Projects

Commence the Commencements!

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Close on the heels of prom, we move on to commencement season, so break out your heavily-creased polyester robe and gold tassels! This week, with so many people in our communities receiving diplomas, we explore the topic of graduation! 


Mary Margaret

Does anyone truly delight in graduation ceremonies?

PHD recipients? (woohoo! making good on my $600 investment in this Harry Potter robe and regalia I hauled out from the back of my closet!)

I’ve been dragged to all kinds of events and ceremonies in my life– my own, my sisters, my cousins— and truthfully, graduations rank pretty low on my list of fun-filled moments. At least when you sit through your sister’s dance recital, there’s the consolation prize of sequins and an eventual conclusion to the baby ballerina routines. Piano recitals? Less desirable, but still, somewhat entertaining. But, I diverge.

Considering why I almost skipped my own college graduation, ultimately opting in so my parents and grandfather could see me walk, I’ve decided to permit myself a list of grievances. But because I think the Internet too often becomes a mere gripe-fest, I’m also challenging myself to offer some remedies. I present graduation gripes, along with some helpful hints to survive your next ceremony:

The Gripe: Tedious reading of the names. This goes on and on and on… and if it’s your cousins’ graduation, you probably only know him anyway. So really you’re only left with the conscious awareness of your life draining away minute by minute.

The Remedy: Use this time as an opportunity to practice mindful meditation. Clear your mind of everything except the droning. If you’re lucky, inevitable AV problems will make most of the names unintelligible anyway, thereby easier to focus. Of course, if it’s your graduation, perk up, but otherwise, by the time they get to the Westons and Wrights, you’ll hopefully have achieved some sort of transcendental mantra state.

The Gripe: Mispronunciation of names. That’s right! You’ve made it through years of hard work! Your whole family drove cross state to sit in this football stadium, shirts and dresses sticking to their backs, all so they could hear YOUR name announced! And… the reader didn’t go through the list to make sure they had a grasp on any unfamiliar or unique names. It’s difficult, I know, but trust me school faculty, there are ways of learning how to say these student’s names.

The Remedy: See above remedy…your peaceful meditative bliss will hopefully shield you from over-annoyance that your classmates (especially those of other cultural backgrounds) haven’t been given greater respect in this moment intended to honor their accomplishments.

The Gripe: Wanting to sit with your friends, yet ending up on the opposite side of the field because none of them have a last name alphabetically close to yours.

The Remedy: No brainer- use this as an opportunity to talk to a classmate you don’t typically engage with. What will they miss about school? Where are they going next?

The Gripe: The inevitable platitudes and hackneyed quotes we’ve heard a thousand times. Would you like to inspire us with a little passage from Dr. Seuss ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go?” Yes, do go on.

The Remedy: Nope, nothing doing, Just deal with this one and buckle up for some Winston Churchill inspirational passages!

Truthfully, I’m nostalgic when I witness students clutching their cardboard hats and exuding their Graduation-Commencement Aura, remembering that particular feeling around this celebratory/fearful/proud/anxious moment. We use the words graduation and commencement interchangeably, though they aren’t precise synonyms. We graduate and receive our degrees but we also commence something; we finish and we begin! Few moments in life give us such a decisive sense of closure and possibility as completing school, so for all my griping, I think it’s actually incredibly valuable to mark moments and occasions in life. So go to your own graduation. But if you can get out of that other one you are supposed to attend? Yeah, maybe do that.


Jillian

“Now you’re on your own. Don’t screw this up.”

If the topic is graduation, I have to share Rhett & Link’s Graduation Song. Because if you just graduated high school, why aren’t you scared?

Just kidding, you don’t have to be scared. Well, not too scared.

My freshman year at Mercer I had to take a course called Scientific Inquiry, which was about, like, thinking like a scientist I guess? And how to apply the scientific method to real-world scenarios or something? The professor was an upbeat, middle-aged computer scientist who commented too publicly and enthusiastically on the “brightness” of my smile. But he also said something a few weeks into the course that really helped me understand what college was about, what I was meant to be doing there, and what might lie ahead.

It was something like this:

High school is for algebra and grammar. College is for learning how to learn. Graduate school is for becoming an expert in your field, and PhD programs are for you to add something new to the world’s collection of knowledge.

College is for learning how to learn. Partly he meant that college is for learning how to study, so that whatever you need to learn in your future, you’ll know how train your brain. That could be learning some new software or technique in your future career, it could be learning to understand a complicated medical diagnosis for yourself or a loved one, it could be learning about how to save for retirement.

But partly he meant something much bigger, too. College is for learning how to learn – how to observe, how to interpret, how to question, how to challenge, how to engage with the world and all of the diverse ideas and ideologies in it. How to find wisdom, and knowing where to look.

My advice to anyone going off to college is to learn how to learn. Study whatever makes you feel you’re fulfilling that goal, whether it’s English, like I did, or psychology, anthropology, African American studies, economics or ancient Greek. I know you need a job after you graduate, but for most entry-level jobs, there’s no major out there that will make you hireable. So choose something “impractical” if you makes you a better thinker and a better global citizen. And do some good summer internships with real work experience and you’ll be fine.

My husband likes the old adage that a wise man knows what he does not know. So go out and learn to learn so you can keep learning. Maybe you’ll go on to grad school and you’ll come to really know something. Maybe one day you’ll teach the world something new. But wherever life leads you, if you’ve learned to learn, you’ll be okay.

You’re on your own. Good luck!


Maggie

In 2014, Jim Carrey gave the Commencement address at the Maharishi University of Management. (The Maharishi and the form of meditation, TM or transcendental meditation, he developed and even Carrey himself each have their own fascinating background and baggage that I would consider separately from this speech)

Part of me wants to post a link to his speech and leave it at that. Carrey’s speech is so vulnerable – he asks questions like “would people still like me if I wasn’t being ridiculous?” It had never occurred to me that a man who would talk through his butt on camera might worry about what other people thought of him. Apparently, he has insecurities, too.

The line that has stuck with me, and continues to echo in my mind when I want to give up and “get a real job” is this:

“I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which is that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.”

You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.

Owning a small business has been the most terrifying undertaking of my life. For the first year that we were in business, either my husband or I would have what we came to refer to as “the Monday Meltdown.” One of us would become irrationally convinced that we were doomed to failure. I would ask if I should just give up on this and apply for graduate school or go get a real job. My husband would listen. We’d think about it. We’d agree to give it a week, go back to work, and the feeling would pass for another week.

I constantly second guessed whether teaching Martial Arts – a career that I only had the courage to enter because I entered the job market during the Great Recession and I hadn’t been able to get a “real job” – was good enough for me. After all, I had graduated from Vanderbilt University (ranked #15 in the Nation in this year’s US News and World Report) magna cum laude with a double major. If I could do that, I could do anything. But…if I could do anything…why would I do this?

But Jim Carrey’s advice rang so true: You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love. He goes on to say, “so many of us choose our path based on fear disguised as practicality.” It’s true. On those days when I would feel consumed by fear, I just longed for the security of a paycheck where it was someone else’s job to face the bank account.

But as I saw layoffs, industries become obsolete and people replaced by robots, I realized – maybe the real risk was in believing that getting a “real job” was more secure than owning my business.

Would giving up on my little business really help? Should I go ahead and give up because I was afraid of failing? Because I was afraid my job title wasn’t impressive?

I’ll leave you with one of his final thoughts. One that has given me the courage to continue in the face of fear:

 “You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world. You will only ever have two choices. Love and Fear, and don’t ever let Fear turn you against your playful heart.”

Motivation Monday, Projects

I take my positive attitude very seriously

A few weeks ago, we were talking about self-esteem in one of my taekwondo classes. A little girl, about 7, raised her hand and said, “You can have a positive attitude in school, or you can be serious.”

I responded, “I take my positive attitude very seriously.”

I think my student has unconsciously learned something that most of us believe – we can either have fun or we can get stuff done.

But why is that?

Why can’t we have fun while we get stuff done?

I went on to say to my student that I think being silly and being positive are very different things.

I’m going to be really hokey here – but I take my positive attitude very seriously. I make a choice every day to be grateful, to remind myself of the things I love, and practice joy.

I know there a plenty of reasons to feel despair about the world. Just yesterday, I read about child marriage, sea turtles eating microplastics and how women in refugee camps don’t have adequate access to menstrual products and facilities to manage their periods. So yeah – there are a lot of terrible things in the world, and not only are they terrible, but they’re complicated and hard to fix.

But the fact is, I’m not doing anything to help any of these problems if I sit around feeling terrible about it all day. 

So, I take time to remind myself of the things I’m grateful for: I’m grateful for air conditioning; I’m grateful for my daughters; I’m grateful for my health; I’m grateful for sunshine; I’m grateful for my dog; I’m grateful for the problems and challenges I’ve had to figure out in my life because they’ve expanded my capacity; I’m grateful for the families that trust my husband and me to teach their children Martial Arts; I’m grateful for telephones; I’m grateful for the internet; I’m grateful for reliable transportation; I’m so grateful for my husband – I’m grateful that he’s neat and tidy; I’m grateful that he’s a wonderful father; I’m grateful that he accepts me as I am and helps me be more; I’m grateful for indoor plumbing and clean running water…

Once I get started, I find myself appreciating my life, the world I live in and I feel more empowered to do something about the problems that are in front of me. Maybe I can’t save all the sea turtles, but I can stop using plastic straws, I can use reusable grocery bags, I can stop buying plastic silverware. I can donate a box of pads to a local shelter. It’s not a lot. It doesn’t solve everything, but it’s one thing. And once you’ve started one thing, there’s a chance you’ll do another thing.

The magical thing for me about gratitude, love, and joy is that they instantly replace the feeling of despair and helplessness with something better. Knowing that good things have happened and are happening helps me have faith that these good things will continue to happen.

It’s a little thing, but it helps.

If you need more convincing, I give you my favorite exercise philosopher, Elle Woods:

Do you have any tips for developing a positive attitude? I do take this very seriously, and I’m always looking for more ideas and strategies to keep my spirits lifted! Leave a comment below!

Projects

Something Swell on Saturday…Memorial Day weekend

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. On Saturdays, Mary Margaret plans to post something from the week that made her smile.

My something swell is very obvious this week because I am taking a very quick two-day trip home to Georgia for family time! This will be the first time my two nephews will meet, since they live in different states, and only the second time I’ve gotten to hold my younger nephew (who’s six months old now!!) plus I get to rub Emily’s baby bump (I need my niece to hear my voice for the first time!)….so, basically what could be more swell than any of these things? I’m only sorry the trip will be so brief, since I have to get back to work on actual Memorial Day on Monday.

But Memorial Day is another important and even positive thing to reflect on this week–though also sad since we are remembering people who have lost their lives. It reminds me, who lately often feels despairing and cynical about the state of our nation, that since its foundation, there have people willing to stand up and risk their lives in service to this country and the other people who live in it. Our ideals of of freedom and preservation of life and liberty, which I believe lie at the core of our nation’s values have asked of people to risk their very being. While I believe there is little glory in war, that victories of violence can scarce be labeled as victory,  I also believe there is great honor in what we do in the service of other people.  I believe that we do owe a great debt of gratitude to those who were willing to put our lives before their very own. The people we remember on Memorial Day believed in the preservation of this nation and it’s people, so I must also continue to believe in the worthiness of this pursuit of preservation.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…I’m gonna be super happy snuggling my nephews. Thank you to those who gave everything to preserve a nation where I could do that safely on a Saturday afternoon.

Projects

“I’ve had the time of my life…”

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. It’s prom season, and we’ve been seeing fresh-faced teens in formal wear at all our favorite mid-range restaurants all month. Today we’re sharing our reflections on that magical(?) night: the prom.


Mary Margaret

Unhappiness is the gap between our expectations and our reality.

How odd that I don’t remember where I first heard this concept, because it’s become one of my mantras. It’s something I remind myself of again and again. I offer it up as advice to friends, family, acquaintances. Did I hear it in yoga class? From someone at church? No telling. But I continually revisit it, not simply as a pain avoidance practice, fleeing unhappiness. I actually want to remember it so I can be better to other people.

I attended Junior prom at age 17, wearing a lime green sheath dress, shimmering like mermaid’s scales—the dress from my sister Emily’s Senior Prom. A hand-me-down by choice, since I delighted in almost anything that allowed me to follow in my sister’s footsteps. At the end of the night, I received my first kiss while Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” played in the background. My corsage dissolved in a rainstorm as we dashed to our ride, but basking in the previous moment, I didn’t care. The night felt…shiny? Undoubtedly a tough act to follow.

My Senior Prom I attended with the same boy, my boyfriend of over a year by then, who I am unembarrassed to say that I loved. This time I wore Dorothy’s deep midnight blue, rhinestone-flecked prom dress, just as obsessed at age 18 as I am now with garments that “have a past.” When I want to feel beautiful or denote significance on an event, I often forgo the new, favoring clothing I’ve imbued with meaning based on tradition, past-owners, and histories of wearing. Because senior prom is supposed to be meaningful somehow, right? According to…wait, who, exactly? Sub-par teen movies and young adult fiction? Anecdote? Culturally it seems like something we’ve decided is either magical or a trainwreck with no middle ground. In fiction, it’s Cinderella’s romance or Carrie’s buckets of blood, choreographed dance numbers or fiery teen car crashes, but for something so dramatically inflated, I find people’s real-life recollections more along the lines of, “meh,” “don’t remember,” “didn’t go” or some tale designed for a laugh at the expense of one’s awkward teenage self.

When I look back at my Senior prom, I feel ashamed. No, I didn’t drink, do drugs, get my cherry popped by a loser, get pregnant; I treated someone unfairly and unkindly.

You see, on the way to the venue in downtown Atlanta, my boyfriend and I got lost. We ended up in a completely unfamiliar part of town, at night, feeling unsafe, with a woman walking by that could only have been a member of the world’s oldest profession. I got upset; I mean, how could he have allowed this on what should have been such a memorable, meaningful evening?

I don’t remember my exact words, but I remember punishing him—becoming ice. Upon finally arriving at prom, my arms tightly folded, I lasted fifteen minutes, zero dancing, before insisting on leaving. The evening was already ruined, right? Once home, I slammed the car door shut behind me. I wonder, did we both cry on our own afterwards?

This wasn’t our dramatic end, by any means; we dated another year. It was a blip, a spat, but one I regret, wishing I could swap out me now with me then. I’d like to think now I’d find humor in the situation, attempt to make it memorable in its dysfunction—a great story to tell later! I’d like to think that I understand more how attachment to unrealistic expectations is a slippery slope to disappointment and unhappiness. Seduced by fiction, I didn’t expect perfection, but I expected prom to be important somehow in its singularity. I opted for the idea that I needed to HAVE AN EXPERIENCE, rather than simply having an experience with someone I loved.

There’s no swap-outs, though, and I can only apologize for behaving badly and do what the subway intercom warns me: “mind the gap” – the gap between my expectations of what should happen, these brain-bound fictions and emotions, with the bewildering truth of my actual moment by moment existence.


Maggie

If I could plan the prom

According to Wikipedia (which, I know, any high school teacher worth their salt would not accept as a source), the High School Prom has been a first formal dance for young people in America for at least 100 years. In the 1950s (also according to Wikipedia) the prom became a way to enforce hetero-normative behavior by encouraging young men and women to pair off and by crowning a Prom King and Queen.

Given this mildly problematic history and the fact that (for me at least), my high school prom was both my first and last formal affair, I would like to offer a redesigned prom.

First, fix the budget.

It’s way out of control. You shouldn’t spend as much on your prom as you do on your wedding. I know it’s a special day, but it’s not that special. Let’s keep it small.

Second, the activities.

We do not have a culture of dancing, so (in my experience) when you arrive at the prom, people are either grinding like they would at a club (which, you may note, is not a formal atmosphere) or looking at each other thinking “I really don’t want to grind…why is this fun?”

At the prom, you have a captive audience of young people. Teach them how to dance! Why? Because dancing is SO fun.  And I think people want to know how to waltz, tango, cha cha, line dance, etc. (I know I do!) Just think about the popularity of songs that have the dancing instructions in the lyrics. They’re the best. The absolute best. Everyone knows what to do when YMCA, the chicken dance, or cha cha slide starts playing. Don’t you want to feel like that about all the dances?

Third – GAMES!

The new Prom should have games! Why? Because there are people who don’t like to dance and will want an escape during the slow dances. Save the money you’d normally spend on a fancy ballroom and get some arcade games, an air hockey table, corn hole, darts, laser tag, BINGO.

I believe the prom is an opportunity to change our society. Based on what I see on commercials, the best way to have fun in America is by getting wasted, which is a huge lie and leads to bad decisions, drunk driving and a culture of people who rely on alcohol to survive social situations. At the prom, you have an eager audience of young people who want to know how adults have fun – GIVE THEM EMPOWERING OPTIONS!

Last – Celebrate Everyone!

We live in a democratic society, so I think we should forget the Prom King and Queen. Prom should be for everyone. And, in my opinion, popularity contests are bad for the soul. We should let them go the way of the desktop computer and leave them in the past.

Enjoy the New Prom.


Jillian

My prom story is the kind of prom story they make movies about. I was a shy, nerdy girl, who got asked to the prom by the most popular guy in school. And it wasn’t even a trick! It was true love, and it was magical.

He didn’t bring me a corsage or anything. And we didn’t go to a fancy restaurant in a limousine – he served me leftovers on his couch. At the prom, we didn’t dance – in fact, we spent most of the time standing outside the boys’ bathroom. But at the end the night, he took me home with him and told me he loved me. I fell asleep in his arms.

I should maybe mention that at the time this happened, I was 30 years old and 6 months pregnant, and that my hot date was the most popular teacher and also my husband. (It was two weeks ago.) So, maybe it wasn’t quite the stuff of movies. But it was perfect to me.

This prom was held at the aquarium’s ballroom, with two giant windows into the tanks, giving it the most spectacular ambiance you can imagine. It looked like how the proms look on popular teen tv shows – pure fantasy – nothing like the plain, dull ballrooms of my high school days.

Our post outside the boys’ bathroom gave me the perfect vantage point to survey all the spectacular fashions as the girls and their dates paraded by. And WOW – the fashions for teenagers today make the teen fashions of the aughts look downright sad. There were almost as many different shapes, necklines, fabrics, embellishments and colors as there were girls at the dance. There were trumpet skirts, there were huge, sculpted ruffles, illusion necklines, beaded overlays, embroidered bodices, there were dramatic sweetheart necklines, plunging v’s, off-the-shoulder, there were even long-sleeved dresses. It was like I was watching the red carpet at the Oscars.

Overall, the whole event was just beautiful to behold. Inside the ballroom, groups of kids were taking their turns at the tank windows, watching giant sharks and manta rays glide past them like an absolute dreamscape. And I was just so happy for them, that they got to have this extraordinary, unforgettable experience at the prom.

But then at the end of the evening, when the lights came up, and everyone was clearing out, I started to notice a few other things. One of my husband’s students came up and told him he’d missed his chance with a girl he liked, and confessed his anxiety over his parents’ pressure to find a life partner when his life is only beginning. I overheard a girl talking about whether she should leave with a different group than the one she came with. And scattered around the room were little huddles of girls, each with a wet-faced crier in the middle, her sweaty teen heart-breaker long gone.

And I was just so happy for myself, that I didn’t have to be a teenager at this extraordinary, unforgettable prom.

Even with all that beauty and magic, it still gets better, kids. One day you’ll eat leftovers on the couch with someone, and it’ll be so much better than even this.

Motivation Monday, Projects

You shouldn’t always do the opposite of a bad thing

There are some people in my life, and I’m sure you have them too, that I refer to as “reverse barometers.” These are people – whether it’s a manager at work, government official, distant relative, etc. – with whom you want to share nothing in common.

It’s tempting to think to yourself, “if so-and-so does this, then the best course of action is to do the exact opposite.”

Unfortunately, that is usually not the case.

What I have found over and over again is that the “reverse barometers” in my life are not doing everything wrong. Sometimes they have a tone, an attitude, an approach that is ineffective, but doing the opposite does not guarantee a good result.

I took a driving class once, and we had the opportunity to practice driving on a course that simulated hydroplaning, obstacles on the road, and other dangers you might see on the road. And one of the big things I took away from that class was that you shouldn’t overcorrect in your car. It’s dangerous and jarring.

In your life and leadership style – whether you’re a parent, a friend, a manager, or some other sort of leader – I believe that you’ll find that gentle course corrections are smoother, easier to maintain and more effective. This can be hard to do because we often have strong feelings about the “reverse barometers” in our life. But, I think it’s helpful – for our souls and for our actions – to give them a little grace, and not assume that EVERYTHING they do is wrong.

So, this week, I invite you to look at a frustrating leader in your life or experience, and see if you can decide what about their approach you think you could tweak or modify to make it more effective. A small tweak can lead to a big change!

Have a great week!

Projects

Something Swell on Saturday

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. On Saturdays, Mary Margaret plans to post something from the week that made her smile.

This week, it’s time to share something that has been making me smile for a couple of weeks. I smile because I’m excited. I smile to hide the nervousness. I smile because I’m starting something new.

I got a new job. Starting at the end of the month I’ll assume the role of resident Wardrobe Supervisor at the Laura Pels Theatre for Roundabout Theatre Company.  Roundabout is the largest non-profit NY theater, operating  multiple theater spaces, and producing a season of new works and revivals each year. I’ve enjoyed seeing many Roundabout shows and known quite a few people who’ve worked with them over my years in NY, but this will be my first experience actually working for them!

The opportunity came about wholly unexpectedly– an email sent to me on a Tuesday by a friend and co-worker– an email inquiry sent by me to a designer I’ve worked with who often designs at Roundabout, an interview the following Monday–  basically from start to finish, learning about the job to getting it– was only a week! By Wednesday I had a job offer that I felt so confident about, I said yes immediately. I’m not an impulsive person, and this was not even a prospect I could have imagined three two weeks ago, so I suppose there was something in me truly ready to take a leap. I love Manhattan Theatre Club and the people I have been working with for almost six years there, so it felt like a huge decision to step away from running shows there. But I also knew that this was a unique opportunity, a great moment to take on more responsibility, and to really try something new. I had a moment (difficult for me as a habitually self-doubting and self-critical individual) of allowing myself to believe in my own capabilities. I want to do more. I can do more. Now I’m being given the chance to do it.

So, I’m smiling, because of the unexpectedness of life, for the blessing of opportunity, for wonderful mentors that helped get me to the place where I’m ready to step up to this. Smiling for whatever comes next.

 

Motivation Monday, Projects

5 Tips for Overcoming Insurmountable 1st Steps

Many weeks, my Mondays start with me thinking:

“It’s 9:00 AM! Why haven’t I had breakfast, responded to all my email, played with my kids for an hour, exercised for 45 minutes, meditated, showered, shared a dynamic conversation over coffee with my husband, and planned my whole week? I’m such a failure!”

My expectations are a teensy-weency bit unrealistic.

The only reason that this is a problem is that once I’ve started getting down on myself, I tend to have a hard time getting started on the things I want and need to do. For my business, I frequently need to process memberships, order merchandise, and take care of routine accounting tasks, but when I sit down at my desk, I’m so overwhelmed by all I have to do that sometimes I don’t get any of it done!

These are some strategies I use to help myself overcome the weight of the greatest insurmountable first step – getting started!

  1. Make a playlist

Upbeat music is remarkably helpful for getting you started actually doing something. I find I can’t focus when I’m listening to people talking, so even though I love listening and learning from podcasts, when I need to get stuff done, I listen to music. Some of my favorite songs are on our 3:30 Project playlist on Spotify.

Spotify is a great tool because you can create your own custom playlists or listen to playlists other people have made!

2.  Do SOMETHING early in the day

My workday doesn’t usually begin until about 1:00 in the afternoon, which I know is a little unusual. But what I’ve found is that I still need to do some work that gets me closer to a goal or takes care of an important task early in the day. If I don’t, I tend to feel like, “well, today’s been a waste, let’s try again tomorrow.” I recognize that this is not true, but it’s easier for me to keep the momentum going than to try to start from scratch later in the day.

3. Prioritize your to-do list

Stephen Covey talks about the importance of differentiating between what is urgent and what is most important. Responding to emails, texts and phone calls can take over your day because those feel urgent. We can get carried away taking care of other people’s priorities and missing our own. Make sure you know what your most important task for the day is an get to that first rather than putting it off – even in favor of shorter tasks that can be checked off your list quickly.

4. Break down big projects into smaller steps

I often get hung up on multi-step tasks because I over-chunk it. For example, earlier this year I was working on filing my corporate tax return. And when I thought “TAX RETURN” I was overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. But, when I broke it down into smaller steps (ex. collect documents from 2016, print out statements from banks, charities and loans, download software, etc.), I was able to make some incremental progress, which gave me momentum in taking care of the big task. I find it remarkable how much a little forward progress can give me the motivation to keep going on a big project.

5. Give yourself credit for the progress you’ve made

Often I wait until I’m totally done with a project to give myself a pat on the back. But when you withhold praise from yourself, you’re less likely to keep going and making progress. You deserve to feel good for the progress you’ve made – even if it’s just a little bit. So, even if you just did one teeny-weeny-iddi-bitty little thing, it’s progress that you can build on! Great job!

 

Do you have any great tips for getting started and making progress on Mondays? I’m always on the look out for ways to be more productive! Leave your tips in the comments section!

 

Projects

Something Swell on Saturday

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. On Saturdays, Mary Margaret plans to post something from the week that made her smile.

Ironically enough, given the timing of our post on healthcare, on Tuesday I suddenly got terribly dizzy and nauseated, and I had to leave my work call, make my way carefully home (don’t be that vomiting person on the train!!), and then attempt to not move my head for the next 24 hours. It was mercifully brief, but I hate, hate, hate having to not follow through on what I’ve committed to doing, no matter how compelling the circumstances. Having to leave work, take the day off, cancel on plans with a friend, and then sit still was painful for me. I’m not advocating this kind of guilt about being sick– actually it’s really something I should work on. As we wrote on Thursday, sometimes you just get sick, everyone does. Welcome to having a mortal body.

But what it allowed me to do, while I was feeling puny, was finish watching the HBO series John Adams, (streams on Amazon Prime video if you have it, and I’d say certainly worth your time). It stars Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams, and while I couldn’t help but wish that Lin-Manuel Miranda would pop up suddenly as Alexander Hamilton, I think the 7-part series is well-acted, well-designed, and also perhaps just what I needed in the current political climate. In the Internet Age, it was illuminating to watch dramatized the life of these earliest Citizens. Even though it was only a couple hundred years ago, how quickly we forget this moment when a relatively small group of people was trying to grapple with what exactly America even was. Emphasis on a small group of people; the series does an excellent job in certain moments of reminding you who was left entirely out of the conversation.

In an era of instantaneous “tweets” and 24- hour news cycles, I enjoyed being reminded of a time where you might have to wait months for a response to a political inquiry or treaty proposal, since that response literally had to travel across an ocean. In an era of “celebrity politicians” I enjoyed being reminded that our US President at one time could walk alone without a security detail through the streets, because he literally might not be recognized. I enjoyed being reminded of the ways things are exactly the same- Congress has always been rife with petty bickering, tunnel vision is inherent to politics, and the Office of the President is only ever held by an oh-so-human mortal, no matter how much we want to mythologize. (See also our older post about First Ladies)

Sure it’s just a mental exercise, but looking at different accounts of our history (it’s interesting to contrast the musical ‘Hamilton’ against this miniseries to really feel the impact of the musical’s lyrics- “you have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story”) helps us keep tabs on what we accept as normal and take for granted in our era.

So if you are in search of some well-produced edu-tainment to temper your intake of the evening news, acknowledge the historical inaccuracies, but take a look to John Adams. You might just feel a little more hopeful and less cynical about our Nation.

3:30 Thursday, Projects

First do no harm…

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. We have all had our own experiences with our health care system. This week, Maggie and Mary Margaret are reflecting on their perspectives on health care as a right and our societal duty to the sick.


Maggie

Just over three years ago on the day after Thanksgiving, my husband and I had a conversation with my in-laws over Skype. We talked about our holiday, our plans to visit over Christmas, and how nice it had been to see everyone at my sister’s wedding the week before. The next day, my father-in-law was admitted to the hospital through the emergency room. He had severe chest pain on the upper right side, and when he got to the ER my blood pressure was dangerously low and dropping. They couldn’t figure out what exactly was wrong, but his conditioned worsened quickly. That afternoon he was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. The next day, my husband rushed to Atlanta to be with his family in case his father didn’t make it.

My father-in-law had contracted a rare condition called necrotising fasciitis, with an even more rare complication called blood sepsis. Necrotising fasciitis, which means flesh eating disease, is when a bacteria starts destroying your skin cells. His condition affects about 4 in every 1,000,000 people in the United States every year. 30% of those affected die. Blood sepsis is when the bacteria enter your blood stream and start destroying your blood cells and internal organs, whereby the mortality rate leaps up to 80%. My father-in-law started out in reasonably good health without any of the risk factors – a compromised immune system, cancer, drug use, etc. that tend to accompany this disease and make it harder for your body to recover. Still, he spent a terrifying month in ICU, another month hospitalized in step down and rehab units, and months recovering at home before he could resume his life.

Each day that he held on to life was a miracle. But when I think about that experience, there were many miracles that made his recovery possible. It’s miraculous that he got treatment so quickly, that he was in a hospital with an ICU equipped to perform the multiple surgeries he needed to remove necrotic (dead) tissue and that none of the surgeries had any disastrous complications. It’s miraculous that he had nurses and doctors who were willing to keep fighting for him even while the odds were so heavily against him. It’s miraculous that while his organs were failing he had machines breathing for him, feeding him, cleaning his blood, and catching his waste. It’s miraculous that he had a month of paid vacation and sick time, so his family had less financial hardship while he was recovering. It’s miraculous that he had the protection of medical leave so he could take six months off from work and still return to his job when he was well. It’s miraculous that he had health insurance without a life time cap, so that my mother-in-law never had to make a decision about his care based on whether or not it was “cost effective.”

When we talk about healthcare in this country, we use terms like pre-existing conditions, co-pays, deductibles, primary care providers, in-network coverage, referrals, etc. We sanitize our language and forget that we’re talking about people whose lives have been disrupted by injury, disease or chronic illness. We’re talking about people who need treatment, compassion, support and dignity.

When I think about how fragile our bodies really are, I am humbled. My father-in-law’s journey through illness and recovery reminds me that this could and probably will happen to all of us or someone we love. Maybe you won’t know one of the people who experiences necrotizing fasciitis and blood sepsis, but you may know one of the people who faces cancer, stroke, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, old age, lung disease or some mystery ailment that defies diagnosis.

We need to remember when we talk about the injured, sick or chronically ill people in our society that these people are not “bad people” who aren’t taking care of themselves. We’re talking about our neighbors, friends and family members. They’re just people who’ve done the best they can with their lives and deserve to have their shot at a miracle recovery.


Mary Margaret

“My understanding is that (the new proposal) will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people—who’ve done things the right way—that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

-Rep. Mo Brooks, R-AL in an interview this week with CNN’s Jake Tapper

I wrote an entirely different post for this week—and maybe someday I’ll find a use for those other musings—but current events compelled a change of course. The scrambling effort to do something (anything!) on the long-promised issue of healthcare, led the US House to a vote repealing the Affordable Care Act (by no means a perfect piece of legislation), only to replace it with an even less popular, less promising bill. While my concern is tempered by the knowledge that any repeal or replace still has to make a long, slow journey through the US Senate before becoming law, I’m still deeply troubled by the action and its surrounding conversation.

Before people had a firm understanding of cellular biology, before powerful microscopes revealed viruses to the human eye, before science made firm the link between microorganisms and the spread of disease, illness and disability were commonly viewed this way: people fell sick because they were bad. In Dickensian London, the filthy, overpopulated neighborhoods along the Thames were ravaged by disease as punishment for moral depravity…as opposed to sewage-polluted water, tainted foods, and other environmental and microbial causes.

The idea has Biblical roots; Judeo-Christian tradition understands the infirmities and limitations of the body as a direct result of our sinfulness—our fallen human condition. As illustrated clearly in John’s Gospel, when right before Jesus miraculously restores the sight of a blind man, his disciples inquire: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The implication is that disability is punishment for “bad living”— he or his parents hadn’t gone through life “the right way.”

It’s a comforting fantasy to think we’ve evolved past ancient times, Pre-Victorian London, or the ideas that prevailed during this country’s AIDS crisis, with its widespread attitudes that homosexuals were dying and suffering as retribution for their sinful lifestyle. To hear a modern legislator equate sickness and medical need with moral failing actually reveals how little we’ve changed the conversation By this dichotomy, the healthy are righteous, the sick are undeserving, and the federal government must step in to protect the interests of the healthy and blessed “good.”

I don’t know exactly what role I believe government should play in healthcare, but I do know I vehemently reject my lawmakers carrying such toxic, misguided viewpoints into their decision-making. With all the talk about preexisting conditions, we must truly face the reality that we all have one—maybe call it our pre-existential condition. It is our humanness! Like the ancients, I also believe that we ail because of our sin, but I do not believe it is personal. Jesus does not lay fault with the man or his parents, yet the man was still born blind; so where’s the blame? Is the sin with the child who develops diabetes growing up in a poor neighborhood with little access to nutritious food, or is the sin more with the society that hasn’t equally prioritized certain populations and the health of its youngest members?

Representative Brooks, I certainly believe in personal responsibility, and I believe we are sick because of our failings, but I do not believe in the cause-and-effect personal relationship between goodness and health you describe. Yes, we are sick because we haven’t lived good lives. Also, our neighbors are sick because we haven’t lived good lives. Which leads me to my more important point regarding our policy makers and healthcare: if you can accept the collective culpability of a sin-sick humanity, you must also recognize the collective responsibility of that humanity to care for one another. If we all make each other sick, we must all play a part in making each other well.