You Have to Play to Win

My cousin visited a couple of weeks ago and she, my mom and I went out to lunch. On the way to the restaurant, we somehow got onto the subject of winning the lottery. What would you do if you won a large jackpot? Some people say they would save the money, invest it wisely and live off the interest, others say they would spend it all fast and furiously. My cousin was of the latter mindset, she said she has it all planned out and that she would pretty much just enjoy it while it lasted. Which is what most big jackpot winners do, spend it all and then return to their previous lives with nothing but great memories and some awesome stories to tell.  Fair enough. I’d buy shoes. And maybe a castle to keep them in. But you have to play to win.

I used to play the Lotto religiously. I’d purchase twenty draws in advance, the same numbers, and then, I’d never check the numbers to see if I won. I probably won the big jackpot, maybe even several of them, and never knew it. I stopped playing. You have to play to win.

I played in Indiana and New York. I may have won. I don't know. I never checked. So, I don't play this game anymore. I'll focus my efforts elsewhere.
I played in Indiana and New York. I may have won. I don’t know. I never checked. So, I don’t play this game anymore. I’ll focus my efforts elsewhere.

During my cousin’s visit, we also had a discussion about buying things you don’t necessarily need. On impulse. My aunt, my cousin’s mom, had these two large, beautiful rooster figurines. When she passed, I somehow came into possession of these roosters. At that point in time, I lived in a small suburb of Sacramento, Fair Oaks, in “the Village”, where chickens roamed the streets and most residents had chickens as “pets”. We had chickens as pets. And my house was decorated inside and out with chickens, including these two roosters. That was over fifteen years ago and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve moved since then. No more chickens, real or decorative. But, these two roosters have made move after move. Now, I really don’t have room for them, and, quite frankly, I’m sick to death of dusting them. So, my cousin, the garage sale genius that she is, came by to pick up some of our discards to sell at her next sale. Chickens included. My mom asked my cousin if she knew where my aunt had purchased the roosters. Of course, my cousin didn’t know, it was decades after she’d grown, left home and raised her own family, and decorated her own home. My mom has a way of asking (a lot) of questions that no one could possibly know the answers to. Often in rapid fire succession. Sometimes almost inquisition style. It’s her gift. We all agreed, knowing my aunt, that the roosters were probably an impulse purchase and we all had a good idea how my uncle probably reacted. On impulse purchases, my cousin mentioned that in her travels, she’d seen a doormat she wanted to buy for her mom that said “Ed, please leave the check under the mat.” She didn’t buy it, thinking she’d stop back by and do so, but never did. My aunt never got the doormat, so Ed didn’t leave her the winning check. I’m not sure my aunt even entered the Publishers Clearing House drawing, I’ll bet she did. You have to play to win.

My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it's mine, but it's time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!
My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it’s mine, but it’s time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!
My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it's mine, but it's time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!
My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it’s mine, but it’s time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!

Speaking of Ed and the Publishers Clearing House Drawing prize checks, Mom and I were having breakfast this morning when her phone rang. Her phone rings all the time. Actually, I swear there are twelve phones in the house, all with the ringer turned up as loud as possible. When someone calls, I swear the windows are going to shatter. I have my own “land line”, for work. The number is unlisted and the ringer is turned off. I don’t even know what my phone sounds like, but I’m sure I’d hate it. I haven’t given my “land line” number to anyone, ever, at all, so I know without a doubt that no one I would ever want to speak with will ever call me on that line. When my cell phone rings, and it is on silent all the time, too, so I’d have to actually see the incoming call, I look at the number and decide if a) its someone I want to speak with and b) if I want to speak with them right now, or if I might prefer calling them back at a more convenient time, for me. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message and I can decide if and when I’ll return the call. Mom answers almost every call. Except for the one that occurs every morning, like clock work, at breakfast time. When she has answered it in the past, it has been some recorded message trying to sell her new windows, siding, roofing, solar panels, and appliances, all financed by the utility company. Even if she understood the whole thing, she really isn’t in the market for any of that stuff. She has asked, on numerous occasions, to be removed from their call list, but to no avail. I’ve registered her number on the “do not call” registry, but we all know that’s only as good as the ability to enforce it. Which is zero. So, this morning, like every morning, the call comes. Mom picked up the phone, glanced at the incoming number, hit the answer button followed immediately by the end button. Then she remarked, jokingly, “that was probably Ed with my winnings for the Publishers Clearing House drawing.” I asked, a little sarcastically, “Did you enter?” No. Well, you have to play to win.

I’m not proposing you should play the lottery or enter drawings and contests, I’m saying that you have to play to win. That applies to whatever you want to happen in your life. If you want to be fit, you’ll have to play to win; work out hard, regularly, eat right, commit to a fit, clean lifestyle. Forever. No pill, no shake, no two-week celebrity diet, no celebrity doctor endorsed super food suggestion is ever going to make you thin, fit or healthy. It is a lifestyle. You can’t wish yourself fit just like you can’t expect the next visitor at the door to be Ed with a big fat check if you didn’t enter the drawing. You absolutely have to play to win.

If you want to find love and companionship, you can’t sit home and wish for it to happen. Fabio isn’t going to crawl off the cover of your Harlequin Romance novel and pull you into his arms. You’ll have to play to win. You need to go out, participate in your community, be visible and active and mingle. You need to increase your exposure to a lot of people to find the one. The Powerball jackpot won’t ever be yours unless you’ve bought a ticket or two. You’ll probably have to go out into the world and meet a few folks before you find your soul mate. Must play to win.

You have to play to win at love.
You have to play to win at love.

Perhaps you’re hankering for increased success financially. Unless you take active measures to increase your income and decrease your spending, it probably won’t happen. Unless you DO play the Lotto and you DO win, but, my friend, in case no one else has told you, the odds aren’t good. No one is going to just give you gobs of money for no reason. Chances are you don’t have a long, lost, rich uncle who died and left you his fortune. You have to play to win. You need to carefully plan, budget and commit to both if you want to begin to accumulate money.

Your next raise is likely to not quite match the rate of inflation unless you’ve played to win in your career, too. But you can’t rest on your career marketability laurels and hope to be offered more rewarding opportunities. You have to play to win. I am hard-pressed to think of a single career field that hasn’t changed dramatically as a result of computers and advances in technology. We, too, must evolve, change, adapt in order to remain relevant, let alone advance. We need to meet or match the same pace of technological advances in order to remain relevant in our careers. It is an ongoing and almost frenzied activity to keep abreast of technological advances, but you must, in order to be marketable. My (former) husband was, for a long time, in software sales, support and customization. He had his own business and did well for a number of years. During that time, Microsoft Windows came out, and for a very, very long time, he resisted. He stuck with DOS and recommended his clients do so as well. Until it was no longer viable, supported or an option. Once he finally migrated to Windows, kicking and screaming, he stuck with the oldest version supported and upgraded only when absolutely necessary. This was not a very sound practice for someone in the software industry. Better to move forward, embrace the new, and make well-informed and educated recommendations to clients than to stubbornly cling to the old, comfortable version of the software, missing out on the enhancements and the benefits and opportunities for efficiency and effectiveness in the new version. There is a popular ad campaign for teeth whitening products, “if you aren’t whitening, you’re yellowing”. I think this can be perfectly applied to doing what needs to be done to remain marketable in your career field. If you aren’t advancing with your field and with the technology within your field, you’re becoming irrelevant and unmarketable. You have to be in the game to score. You have to play to win.

No matter what it is in life you are making an effort to evolve in, you have to make the effort to obtain the result, without exception. You have to be invested. And, the more invested you are, the better your odds for success. I advise “all in” for everything in life you’d like to win, except the Lotto and other games of chance, of course, here, a dollar will do. But you do have to play to win.

Scarlett’s Letter July 24, 2013

Which would you rather be; a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a little pond?

I’m working onsite this week with a very small accounting firm in, well, sort of the center of the universe. I’m in Silicon Valley, just south of San Francisco. My hotel is in the shadow of the great and mighty Oracle. I’m a few miles from Facebook headquarters, and a hundred other huge and notable tech companies.

In my classes, I normally have multiple participants, up to fifteen. To be able to provide adequate guidance and excellent customer service, we limit our class sizes to fifteen. Usually. This week, a rarity; one participant. The class I’m teaching is in audit methodology and a related software and this particular class usually has enough participants that we can break into discussion teams and play games and award prizes. Which is kind of hard with only one participant.

My participant is a young man, born in Hong Kong and reasonably new to the accounting field. He has a girlfriend in Hong Kong and will, in all likelihood, return there some day. His life in the U.S, most of his life, has been centered in this world; Silicon Valley. To this young man, the American dream is to become the Corporate Controller or Chief Financial Officer of a company, and to him, “a company” means something like Oracle, Facebook, or Hewlett Packard. With only the one participant in today’s class, we finished a bit early. The class is timed to allow for plenty of questions and answers, technical difficulty and other delays that just don’t occur with just the one attendee. After we covered our planned curriculum for the day, we chatted, for about an hour. I’d given my standard introduction at the beginning of the session, outlining the highlights of my impressive sounding, but truthfully, very mundane and really, unimpressive career. When I mentioned I’d been a corporate controller for two companies, the young man’s eyes lit up. No, I was controller for two very small, very unknown companies. Oh, I’m quite proud of my accomplishments, but I was not at the financial helm of anything close to an Oracle or a Facebook. In fact, the annual revenues of one of the companies I controlled probably wouldn’t even pay for a minute of operating expenses of one of these Silicon Valley giants.

I’ve worked for larger companies, I work for a larger company now. And that brings up the question; would you rather be a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a little pond?  I favor the latter. When I worked in the accounting department for a very large company, my entire accounting responsibility consisted of overseeing and reconciling the transactions for one, single asset account. Just one. One general ledger account. Okay, it was a big account with a very large balance, but that was all I knew of this company. I was a guppy in an ocean. When I was controller of a much smaller company, I knew the details of every account that comprised every line item on the balance sheet and income statement. I oversaw the entire process, I reviewed every transaction and produced those financial statements each and every month and I knew every detail of the financial position of that company. I dealt with the bankers, the auditors, and the attorneys, the insurance agents, did the hiring and firing in my department, and I generated any and all reports, on demand, for the shareholders, upon request. I was a whale in fishbowl.

This brings up another question; to work for a company and facilitate someone else’s dream, someone else’s wealth, or to be the entrepreneur and make your own way? My dad was self-employed. My former husband was self-employed, during the better years. The love of my life is self-employed. My son is an entrepreneur while still in college, and while he’d like to gain experience under the umbrella of a large automotive giant, in the end, he is determined to be self-employed. I yearn for that as well, but find myself cowering under the perceived safe umbrella of a steady paycheck and ever diminishing benefits. It takes a certain amount of bravery, tenacity, wisdom, and, well, balls, to “fall out of the airplane”. I have all of that, why do I resist being in charge of my own destiny?

I consider myself an unusually brave, or perhaps daring, woman. I take risks, in adventure, like backpacking, kayaking, horseback riding, snowboarding, wakeboarding, etc. This past weekend, I completed my first tandem “jump” in skydiving. Okay, so I wasn’t at all in control of exiting the airplane, I was firmly strapped to the man who did the exiting and even if I did scream and shout in objection, we would have exited the airplane anyway. That’s what I paid for. But it was fun! And I’ll do it again! I may even seek to become certified to solo jump, who knows? So how is it I am afraid to let go of the W-2, salaried employee, airplane?

I have always been a bit of a non-conformist; in fashion, in education, in musical preferences, in my career path, in sports and leisure activities, in many, many things. And yet, when it comes to what I do for a living, I find myself following the path of the lemming; work for someone else’s wealth and benefit until the appropriate and ever increasing age for retirement, then exist, barely, on an extremely fixed income for the remainder of my days. Every cell of my being is in riot against this plight! And yet, I cling. I conform.

I realize that I am blessed, that I am fortunate, lucky, even, to have the fantastic job that I currently have. And to walk away from something with the semblance of consistency and stability would be crazy. But, with the semblance of consistency and stability, ever decreasing benefits and the regular paycheck, there is a trade off; the limitation of potential advancement, the limitation of residency in certain states or more rural areas, the limitation of personal time off to travel or attend to family matters. And this must always be carefully considered and reconsidered as life changes. Is it wrong to want stability and more freedom?

The freedom I yearn for exists just a few steps from where I am. The freedom to work my own hours, my own schedule, from wherever I choose. I have the expertise, I have the experience, I certainly have the energy, I have the tenacity, I have the work ethic. I have a plan, a vision and a timeline. I just don’t have the guts to let go or to even to set the plan into full motion. I pick at it, I poke at it, but I don’t’ deploy it. Only steps away, and I can’t seem to lace up my sneakers. Are you in a similar situation? Are you a cog in someone else’s wheel? Do you get by and work like a slave for someone who is able to set their own hours, vacation more than work and retire at 50? I know we can’t all be successful entrepreneurs, but what is it that separates the dreamers from the drones?

This is not about amassing wealth, it is solely about freedom. I seek the freedom to live where I want, to work at what I love, and to love what I do so much that it doesn’t seem like work. That’s what the dream should be about, not net worth. On the day of judgment, don’t you think it will be better to have lived a life of passion and purpose than a life building the net worth of someone who’s only motive was amassing wealth and power?

What kind of fish are you?

A "big pond" full of little fish, Facebook headquarters, Silicon Valley.
A “big pond” full of little fish, Facebook headquarters, Silicon Valley.

An Effort to Evolve

Google, the "main" campus in Mountain View, CA (Silicon Valley). "Little fish" in this "big pond" can navigate from one campus to another on one of the many brightly colored bicycles.
Google, the “main” campus in Mountain View, CA (Silicon Valley). “Little fish” in this “big pond” can navigate from one campus to another on one of the many brightly colored bicycles.



To Change or Not to Change

Life is never exactly the way we imagined it, sometimes things are better than we ever imagined, sometimes, they aren’t. We’ve chatted a bit about fear and we’ve chatted a bit about change. To recap, ditch fear, embrace change, it’s as simple as that. Okay, simply said, harder to employ.

The real question comes up when deciding if something in life that isn’t quite all we imagined should be changed, or just left alone, accepted “as is”, and a compromise made. There are many things in life, especially those things we yearn for, try really hard for, think about, work towards, envision, focus on, concentrate on and visualize, and when it comes to be, isn’t nearly what we envisioned or visualized. I think sometimes our imaginations are so good, the imagined outcome ends up being far superior to the real deal. So, when this happens, do we seek to change it? Or accept it for what it is? And if we do, is this a compromise? If we don’t accept it for what it is, are we ungrateful?

This dilemma can apply to very big things in life, and to very small matters. The point is, change is not always easy and we often accept less, compromise, because it is easier than shifting gears and initiating very necessary change. We are afraid of the amount of effort to change versus the actual reward.  Again, ditch fear, embrace change. Simpler to say, harder to employ.

A seemingly small change I’ve made recently, at least small to most, but huge for me; I have always hade love/hate relationships with purses. I buy a purse and think we’ll be together forever. A week later, I hate it and in “the pile” it goes. “The pile” has recently been pared down to two boxes, with the last move. Two boxes of beautiful purses I can make myself carry for a day or two because of the color, the pattern, the size or some other temporarily tolerable benefit. After a couple of days, back in the box it goes and out comes the ONE and only purse I have ever truly loved. If you’ve paid any attention to my pictures or videos, you’ve probably seen the ONE purse I have truly loved; my Kandee Johnson Imoshion bag in leopard print vegan material.

My leopard bag was designed by Kandee Johnson, a YouTube entertainer/mom/professional make up artist. She has incredible style, a ton of practicality, great fashion sense and knows how, exactly, a real purse should be designed. Imoshion approached Kandee and asked her to design the bag of her dreams and the result, my beloved purse. There was some minor hysteria over a contest to win one, then more hysteria over ordering from the first limited batch, then more hysteria over ordering one from the extended batch after the first batch sold out immediately. Through some hysterics of my own, and by employing every family member with internet acumen to attempt to obtain one online (the only way they could be purchased), I finally persevered, and only because I was willing to set my alarm at some unholy hour and attempt placing an online order when the web traffic was a bit more manageable. I’ve had my Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard bag for just over a year. I have never, ever, ever, ever, completely worn a purse out. Ever. Until now. It is, literally, in tatters.

To clarify, this is a very high quality bag, but, I am brutally punishing to any bag I carry, and one I carry day and night, on my business trips, crammed under airplane seat after airplane seat, set upon the floor in every imaginable condition, carried untold miles holding a MacBook, an iPad, a Kindle, two iPhones, make up, a leather jacket, a wallet, an umbrella, a cardigan, a water bottle, snackage, electrical cords for various devices and even, occasionally, a bottle of wine, and weighing in at probably well over thirty pounds, is bound to die an earlier death than a bag that sees only occasional, light duty use.

As I prepared for my month-long excursion from California to New York, to New Jersey and on to Alaska, I eyed my sorry leopard bag. When I left home just over a week ago, it had a tear in the bottom, the pink satin lining was peeking through a half-inch round hole. The lovely turquoise tassel is long gone, the cross-body shoulder strap still looks brand new, but comes unclipped at the most inopportune time, usually when burdened with the most weight imaginable. The zipper at the top is busted so the bag is always gaping wide open to display its contents. The leopard printed “vegan” material actually wore thin in several areas and looks blurred. The metal studs were vanishing at an alarming rate. I eyed my poor bag and wondered if a) it would survive one more very long, very hard trip and b) would I look like a homeless person carrying it, especially to and from the clients’ office? I ploughed through all my other bags and decided a trip without this purse would be intolerable.

I have been routinely checking in with Imoshion to see if they’d be stocking any more Kandee Johnson leopard print vegan material bags and I would have willingly bought one, two, three. In every color. Furthermore, I get so many compliments on this bag, I could easily have sold another 1,000 bags had they been available for sale! But, the website perpetually said “Out of Stock”. I finally emailed them from the website contact form and told them about my relationship with my bag. They kindly replied, suggesting I follow them on Facebook for upcoming news. I have followed Imoshion on Facebook since the prototype giveaway over a year ago. So, I set them as a favorite, now every little photo and blurb Imoshion makes about every OTHER product they carry, creates a notification on my iPhone, which, frankly, is driving me crazy. Crazier, even, because none of the notifications have anything at all to do with the availability of a replacement for my beloved bag.

This weekend, in New York, the half-inch hole in the bottom of the exterior of the purse finally wore through to the interior, making a “clear through” hole out of which my treasures could tumble. The leopard printed “vegan” finish was peeling off like a bad sunburn. The bag was, really, almost nauseating to look at. I checked the Imoshion website one more time. “Out of Stock”. I caved. I went to Fossil and plopped down three times what my Kandee Johnson bag cost for a new bag. And it was on sale. At first, I was thrilled, more because the color was amazing, and it was genuine leather (sorry vegans). Mostly, though, because the nice salesman at the Fifth Avenue Fossil store found a way to embellish my “tote” with the cute gold key that “only came on the purse”. So, my bag is unique compared to others “exactly” like it. He had nice eyes, too, for the record.

I’ve been carrying my new bag for just over twenty-four hours and it is a major adjustment. I have a “system” when I move into a new bag so it will be easy to find things, I will use the same pockets for the same things. Always. Once I’ve “set up” a new bag for the first time, everything has a place and everything is always in its place. I am not one of those women who can’t find things in my purse. Well, about 99% of the time, anyway. This is a huge adjustment for me. I can switch domiciles more easily than I moved out of my beloved leopard bag into my new Fossil bag. After the first trip down a NYC street with it, realizing I could no longer carry a MacBook, an iPad, a Kindle, two iPhones, my leather jacket, an umbrella, a cardigan, a full water bottle and all the things a purse is supposed to carry, I remarked to my daughter that I was going to hate the bag. Soon. Of course she laid “dibs” on it.

Today was the first day I carried it to work, and, well, it worked. I did get the cardigan in. And a small water bottle. When I walked into my hotel in New Jersey, though, and both the ladies at the front desk exclaimed excitedly over my bag, I fell a little in love with it. It garnered nearly as much attention as my leopard bag, which, by the way, I can’t bear to throw away. It is in a carrier bag, carefully tucked in my one of my overstuffed suitcases. I will take it home, I suppose, and decide upon an appropriate ceremony and internment for it. Sigh.

I know this seems like much ado over a handbag, but I suppose many of you just don’t understand the depth of the relationship I hold with such an item. We travel hundreds of thousands of miles together; it is, truly, the one constant in my life. Always there. My friends, my family, my possessions, are with me only here or there. My bag is with me at all times, never more than a few feet away. Change was very hard, and I am still a little uncertain, but, I’m afraid there is no going back, at this point.

So, what in your life, big or small, has deteriorated to the point where you really should consider making a change? There are other things in my life that are warranting similar consideration. Truthfully, there should always be a LIST of things in our lives that are up for consideration. A list of things far more serious than a handbag; career, living situation, relationships of all types, fitness, health, diet, spirituality, attitude, social life. To name a few. If any of these facets, or any other facets of your life are less than spectacular, aren’t measuring up, have finally worn through and become tattered, it is not only okay to consider change, it is acceptable to seek change. In fact, necessary is the more appropriate word.

We should not be settling for less when we know in our hearts, in our souls, and in the deepest corners of our minds, that we deserve more. Sure, the superficial voice may tell us we don’t, but our true voice knows better and should speak up. We deserve more. An unfulfilling career, a relationship that is one-sided or languishing, whether a union, a love affair, a friendship or a family tie, our broken health, diet or fitness habits, or whatever else in life that is sub-par, should be rectified, reevaluated, rejuvenated or sent off to the recycling pile and replaced. And, yes, some of these things are easier to change than others, but they should be changed and you should be initiating that change. You need to finally decide it’s time to get a new handbag, especially if the old one can’t be made whole. And, yes. It is scary!

You should have seen me yesterday, with the contents of my leopard bag spilled all over the hotel bed. The carcass of the leopard bag by my side, the hot pink satin lining visible from every open pouch and pocket, looking a lot like blood from many incisions, like after an autopsy. I sat there amidst piles of lip color and coin purses, wallets and device cords, hair ties, batteries, SD cards, various small personal electronic gadgets, an umbrella and a half dozen reusable Whole Foods shopping bags (the really good kind with the amazing prints that cost $4 and support a worthy cause and have a single cross-body strap). I was a little distraught; how was I going to fit this into my new large, more expensive, but somehow smaller and less capable bag? I would have to adapt. I have already begun. I actually felt quite a bit better carrying my new bag today; I felt that my image is improved for finally replacing my tattered bag with a new one. I had a little spring in my step today that wasn’t there yesterday, like I was saying, without words “look at me and my new bag!” It is going to work out and the change will have been the right decision.

What other scary changes need to be considered, and made, in order to move forward in better condition, in a better direction, with more confidence, with improved self-worth and self-esteem? What other scary decisions will leave you shaky and uncertain at first, but happy and whole, after a brief period of adjustment? You will never know the good that awaits unless you are willing to evaluate changes to that which you are carrying around, full of holes, worn bare and thin, weighting your down with excess and compromising your (self) image. What are you hanging on to that could be replaced with something more serviceable, more rewarding, more fulfilling? Only you know and only you can identify and initiate what needs to change, and I guarantee, no one is immune from having something in their life ripe for change. We just fail to see it, or fear the outcome. It is time to ditch fear and embrace change. You deserve it.

My beloved Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag all shiny and new.
My beloved Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag all shiny and new.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag out shopping with me.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag out shopping with me.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag. Tattered.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag. Tattered.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag; broken zipper, holes, studs missing, shoulder strap broken. Me sad.
My Kandee Johnson Imoshion leopard print vegan bag; broken zipper, holes, studs missing, shoulder strap broken. Me sad.
A change has been made. The new bag.
A change has been made. The new bag.


Red Light Green Light

I have often wondered just how much of my life has been spent stopped at red traffic lights. I was driving to the airport very early the other morning, long before any traffic was on the road, and yet, I managed to get stopped at every red light I came upon. I remember as I approached the last light before entering the interstate, thinking, at last, the very last red light.

I’m in Fairbanks, Alaska for a little vacation right now, visiting my love. He lives outside of Fairbanks a distance but has a business in town. When we are in town we are stopped at red lights for what seems unnecessarily long amounts of time for the amount of cars in this town. As we head towards the remote area we live in, he expresses his relief at finally passing the last red light. So, I am not the only one who pays close attention to impediments to progress along the roadway.

I know, red lights are necessary, but annoying. Stopping at a red light, losing momentum and having to come to a complete stop represents such a waste of energy. Having to accelerate back up to cruising speed repeatedly while driving in town massacres your fuel economy. As we know, this is why the difference in mileage can differ so between city and highway driving.

Not stopping at a red light is not really an option; there is both peril and penalty associated with it. I remember back in high school, driving around with my friends very late at night, we thought it was hilarious to stop at green lights and cruise slowly through red lights. It is a wonder we survived our youth when I think back to our various antics. Of course, we lived in a rather sleepy little town, even sleepier then than it is now, especially in the wee hours of the morning. Now, like many other municipalities, Napa has the photo-enforced red lights. They just got them a year or so ago. It was big news and still warrants quite a bit of excited discussion, like the weather or the newest restaurant to open somewhere in town, a nearly daily occurrence, much like the weather, and red lights. I’ve been dealing with photo-enforced traffic signals in Sacramento for many, many years. I know the drill; stop, or else. Or else to the tune of $450. That’s the penalty, the peril is a whole different story. In smaller municipalities, lights are often controlled by a sensor, when a car triggers the sensor, the light will change shortly thereafter. In larger cities, traffic flow is a high science and lights are strategically timed and in harmony with other lights along the route to ensure the most efficient flow of thousands of cars, day and night.

What do you do at red lights? We all use, or waste, the time in our own fashion. Some people, and I have borne witness to this, use the time to pick their noses, others to lapse into deep thought, or discipline the children, pet the dog, stare ahead without thought, drum their fingers impatiently while staring at the red light with an attitude of pissed off impatience. I usually try to accomplish something; answer a text, change the Pandora station I’m listening to, update my shopping list in my notes section of my iPhone, buy the songs I bookmarked from iTunes, reorganize my purse. I mean, I pay attention to the light, I am usually the first one “off the line” when the light turns green. I am just not one of those that can let those seconds go by without having something to show for it. Perhaps it’s a compulsion, I can’t help it.

When I was a kid I loved to roller skate. I still do. Growing up in Napa we had an old skating rink in town until I was in junior high. I used to spend as many weekends there as I could, skating and skating and skating. They would have free skate sessions, broken up every so often with a game, like the hokey pokey or limbo, or, one of my favorites, red light green light. With red light green light, the skaters would all line up against the back wall. The announcer would call out green light and we’d all skate forward. When the announcer called “red light”, we’d all have to come to a complete and instant stop. If you were caught moving after the call was made, you were disqualified from the game. First of all, it was really hard to stop, instantly, with four wheels on the bottom of each foot, but once you stopped, it was even harder to get going again. The object of the game, of course, was to not be disqualified, but also, to be the first across the finish line. Since it was a race, getting back up to speed after being stopped was the real trick. The stakes were high, a free item from the snack bar!

There are many aspects of life that are no different than red lights, and green lights. Relationships, careers or school, health, lifestyle; they are all as de-energized by having to stop, by red lights, as are cars or roller skaters. And how fast they get back up to speed, or the direction in which they head when the light turns green again will vary.

In a relationship, especially a new one, things may be progressing quite nicely, both parties are excited and are devoting a lot of energy to the new romance. If there aren’t expectations of how things should progress, there are, at least hopes of how the relationship will continue at the same momentum. However, as a relationship matures, it is completely impossible for the same energy, enthusiasm and momentum to continue once the novelty has worn off. While not a red light, there is usually a yellow light, a period of caution. Each relationship time line will differ based on about a million different factors, but, once the newness has worn off and the parties involved have become fairly comfortable with one another, but before they’ve really become a team or a solid partnership, that’s when the light turns yellow. It is natural, it is really the only expectation you should have of a relationship, that there will be a point in time, somewhere between “new” and “long-term” where you go “I just don’t know”. Some relationships will hit a red light at this point and fail, out of confusion, fear or just a realization that it wasn’t meant to be. When the light turns green, one party turns right, the other turns left and they venture off on their own. Other relationships will wait out the red light, both parties taking stock of everything, and when the light turns green, they venture down the highway together. Again, it may take a little while to gain momentum again, and it will likely be at a different speed and velocity than “in the beginning”, but having taken advantage of that caution period, and the pause at the red light, to really think things through, the relationship flourishes, the parties have experience in handling those occasional bumps, potholes and, yes, even red lights, as they are bound to happen again and again throughout the course of the partnership.

With careers or school, we often take off at full throttle in our chosen field of employment or study. We’ve likely spent a great deal of resources to get where we are; considerable time in school up to this point, a considerable monetary investment, no doubt, and a lot of energy. Often, again, once the “honeymoon period” has elapsed, we usually hit a red light and wonder, is this really what I want to do for a living for the rest of my life, is this really the field of employment, the field of study I want to devote all of these resources to. And again, when the light turns green, hopefully you’ve taken advantage of that pause to seriously consider all the options, all the factors and make a sound decision to continue straight down the road, or to turn another direction. Just like a relationship, it is best to continue straight through the intersection on the green light only if you are still feeling committed love, because divorcing a career is not much easier than divorcing someone you married out of folly.

There are a lot of people out there living less than healthy lifestyles. Really, I don’t think anyone the whole world over, is leading a 100% healthy lifestyle. In other words, there is always room for improvement. There is always new information available about the choices we can make that impact our health. Some folks endeavor to improve the healthfulness of their lifestyle, prompted by a medical development, or pressure from a partner or family member, or just because New Year’s came along, but without self-motivation, without intent, once they hit that first red light, their efforts falter and when the light turns green, they often do a U-turn and head right back where they came from. Replacing unhealthy habits with healthy habits is probably one of the hardest things a person can endeavor to do. I think it’s probably more difficult than leaving an ill-fated, long-term relationship. I’ve done both, I speak from experience, but that may just be the case for me. We all drive a different model of car on a different roadway, I suppose. Again, what you do at those red lights when they stop you in your tracks is what’s going to make the difference. Unlike the moment for discernment with a relationship or a career or field of study choice, with the adoption of a healthy lifestyle, the pause shouldn’t be where we consider whether we’ve made the right choice in making the journey, but whether we are taking the right route. We should instead be deciding how best to get there. Take a moment to read the travel guides, the maps, and figure out how to navigate there in a manner that will best suit our needs.

There are many things we can do to improve our lives other than just get healthier. We can, of course, make an effort to evolve in many, many ways; relationships, spirituality, creativity, self-confidence, success in school, work, entrepreneurship, or any other worthy goal or goals you strive for. Any time we are striving for achievement, for growth, for evolution, we are going to hit red lights, we are going to encounter a temporary immobilization where we are going to have to make the effort to get focused and get under way again, on the road to the goals we set. I guess, being the queen of analogies, I’d have to say, making the journey to a more self-improvement is all about the path your choose to get there. You should get there, no doubt, and once you begin your journey you should never stop your journey. It’s all about the coordinates you enter into your Tom Tom and the route you ultimately take. I know when I enter a destination into my Tom Tom and it attempts to take me down a road I’d rather not go, I’ll go the way I’d prefer and eventually, Tom Tom and I align paths. I didn’t make a U-turn, I kept going on a slightly altered path. Have you ever come upon a red light and decided to turn down a side street, or, yes, cut through the gas station to circumvent it? That’s what you should do when you hit a red light with healthy lifestyle changes; keep going, alter your path if it makes sense, but keep heading towards the destination!

So, as you sit at the next red light you hit, whether an actual traffic signal or a metaphorical red light, don’t pick your nose or stare off into space an drool, take a moment to seriously reflect on where you are, where you want to be, consider the direction you’re headed and where you ultimately want to be. Once that light turns green, whether you’ve decided to turn, circumvent traffic by changing your route or to stay the course, do so with intent and you’ll get to the destination you seek.

Numbers or Words

I have always sucked at math.

For as long as I can remember, I have sucked at math. I have always been sort of an over achiever and a wee bit competitive. And I have always loved school, the idea of school and of learning. I’d still be in school, if I could, but at some point I had to stop, and get a job, so my kids could go to school, and love it too.

I remember way back before kindergarten, driving by the school down the street and looking at the building with the weird curvy roof, the multipurpose room, and thinking, since it was the room at the far end, that must be where kindergarten was. All I wanted in the whole wide world was to be in kindergarten so I could learn to read. I was four years old. When I finally turned five, you remember, I’m sure, the eternity a year was when you were that age, I got to GO TO SCHOOL! I was only mildly disappointed that kindergarten wasn’t held in the big room on the far end with the curvy roof. Kindergarten totally rocked, except we didn’t get to read. First grade was way better because Mrs. Wells was our teacher and we got to learn to read! I remember learning to sound out the letters posted on the wall over the chalkboard. Game on! I was determined to finish the “Sullivan Reading Series” before anyone else at Browns Valley Elementary School, and I had until some time in second grade to do it. There were thirteen modules with stories about Sam and Ann and their cat Tab, how random is that?

I remember, by half way through first grade, I was way ahead of most of the other kids in the reading program, there were really only a couple of kids I was in competition with. Two girls and one boy. I was so going to finish the thirteenth module before the rest. Game on. I loved my first grade teacher and prospered under her compassionate instruction. I was definitely in the running entering second grade. My mom was one of those moms, much as I was, that requested one teacher over the other for her child’s special, accelerated, and extraordinary educational needs. And, being a woman of well chosen words, in both cases, always got what we asked for, the “best” teacher in that grade level. Unfortunately, the “best” second grade teacher at Browns Valley that year didn’t think I was the best student. Sad face.  For my super-human efforts in completing the Sullivan Reading program, I came in second, after the other girl, but before the boy. But, on the bright side, I was reading a few grade levels ahead of second grade.

Math, on the other hand, not so good. I got addition. I got subtraction. Multiplication and division were a bit harder, but with concerted effort, I memorized the tables sufficiently. Word problems were the devil. And anything that even resembled solving for “x’” was an automatic “huh?’ “X” was a letter, it belonged in words, and only a few words, at that, it had no place in arithmetic!

Junior high is a dark memory. Actually, academically, other than English, French, Physical Education and Band, I remember nothing; math and science, to be exact, were a black hole. By the time high school rolled around, and college was on the horizon, my parents employed mathematically gifted family acquaintances to try to nurture me through Algebra and Geometry. It was a dismal attempt. When I applied for college, way back when, for a “state” college, all you needed for “guaranteed” admission was a 3.25 GPA. I had all A’s in my English, foreign language, physical education, arts and other electives. My perfect 4.0 was lowered to 3.27 by my consistent underachievement in mathematics, but, nonetheless, I had a red carpet entry into college.

In college, I was only required to take one math class for my chosen field of study. I had to successfully pass college algebra. Somehow, I totally lucked out and got a coke fiend for a teacher. I showed up for the first day of class and , tweaking, with a mustached encrusted with white powder, he explained his grading scheme; hand in homework, pass the tests and pass the class. Done. I think I showed up two more times all semester, to hand in homework (and the answers were in the back of the book) and to take the tests. He managed to show up for a few classes, and I showed up for even fewer. I got a C, an A on the homework portion and a strong D- on the tests. But, I passed, and never had to worry about math again.

Flash forward ten years and I, miraculously, unwittingly, graduated from college, because, if I had anything to say about it, I’d still be there! “Here’s your degree, now get out!”

I got a bachelors degree in criminal justice, but life is weird and somehow, I’m an accountant, which, you would think is all math. Luckily for me, Excel does the math and I just learned how to build a really wicked formula!

I’ve been in the accounting profession for twenty some years, and it has been good to me. My goal in life, for whatever reason, is to reach six figures by the time I’m fifty. Abstract, I know, and, additionally, I am well aware that money doesn’t buy happiness. It’s just a competitive thing. I will be fifty in July, this year. If I add up my salary and potential bonuses, etc., I will fall shy of my goal. I’m looking for things to sell, up to, but not including, my body, in order to meet my goal. I am extremely goal oriented and this is killing me, for whatever reason. I thought about adding a PayPal button to this post, but didn’t. Ugh.

So, what do I really want to do when I “grow up”, which, really, according to my personal philosophy is NEVER? I want to write. All I have ever wanted to do is write. I was first published in the second grade. I wrote a whole, well worded paragraph on being Amish and it was published in the Browns Valley School annual essay publication. I still have it, in case you doubt me. But, when my GPA was suffering in junior high and I almost got dismissed from the GAT (gifted and talented) program, I wrote an awesome, extra credit project and it cured the problem. In high school, I was published not once, but twice, in the annual essay collection. When I’d been in college for nine years and was still trying to finish up my general education requirements, I wrote an awesome plea to the dean and got the final twenty one units of general eduction requirements waived. Other than writing legendary Christmas family newsletters the kind most folks cringe to receive, and rarely read, and the occasional letter, blogging has been my only literary outlet since college. Sad face.

A way with words is a gift, and if you have it, you can rule the world, unless you’re really, really good at math, then you can rule the universe. At least that’s what I believe, and that’s what I’ve taught my kids. My son was born speaking in four syllable words. My daughter is an English major and a grammar nazi, bar none. I’m a little embarrassed to let her read what I write! From day one, I spoke to them as if they were adults, I never spoke baby talk to them, I spared no five dollar words. In our home, the dictionary was on the pedestal, the Bible was on the shelf. Sorry, God, at least the good book was in the house. I’ll be writing an admission essay to heaven, if necessary, and Saint Peter will cave at my eloquently worded plea for entry.

So, while numbers are currently what pay my bills, I endeavor to swap them for words. I know that none of us will ever be truly fulfilled until we are doing, in life, what we are truly passionate about. I have passion and respect for the job I do now, for the products I support, for the people I work with, and for, and for the company I am employed by. But, when all is said and done, I want to make my living as a wordsmith, not as a bean counter. Writing, and helping people evolve towards their own fulfillment, is what I am most passionate about. The progression is slow, but eventual, if for no other reason, because I am determined. And because I have bills to pay. And I have two kids in college. And even if writing is what I end up doing for a living for the last moments of my life, when I am too old and decrepit to do what I do now, I will still have succeeded in my goal. Simply this, I choose words over numbers. Count on it!