Intention v. Impact

2017. New year's resolutions: Health, New Beginnings, Impact. 

I went to a powerful training in early December, one of the many desperate actions I've been taking to make sense of a confusing and disappointing world. It was called, "Building Community Power and Resiliency in the Face of Adversity." In the first of six workshops, I delved into what it means to move beyond being an ally in the fight for racial, and therefore environmental, justice. 

Of the many difficult and insightful teachings, I unpacked the difference between intention and impact. We can have the best intention but simply MEANING well doesn't DO anything. The instructor gave an example. Right after the election, there was the "Safety Pin" movement to show solidarity with anyone who felt in danger because of gender, race, sexuality, disability or religion. The instructor asked, "What was the action behind this? Pinning a safety pin. Nothing more." 

True, I thought, when I simply intend to do something, nothing is changed by it. Unless I actually ACT on my intentions, there are no results. So I pass this little insight onto you. Whether you are taking 2017 by the horns and trying to fight for environmental justice and human tolerance, or you are simply trying to rally the effort to begin an application to a fellowship, know that intentions are nothing if you don't act on them. 

Delve into Your Dreams

I spoke at the Los Alamos Rotary Club this week. It was the second time I had presented to their club, the last time being almost three years ago. I was invited back because November is Foundation month, and since I was a Rotary Scholar, they wanted to hear how the Rotary Scholarship impacted my life. Recounting the many ways in which those first interviews for my scholarship formed who I have become was easy, since they were practically the beginning of the rest of my life. 

I also took the opportunity to present the work I've been doing with my book. Before the meeting started, I introduced myself around and took the opportunity to talk with some people. One woman asked, "What will you be talking about today?" I told her my book and topic was about finding funding to do what you love. The woman, about 70ish, said, "Oh! I am way too old for that, but I just learned about this amazing effort being done to help protect giraffes. Everyone thinks giraffes are safe and in no danger, but it turns out they are! So they've developed this technique to transport the giraffes because they are so tall and unwieldy."

What a wealth of enthusiasm! I made sure to tell her right then and there that she certainly wasn't old enough to pursue her passions and it sounded like she even had her project pinpointed. I also made a point of bringing her up multiple times in the presentation. When you take the time to think about what you would do if anything in the world were possible, you'd be surprised at how some "impossible dreams" are already mapped out for you. Do yourself a favor and delve into your dreams sometime, you might find some treasures!

Funding for Families

Are you a parent or in a relationship? Does this sometimes make it feel like you'll never get to travel or do your own projects again? I know it did for me. Last winter, I was so nostalgic for traveling that it felt suffocating. Somehow my husband and I had built up this wall of impossibility, where we couldn't afford traveling or taking time off. And there was no relief in sight. Until I decided that this assumption wasn't true. I started to put together different ways to take time off and reduce my airfare. I think it's about the mindset. 

Before we had children, my husband and I lived in Senegal for a year. Luckily, my fellowship added an extra stipend for dependents, but I know that not all of them do. At the orientation training for a separate fellowship I did, one woman (who had a child and husband) was seriously fretting the financial feasibility of going abroad. "What about our mortgage payment? And I looked up the cost of living in ______ and our blanket fellowship stipend amounts to about HALF of what we'll actually need to live there." So a fellowship is not always the blank check you hope for. 

But here are some ways to make traveling with a family work:

1) Reconsider where you are going. Is there a similar place where cost of living is less? Even though you may have always wanted to live and work in Paris, take the time to consider all the OTHER amazing places in the world (and how much less it would cost to live there). 

2) Reduce your at-home expenses. If you are fortunate enough to own your home and have a mortgage on it, think about renting out your house for the year. Some countries have home-swapping services (like where you can trade homes for a duration of time. This would lower your cost of living both at home and abroad!

3) Think how your partner can make the most of the experience. This was hard for us, admittedly, when we lived in Senegal. My husband doesn't speak very much French and so couldn't work there. But he did do online and campus-based classes. Is there an aspect of your partner's work that could be enhanced by being abroad?

4) Don't send your kids to private school. I have known American parents who do both things: pay for private, American schools abroad and free public school. If your kids are young enough and don't need to worry about getting enough school credits while you're away, think about sending them to the local schools. Kids pick up language faster than adults and they will become more immersed in the culture. 

5) Reconsider whether this should be a whole-family adventure or an adventure for you. I know this may sound sacrilege and selfish, but some things are easier alone. Maybe it would be best to do the project or abroad time without your family (for now) and then they can come on the next one. This may mean your travels are shorter, or closer to home, but maybe that's the best way to keep the family balance stable. 

I hope these have helped you, they are certainly considerations I will be making!

The Fun is in the Chase

I am a planner by profession, I like planning. I like spending months reading reviews and investigating appliances. Dreaming about what my house will look like when I finally do an addition is how I drift off to sleep at night. My imagination runs wild when I open the possibilities of all that I could do. But then when I actually get the appliance, or make the change that I've been looking forward to for months (or even years), the satisfaction from the accomplishment or purchase is short-lived. I immediately move onto the next goal. 

This revelation came to me a few years ago when I was feeling frustrated. I had achieved these amazing things, won fellowships and awards and traveled the world, and yet, I wasn't satisfied. I spent some time really thinking about it. Why can't I appreciate what I've done and feel content with my accomplishments? Why do I have to keep pushing myself? The answer came to me as if by revealing a secret. In my mind's eye I saw a little pearl of wisdom glimmering under what seemed to be obscure leaves. The answer was: perspective. 

It seems radical to me. What if I spent as much time AFTER the fact of getting or accomplishing something as I spend in the planning mode? That would mean months of observing and appreciating the details of what this new thing adds to my life. For a new stove, maybe that would mean taking time each day to admire the details or trying new ways of cooking to experiment with all the settings. For a fellowship, maybe that would mean writing about how the experience added to my perspective of the world or enumerating the ways that the fellowship has boosted my career. We live in an "I want everything" world, where we focus on the individual and possession. What if we spent the time reflecting on what we have and how we have been formed by our past experiences? I think it would help us better understand where we are going in the future. 

When to Cut Your Losses

I met with a friend over the weekend who just had her second little kid. She also happens to be an entrepreneur who bought a business a couple years ago and has been limping along trying to keep it afloat. Having two small kids is hard, and then add to it all the sweat equity that a small business requires . . . phew! She was wondering about whether going the non-profit route would be a good option. 

I don't think I've shared much of my non-profit philosophy on this blog yet, but I am not a huge proponent of going non-profit. My friend shared some of my views. For one, you are reliant on the grants coming in. So you're spending all this time working on grant applications (most of which you don't receive) and then you actually have to DO the program and then you have to continuously follow up. Another thing is that you are at the whim of your board and responsible for documenting every decision and purchase with justifications. Some of this should be done in a for-profit model as well, but in a non-profit, the liability is much bigger if something goes "wrong."

After discussing this and deciding it would be best to stay a for-profit (which was her initial inclination), she confessed that earlier this year she had said her partner that maybe they should just let the venture die. 

In moments when you don't feel like you have one last drop of inspiration, let alone energy, to put into your business (or your training or project), remember that life is full of ebbs and flows. Creativity comes in bursts, not a steady stream. There are also times in life when you are saving and stockpiling money and other times when you're digging into those reserves. If you are at a point where it feels like you're using up the valuable stores that you need, step back and look at the big picture. 

"I don't think you should give up on the business just yet," I told my friend. "You have invested so much time and money and the business is not growing right now because your energy is needed elsewhere (the new baby)." This business makes sense in the line of my friends work and passions and she's feeling drained because it's one of those ebb times for her, but big picture, this business still makes sense. If you happen to be asking yourself the same question right now, take a step back (or even better yet ask a friend to help you) and examine the big picture.  


A Strong Handshake

I read a blog yesterday about improving your body language. Since writing my book, I have been working on all my communication skills and it is essential to be aware of your body language. If your message is strong but your body language is weak, the message is lost. The blog said, 

When first introduced to a leader, we immediately and unconsciously assess him or her for warmth and authority…. So the best leadership strategy is to embody both sets of traits—and to do so early and often.

What body language conveys authority? Good posture, taking up space, a firm handshake and a purposeful stride.

The part about the handshake resonated with me. I don't know how it came to me, but when was preparing to do my first panel interview for the Rotary Scholarship, I resolved to stride confidently into the room and greet each person with a firm handshake and a smile. Perhaps because handshakes have always been scary to me (I have sweaty hands), this action took a lot of buildup. It made an excellent impression, however. In every interview since, I have made sure to give a good handshake. 

First impressions matter a lot. Everything from your grammar to your handshake give cues to your audience about your character. If handshakes are scary for you too, try practicing them with a friend. One great way I get to practice is by participating in Toastmasters. Every time you get up to speak, the Toastmaster leading the meeting shakes your hand to welcome you and shakes your hand to finish. It's a way to recognize each other and add formality to the role you are taking on. It's a reminder that you are a professional (in whatever field you practice), and that you should be treated as such. 

Handshakes have become less common in some crowds, but I think it's an important way to bridge generations and reminds you that you should be taken seriously. Give it a try sometime!

Don't Wear Yourself Out

I know, I know, I've been pushing you to add in more research and time to write, so why am I saying "Don't wear yourself out?" Seems contradictory, doesn't it? I limit my number of applications each year to only one or two major programs, and perhaps a few small applications (e.g. for conference scholarships) sprinkled in. Much more than that and I feel like I'm depleting my resources. 

We know a few dance and yoga teachers who go full speed ahead, teaching five, six, seven, eight classes a week. But inevitably, they all hit a wall. And they don't come down softly. It's like juggling too many balls until they all crash at the same time. You don't have time for crash, let alone have a backup plan for the downfall. It just happens where things all unravel at the same time. 

Spare yourself, it's not a pretty picture. Applying for a fellowship, scholarship, or grant takes a large toll on you mentally, physically, and emotionally. It's better to save up your creative juices and focus on the few big things that you want instead of tossing your valuable energy to the four directions. Once you have those refined applications, you can always come back to them and alter them for another project later. 

Save up your motivation and your passion for what you truly want to be doing. It will shine through the writing and the project, which will make you a better applicant. Plus, working on the application will be more fun that way!

Ten Minutes a Day

I've said for a long time that I wanted to learn guitar. I thought I'd have time to do it when my husband and I lived in a National Park (where there was no internet, tv or cell reception). I certainly had the time, but I didn't dedicate the time. Last month, an event renewed my interest in making this goal happen. I voiced my interest to my dad, a musician, and within a few weeks, he turned up at my door with a guitar he'd bought for me. 

That evening, I kept in mind that I'd pick up the guitar and start learning as soon as I finished making dinner . . . as soon as dinner was cleaned up . . . as soon as I'd put my daughter to bed. And you can probably guess, I never got around to playing that evening. The time in the evenings is just too tight. 

So what did I do? I brought the guitar to work with me the next day and just pulled it out for ten minutes during my lunch break. I only practice about ten minutes a day, and only on week days, but it's beginning to pay off (thanks to YouTube tutorials and encouragement from my patient coworkers). 

So how does this relate to getting funded? If you wait until you HAVE the time to work on researching or preparing your application, it's never going to get done. You have a leg up in that you don't need to buy the instrument to get started. You already have what you need! So find that ten minutes in your day that you can use to make an investment in yourself.