uncertain because of price. It’s a lot of content–eight segments with Tsh, and a couple of additional interview pieces per session, plus a workbook–but I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to pay for it and kept wishing Tsh would just write a book on the topic.

So when it came up in a bundle at 1/2 to 1/3 the regular price, I decided to pull the trigger and YES, it was absolutely worth the price of the bundle (the rest of the bundle is e-books you can take or leave, but will probably mostly leave–I looked at it as being totally the price of Upstream Field Guide).

The course takes you through a lot of exercises designed to get at your purpose. I found many of them similar to Make It Happen, except MIH (and PowerSheets) are more geared toward purpose and goals on a year by year schedule, whereas Upstream Field Guide is geared toward life purpose apart from individual roles (mom, teacher, writer, etc) and goals.

You might be skeptical, especially if you’re already a fairly introspective person. I was really, really surprised at how the exercises and insights from the course revealed a handful of things that came up again and again and translated to a purpose statement. I’ve read a lot about purpose statements but have never before done one because it always seemed forced or too based on current life stage–or maybe I was just never ready for it or pushed to the edge enough for it.  Upstream Field Guide was different, and very helpful for me. Articulating a purpose has helped me to think through prioritizing in a different and more consistent way.

Spelling out your purpose then helps you to set better goals, and Tsh walks through goal setting in the course too–again with a similar framework to Lara Casey’s though not in the same detail, I still recommend Casey’s goal setting process as the best I’ve found–and how to evaluate where you are in life compared to where you want to be.

Depending on when you read this, you might be able to get the Upstream Field Guide course for the bundle price–the bundle is available June 1 and 2, 2016. If you’ve looked at the course but have been on the fence, this is a good time to snag it.

own your lifeIf you’ve been reading here for a while you might remember that I have already reviewed Sally Clarkson’s Own Your Life. Ahem. Remember what I said at the beginning of the post about hubris? That. When I last read Own Your Life, I was about to enter a very difficult and intense year, with challenges on just about every life front. I had no idea of course, and so at that point I thought ok, sure, but Sally Clarkson is not Type A enough for me!  Let’s take over the world with our strong and mighty selves and be great at all the things!  Well. This time around, having been more than a little humbled, I was deeply impacted by the book.

As it turns out, it wasn’t so much my ENTJ personality that didn’t connect before, but rather my I’ve-got-this attitude. Own Your Life is full of good messages for anyone–to take responsibility for your life and make choices toward your ideals–but it really resonates when you’re looking for encouragement to do the hard work of really leaning into and owning the story you’re in.  Reading this book at the same time I was going through Upstream Field Guide was helpful in a big picture, heart and soul sort of way. This time around I recommend Own Your Life heartily!

living forwardHaving read Michael Hyatt’s blog and listened to his podcast intermittently, I was interested to read his latest book, Living Forward, which is about putting together a life plan. To be honest, I was hoping for more. If you’ve never read anything on goal setting or life planning, you might find the book helpful, but since I read a lot in the genre, I was sort of underwhelmed.  Most of the book seemed derived from other sources, like Getting Things Done (link is my review of GTD), or very similar to other goal setting tips you can get from Hyatt’s blog or other similar sources.  If anything, I’d recommend this as a library book.

If you’ve ever put together a personal purpose statement, how did it work? Did it help you? Did it stick?

 

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Smarter Faster Better

smatter faster better-500x500Smarter Faster Better looks at productivity and how really effective people actually achieve more. The author looks beyond the busy churn to identify powerful habits for being effective, regardless of your sphere of life.

Duhigg makes an important distinction between looking productive and actually being productive.  He writes:

There are some people who pretend at productivity, whose resumes appear impressive until you realize their greatest talent is self marketing.

And there’s so much of modern online life in a nutshell, hm?

So we have to be sure that we aren’t using our To Do list as “mood repair” but rather that we are doing the right things in the first place.

How do we do this? Duhigg identifies several important habits for being truly productive:

  • Paying attention. Duhigg suggests managing your focus and attention by narrating your life as you go. Can he have been reading Charlotte Mason, or is that just a coincidence? 🙂
  • Self-motivation. People who realize that they have agency and can make choices are more effective than people who let life happen to them.
  • Wisely allocating energy. Effectiveness isn’t about doing something with every second of every day. It’s about doing the right things at the right time with the right energy.
  • Performing scenario analysis. In my pre-kids job, I did a lot of this sort of exercise: given what we know, what might happen in the future? Considering a worst case, best case, and middle ground possibility helps people make better choices and be more mindful of subtle changes to the status quo. Rather than making the false binary choices that our brains naturally like (you can have this OR this), envisioning alternate outcomes allows you to see situations more clearly.

I thought this book was helpful and a good reminder, although it used examples and conclusions that I have–for the most part–read elsewhere. It’s good to read information from different angles. So I’d recommend Smarter Faster Better if you like the habits/goals/life purpose genre, although I wouldn’t say it was life-changing on its own.

If you read the book–or if you have thoughts on productivity outside Duhigg’s examples–I’d be interested to know which habits you think characterize truly effective people?

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

 

Breaking Busy

Breaking+Busy+CoverI know being “soooo busy” is ubiquitous in our culture, and that many people equate being busy with being important or needed or significant. That said, I also know that many of us deliberately choose to be counter-cultural in regards to the whole busy phenomenon. We don’t run our kids around to zillions of lessons, we don’t pack our calendars, we don’t overschedule, we know sleep and reltionships and down time are important.

But, do you ever look around and find yourself…still busy? I think some seasons of life just ARE busy. What do you do when, in spite of your best efforts, you find yourself dealing with a parenting crisis, a health crisis, a work crisis, a financial crisis…or several of those all at once?

The fact is, in modern life it behooves us to have some strategies to combat frenzy, because you have to live deliberately if you want to avoid the busy trap.  That’s why I loved Alli Worthington’s book Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy.

Several aspects of the book were real stand-outs for me:

  • Diagnosing busy. If you’re not the sort who does the super busy thing as a rule, you might still at times fall into a busy life stage.  Alli gives great diagnostic questions to help you figure out if you are too busy. A lot of it has to do with tuning in to how you feel and identifying those feelings as symptoms so you can work out a different story. This is an area of life I am trying to improve: just because I’m feeling a certain way doesn’t necessarily indicate an immutable fact–it might just be a clue to a problem I can solve or a situation I can change.
  • Evaluating the why. I’m a questioner, so I have to know the why for what I’m doing, but I don’t always think of that until it’s too late.  Alli gives helpful advice for figuring out why you are doing something, and whether it’s something God wants YOU to do, or if it’s just something a lot of other people around you do but God isn’t asking from you right now.
  • Being honest about relationships. We all know that some people drain us and others encourage us.  But if you’re like me, maybe you feel an obligation to “be nice” that turns into a major source of negativity in your life and winds up marginalizing your family or other important relationships. Alli’s discussion of this problem helped me so much. Choosing to pour into relationships that are your priorities and that fill your soul is ok, and sometimes it’s ok to pray for people but not let them have a major chunk of your time.
  • How editing your life makes it more fruitful. I hadn’t thought of it in these terms, but as I read I realized that God does often have to break me down to get me to listen. Pruning and rearranging are often necessary to help us see the work God has for us. But it’s not an easy process, and that’s ok to admit. I was so encouraged by Alli’s insight into what that life edit process looks and feels like.

I could easily go on, because I took five single spaced pages of notes from the book, but instead I’ll just recommend that you read this book yourself.  I think you’ll appreciate the insight, encouragement, and practical help the book offers, no matter where you fall on the busy spectrum.

Breaking Busy goes on sale January 26. If you order it in advance, you can get a free Breaking Busy Guide that features a lot of other writers you are probably familiar with.  I haven’t previewed the guide myself, but the lineup of contributors looks solid, so it might be worth a pre-order if you were thinking of getting the book anyway.

Have you ever been hit with busy seasons that weren’t due to deliberate overcommitment? How did you handle it?

 

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I received a review copy of the book from the publisher, but the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Teaching From Rest

teaching from restI have had Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching From Rest on my wish list ever since it came out, and this Christmas I received a copy.  Y’all, I read a lot of books.  I don’t want to own most of them.  But I am so, so glad to own a copy of this one.

Teaching From Rest is ostensibly about how to homeschool with peace, but it’s also about how to do life with peace.  Homeschooling is a major part of my life, but it’s not the sum total, and I found so many pieces of this book helpful to me as a parent and as a person too.

I tend to do a lot of things, and get caught up in analyzing all the things, and often wind up getting overwhelmed.  The past several months have been even more overwhelming than usual.  But something Sarah wrote in this book stopped me in my overwhelmed tracks and completely changed my viewpoint about my days.

“Bring your basket.”

Sarah points out that often in homeschooling (and parenting, and life) we feel overwhelmed like the disciples faced with 5,000 people who needed feeding and only a few loaves and fish to get the job done.  We feel like we can’t possibly do this with the resources we have.  And we’re right as were they.  We aren’t making it up, life is hard. But whatever we are facing, we can bring our basket–whatever skills, abilities, and time we have–and trust God for the rest.

This visual helps me so much.  I have the phrase written on my desk and in my goal sheets. I remind myself to bring my basket several times a day.  It really changes my perspective and reminds me to pray over more things.

Teaching From Rest is full of things like that.  I had several tabs to make a note on almost every page.  I can see re-reading this book again and again.  If you read Sarah’s blog, some of it will feel familiar to you, but it’s more than enough new and expanded content to be well worth it.

If you homeschool, I think you really, truly, and immediately ought to read this book.  If you don’t homeschool but tend towards bustle and overwhelm as a parent in general, I think you’d get a lot out of it too.  It’s an excellent read for any time of year, but particularly helpful in the New Year/fresh start season.

As a side note, I have the hard copy version of the book, which is revised and expanded from the original e-book. 

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.