Take What You Can Get

I often find myself at community events, expos and all kinds of fun events interacting with the public – sometimes through my work, sometimes it’s with one of the organizations where I volunteer. Maybe I’m just a spectator. Even as many times as I’ve gone to these events, and despite my saying I won’t be surprised at anything… I usually am. Sometimes, even when I think I’ve seen it all, I’m surprised by the mish-mash of people I see at these events. The people watching isn’t quite as good as what you find at an airport – that’s a blog post for another day soon – but it’s still pretty interesting, and one of the things I really get a kick out of. I love the observation almost as much as actually talking with people to hear their stories.

Depending on the event, you may have anything from moms and kids, business attendees picking up a stress ball, retirees replenishing their personal stashes of pens, note pads, key chains and such. There’s sometimes the student crowd who are there for extra points in some class AND to snag a power bank or car charger if they find one, assuming they haven’t been cleaned out by the previous groups. I really do appreciate when community members support these events – it sure makes the day more interesting.

As my grandfather said, it takes all kinds to make the world go ’round, and you can find a lot of those kinds at these community events. Depending on the purpose of the event, you might find fun costumes (our city does a completely delightful caterpillar parade to celebrate spring, and you are likely to find butterflies and all sorts of costumes… awesome), politicians stumping with speeches (GREAT people watching), people passing out the aforementioned goodies, and people “trick or treating” for said goodies – just there to take whatever they can get.

The takers/getters intrigue me; they may or may not even WANT the items they’re grabbing, but they snag whatever is available for the taking. My mind wanders as I’m watching this go down: is this what they do in other areas of their lives? Or are they giddy and caught up in the euphoria of the goodies? Perhaps they’ve discovered the answers to life’s great questions lie in a nifty stylus pen or a funeral home fan with just enough firmness to not flip & flop as they furiously wave it? I’ll grant you this from personal experience – at summer events across the Deep South, a good funeral home fan is the answer to at least one of life’s great questions…can I create enough of a breeze so that I don’t pass out of heat exhaustion before I get to my car and turn the A/C on MAX? (and the answer is just barely)

I guess the personal growth nugget for me here is that watching the “getters” is sort of a metaphor for life, in a weird way. They are so busy “getting” that they are never satisfied with what they got, because they’ve already moved on to the next “get.” There’s not time to enjoy the squishy stress ball because the next shiny object is already in view at the next booth. Oooooh, I need to get that pack of tomato seeds – check. Free bottle of water – check, and can I get an extra?

Sidebar: let me offer a little color on the tomato seeds. Anyone who knows me knows I LOATHE the mushy wretchedness of a tomato. Blech. So if I picked up your tomato seeds, I am 100% in “getter” mode… or I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses, and I totally think I picked up something else. Boy, am I going to be surprised when I get home – and NOT in a good way. My nose is wrinkled as I type this – just thinking about them grosses me out!

Okay, back to my bits, here. I hope I’m at least cultivating an attitude of contentment and gratitude along with those tomatoes. Otherwise, the frenzied hunting & gathering leaves no time to appreciate the fruits of the labor. It’s always about the next “get,” valuable or not. Sort of a twisted keeping score where whomever collects the most trinkets wins, even if sometimes they ultimately don’t.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I think drive and ambition are bad things. They’re not. I hope I achieve some measure of balance in the grand scheme of things. Because, when the “getting” is over and I’ve made it home with 2 bottles of water, a pack of tomato seeds and 3 notepads from the local banks and realtors, did I just take what was there to get? Or did I also take time to gather and get what I really needed from the day – which, honestly, often has more to do with the interesting people than their things.

One man’s trash

One of the people living at my house has been labeled a tosser… and one of us is definitely not a tosser, by any definition. It’s one of those point-counterpoint things, I guess. I mean, I don’t think the keeper has crossed into hoarder territory. Flirted with it, maybe. And let me just clear up any confusion on who’s who… I am not the keeper. Except for Jimmy. Definitely keeping him. The rest of the stuff? Totally negotiable. In fact, I sometimes look at all of the “goodies” we have hanging around, and it’s enough to make my eyes twitch. The stacks and piles and what-not… it treads all over my last nerve.

I mean, I guess it’s at least remotely possible we might someday need to walk the length of a room two feet off the ground and might, therefore, actually have a reason to simultaneously use all 8 step stools and ladders we’ve acquired over the years, all at one time. Maybe?

Or maybe we’ll just up and host a city-wide block party someday and need even that leaky cooler with the cracked top… don’t get rid of that!

I kid, mostly. You can take one look at our garage and tell that I don’t always win. Sing it with me now: Five garden rakes, four pop-up tents, three Christmas soldiers, two grandfather clocks… and a partridge in a pear tree (we don’t really have a partridge, or a pear tree, but hey, it fit). Some things are sentimental and we hang onto them because they were important to someone we love, like my mom’s senior yearbook or the flashlights and American flags Jimmy’s dad loved. All of them. All. Of. Them.

Then there is the group of things we’re keeping because they’re “still good.” Dear me, Mr. Beans! My theory: if the items in question are still good, let them go in peace & be good for someone else, somewhere else. If we replaced the doorknobs and switch plate covers in the house, we don’t need a spare set, do we? That’s not generally something where the average Joe keeps a spare. There’s no way that makes the Family Feud board of things people save “just in case.” And even if we do save them, will we remember where we put them? The answer is a solid no to all of that, by the way.

And while we’re at it, I don’t have the space or the patience to house the 10 pound container of Miracle-Gro from Y2K anymore. My un-green thumb adventures are near-legendary. I don’t need a giant bucket of fertilizer mocking me too.

Mind you, the purging bug doesn’t always strike me either.. For you keepers, I can see how it sometimes feels like way too many decisions, on top of all of the other decisions we have to make all day, for sure. What am I going to wear? What about my hair? And shoes? Who’s going to get the dogs to the vet to get their toenails trimmed? And what’s for supper?

Eeee-gads, as my Gram would say… the supper question. If we could have a supper fairy, I would be SUCH a happy camper. Actually, I don’t mind the cooking of the supper, it’s the decision… or rather, indecision. We do fine making big decisions all day long. And then we get home and have to decide on the last meal of the day. And that’s where we hit a wall.

So, apparently, what we really need is a supper DECIDING fairy. A darling little pixie to head off this fruitless conversation. Maybe instead of a Tinkerbell wand, she has a spinner app on her tiny little tablet, because otherwise, it sounds like this at our house:

What about a salad? Mehhh.

How about spaghetti? I don’t know…

Chicken on the grill? Nah, not feeling it.

Annnnnddd… we’re back to takeout.

With a side order of boxes still hanging around in the garage. You know, the dollar store holiday décor with an expiring statute of limitations – finally approaching the point where nobody remembers they’re from our first Christmas, when we didn’t care that Santa was a closeout. Well, dang – now *I’m* getting sentimental. Looks like that box gets to stay with us a little longer.

Some days you get the bear…

And some days the bear gets you, as my dad says. Actually his version is a little more colorful, but that’s not where we’re headed, so we’ll run with the hypothetical bear for now. At any rate, in spite of your best efforts, some days are just NOT your day. You are shooting to be strategic, and execute strongly, and lead with conviction, and deliver results, and make a difference. You gather the data, make the best decision based on the information at hand, and then, “BAM!” Here’s a whole new bunch of intel that sinks your battleship, to borrow a board game reference.

And you know what? It happens. Is it frustrating? Yes. Does it upset your applecart?  Yep. Can you throw a tantrum? Maybe in private, yes. At least for me, anyway. I’m generally not a big fan of fits in public – especially my own fits, because they’re just not very pretty. It’s not a good look on me, worse than horizontal stripes. Hissy fits aren’t necessarily a good look on anyone, really, but not everybody gets that, do they? We can all think of that certain someone we know who is an expert, in fact. “Oh, sweetie, your crazy is showing a little there… yep, rrrriiiight there… you’ll want to tuck that back in, dear.

Here’s the thing though – usually, the battleship blower-upper isn’t maliciously calling “B4.” It’s more often good intentions gone awry. You know what else? I do it too sometimes. I think I am rocking and rolling,  doing the right things, and then someone comes along and says I’ve sunk their battleship. Oops. Totally my bad. I’ll own it and apologize, even if it’s an accidental shelling. I don’t quite know how you spell that blowing up sound, but you know what I’m saying. Just nod like you get it. 

 

battleship

Not sure I’d take this to battle, but you get the idea

 

The game box for Battleship used to say winning takes a combination of strategy and luck. Yikes. Strategy, I can handle. Think it through, look at your options versus your end goal, plot your course. As one of my sales colleagues says, “Make the plan and work the plan.” And he’s totally right. You break down the end goal and figure out how to succeed at each step, on the game board or in the game of life (yours, not Milton Bradley’s).

It’s the luck part that can derail in a heartbeat. Luck is not a strategy. I’ve heard that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Sometimes it’s your opportunity, but sometimes you’re depending on someone else’s preparation meeting opportunity. I hope that the ones I’m depending on have made their plans and are working them accordingly. Ehhhhh – not always the case, I know.

If not? Sometimes it’s in my purview to offer advice on righting the ship, if you will. At work, for instance, when I’m working with my team, if I see us veering off course, I can speak up, make sure we’re doing the things we need to be doing to steer back on track. Then there are the other times. The times I find myself in the crossfire with a galvanized garbage can top for a shield, and a colander for a helmet. Those are definitely NOT toy-pedos coming at me. That’s going to leave a mark… on my forehead.

When that happens, I hope I set a good example for getting up to fight the good fight again. I don’t want to be the person wailing, “You sank my battleship!” (In my head I hear a “WAAAAH” behind it. You do too, now, don’t you?)

Instead, I want to be the person who owns the mistake and evaluates, then makes the corrections and goes at it again without giving up. Full steam ahead, determined that tomorrow IS going to be my day. Take that, you hypothetical bear. 

Forward Progress Only

You’re thinking I’m about to talk football, right? And you’re excited to talk about football, since we’re over a month past the Super Bowl and still probably a month away from spring games and the draft. You’re in withdrawal, I can see it. Easy, Slim Shady… this isn’t really that kind of story.

Don’t get me wrong – I live in the Deep South where football rules much of our calendar. My dear friend’s daughter is planning a wedding for this fall, and the first question, almost without fail, from all of our friends… Is State home or away that weekend? I’m totally not kidding. So I get where you’re coming from.

wefans2

One of these two loves all things football. And I’m standing next to him. 🙂

 

In fact, I often say our garage door clicker seems to  also automatically turn on the TV to ESPN. It’s truly magic how quickly it happens when we get home in the evenings. I tried timing it once – I didn’t even get the stopwatch app open on my phone – amazing. My husband just plain loves sports. LOVES sports. Like, REALLLLLLY LOVES SPORTS. Especially football. It’s his happy place.

Me? I speak “the language” well enough to stay up with the conversation, most of the time. I even know some of the jargon, which I like to mic-drop into a conversation every now and then and walk away… just so he doesn’t take a notion to underestimate me.

I like to chime in occasionally with a new context-appropriate trash talking comment or obscure stat I’ve picked up, just to watch the funny look on his face – during the commercials, of course – otherwise he probably wouldn’t hear me. “Oh my gosh – what was THAT guy thinking? No way that play works in a 3rd and long – his YAC is basically zero.” Dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah. That’s a SportsCenter reference, for those who need an interpreter.

(By the way, YAC – pronounced like the buffalo-ish creature – stands for yards after contact… as in he gets hit and just falls down… no way he can push through and make the 1st down… impressive for a girl, right?)

Jimmy’s giant YAC… oh, wait, that’s the wrong kind of yak

 

Okay, I digress… because that’s not the forward progress I’m talking about, at least not today. Today’s “bit” is called Forward Progress Only as a nod to my towing skills, or lack thereof. As in driving with a trailer attached to my vehicle. Last Saturday, I set out on a solo adventure, hauling our ATV to camp to ride the trails with family. Jimmy was otherwise committed for the day. He normally handles the hauling of things when we need to, so I was a little worried about whether I could actually get down there and back safely, and without having to go in reverse at all in the 160 miles or so roundtrip. Because I am SPECTACULARLY BAD at backing up with a trailer. I can’t even quantify the level to which I stink at it. Here’s the mental image for you… me behind the steering wheel, trailer hooked to the back and 4-wheeler loaded, weaving S-L-O-W-L-Y on our cul de sac, correcting back and forth like an off-balance chicken, because I can’t figure out which way to turn the steering wheel in order to make it go where I want it to go. It’s backwards, you know, especially challenging for a lefty living in a righty world… or at least that’s the theory I’m going with.

True story: Jimmy threw out his back once doing yard work at his parents’ house, the first time I ever HAD to back up our trailer and truck. I made it home fine (forward progress all the way), but then had to get the blasted thing backed into the driveway and around the side of the house. It was excruciating – for him and for me. Two feet back, veering the wrong direction. Put it back in drive and inch back forward. Try it again. Rinse and repeat. Y’all… we BOTH needed a muscle relaxer after that little exercise. I mean… dang.

So the thought of setting out on last weekend’s adventure was enough to have us all a little worried. I almost chickened out. My parents, trying to be supportive, just said to drive very carefully. Notice they threw in the “very.” It wasn’t lost on me, and I wasn’t offended at all.

I did make it, there and back, with no incident, which I considered a win. And no backing up. Whew, extra points. I prayed extra hard on the way, bargaining really, as if I were on a game show or rolling dice at a casino. “Forward progress, no whammies. Straight there and back, no reverse. Come on, work with me now – Meggie needs a new pair of shoes!”

As I was driving home, I was thinking about forward progress. In football, it refers to how far the ball carrier makes it before he’s down or out of bounds. It’s the point where his forward momentum carries him before he’s stopped. What a great metaphor – just as he keeps pushing, with the help of his teammates – so must I. Being content with the results of regular effort gets me exactly wherever I am today – no further forward progress. So if I never back the trailer, how am I ever going to get good at it?

letsride

Ready to ride… forward.

 

It doesn’t matter whether I’m talking about honing a new skill set at work, mastering reverse with a trailer, or finally figuring out the perfect biscuit recipe at home (Bonus bit for you today – the perfect biscuit recipe. You’re welcome.). It’s always about forward progress. I run into roadblocks, just like an opposing team on the playing field, and it’s up to me to keep working at it, studying the playbook and practicing till the extra effort pays off. Forward progress, pressing on. I like it.

You know what that means for me, don’t you? More towing practice, till I get the hang of it. Watch out, squirrels and anyone else in my path.

Leaning Toward Fisher’s

As with the other sayings I’ve talked about recently, I don’t know how many times I have heard my mom use this saying, talking about something askew. “No, no – stand it up straighter, it’s leaning toward Fisher’s.” All of my friends have always said my family is full of old sayings, so I just chalked it up to a famous something called Fisher’s somewhere at some time in history, and assumed EVERYBODY knew this old saying. I never questioned it whatsoever. As a kid, it didn’t even occur to me to question the saying – I figured out the meaning from the context pretty easily and straightened up whatever was crooked. Wherever Fisher’s was, we didn’t want to be leaning that way, at least according to my parents.

The not asking… the assumption… the “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Ring a bell? How often do we do that – for ourselves, personally and professionally?

It reminds me of my friend Leigh’s story about her mom teaching her how to cook a ham. First, you cut it in half, and then you season it and bake it at the proper temperature, for the designated amount of time. She asked her mom why you cut the ham in half first, just trying to understand the process, and her mom said, “That’s how your grandmother taught me.”

Eventually she asked her grandmother the same question, thinking she was about to unlock a family secret for the ages. The answer: her grandmother’s original oven as a newlywed was apartment sized, and thus too small to handle a large whole ham for their first holiday at their new place. Her very practical remedy was to cut it in half so it wasn’t quite so tall and would then fit. Genius – for her situation.

But now, three generations have cut the ham in half, not because it makes a better ham, but because one ham, 60+ years ago, was too big for the oven. Wait – what?

I started thinking about that. What am I doing in my life – at work, at home – that may not make sense anymore, but I do it because that’s what I’ve always done and how I’ve always done it? Are you thinking the same thing?

What do I need to let go of in order to grow and learn new ways of doing even bigger & better things? That’s where I find myself. Not always easy, to be sure. Doing the things we’ve done well for a long time gives us a measure of comfort… we’re rock star fishies in that pond. But if I’m so busy doing all of that, how do I get to bigger & better things? I’ll hand off the comfortable for bigger and better any day… bring on the learning curve.

So back to the leaning and the Fisher’s. You know where I’m headed with this, don’t you? What has become just another one of those sayings in my family, and I assumed in everyone else’s… isn’t really an old saying at all. The supermarket in the next block from my grandparents’ home in Geneva, Ohio? Yep, Fisher’s.

So the first picture that was tilted? An absolutely accurate description of how to right it. Nailed it. For the rest of us, all these years later, we may need to think differently. Because leaning toward Kroger isn’t a thing yet.

Down the block from Fisher’s

Three words… a great exercise for me, and for you

Continuing on the “who am I” train today… it’s actually a great exercise periodically.

What are three words I would use to describe myself? What are three words others would use to describe me? Are they the same?

Okay, so I was asked this recently. My three words today would be smart, committed and positive. The words sometimes change a little, depending on what’s swirling around me. You’ve probably done this too, right? If not, do it right now… stop reading and ask yourself what three words best describe you, and then come right back here. You might use words like driven, bold, pragmatic – or today’s word of the day on my dictionary app – pedagogue (I’ll save you a Google search – it’s someone who teaches). The point is to ask yourself about you – your fingerprint, your personal brand, your “thing.”

Here’s where it gets real. I ask others their three words to describe me. And not just my mom, who, let’s be honest, thinks I’m pretty close to perfect (sorry, siblings – lol). Seriously – if you’ve never done this, it’s enlightening. Ask a cross-section of people in your circle – social, work, family – what words they would use to describe you. Some of them will be very affirming… and some might be hard to hear or read. And that’s the thing about this exercise – if their words are on par with your words,  great! The attributes most important to you are on strong footing. The scholars call this brand congruence. I call it me being me – can I get a “Whoo hoo!”?

If, however, you feel they’re missing the mark a bit, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it’s a good point of reflection. The fact that you asked and then actually do something about it is the important part, because a lot of us just be-bop through life assuming we know what others think… not so much, for some of us. So for that, fist-bump for you.

When my circle’s words aren’t exactly what I had in mind, it’s where I start to ask myself what little changes I can make to get closer to who I want to be/think I am. Maybe it’s working on a bad habit, or remembering to be grateful.

Wish me luck on my next round of words from those in my circle, and the fine-tuning that is sure to follow.