Good Things

Some of my faves...

I really believe it when they say knitting reduces stress, builds confidence, and brings people together—among other wonderful things. I do it almost every single day. KnitPicks is one of my favorite spots to grab starter kit gifts, materials, and tools. 

I have too many pens, maybe? Even if I can't get to everything on my to-do list, these Pentel Sign Pens make it pretty fun to write—and they're not too pricey. 

Found this little scissor necklace at a local shop. Scooped it up to remind me that it's ok to say "no" to things sometimes. And, buying a real physical thing, in a neighborhood store run by someone you smile at and talk to, is fun.

Dried flowers are wonderfully low maintenance and (gently) remind me of being a '90's teen. A little goes a really long way and you can forget them all over the house. Find bunches of flowers-that-dry-well at most supermarkets (try Babies Breath, lavender, German Statice, and varieties of thistle). 

Running Out of Steam

I just finished Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running—one of the best books I've read in a while. To be honest, it's one of the only books I've managed to actually finish in a while. Which, makes me realize something deeper than simply having an affinity for a novel. 

Over the past year, I've been going at full tilt—meaning, I haven't really stopped. In particular, I've been pushing my body to it's max physically and mentally while trying to radically change my diet. I realized this very poignantly after I'd fainted during a recent family vacation... not embarrassingly at all, in the middle of dinner. We'd gone to Vail to ski and I'd brought my running clothes. You know, to run in a wildly higher altitude than I was used to, in feet upon feet of snow. (I didn't end up running. I wasn't hydrated enough, I didn't take in enough calories, and I slept poorly)

I came home, and, while the trip was amazingly wonderful and fun, I was tired. I decided to stop doing so much. I bailed on a half marathon I'd been training for pretty much all winter, and I'd gotten to the point where running was just the last thing I could manage on top of everything else. It was heartbreaking. But I needed to start making decisions about what I did each day in a way that let my mind and body heal from being pushed.

I went through the week following the trip, deciding things by only one piece of criteria: is this restorative for me? It was pretty amazing. I did a lot of yoga, I stopped running every day (which was a shock to my over-achieving brain and body), I went to bed early, I stayed home on Saturday night, I drank tea instead of coffee, and I started reading *another* book. I know that method of decision-making and walking through life isn't sustainable, but it was an incredible exercise.

I guess there isn't an impressive segue to the next bit, though it all ties back to running. Running has made me devoted to clearing my head each day, pushing my body's limits, feeling sunshine (or rain) on my face, and generally thinking about moving one foot in front of the other as my only task—making very deliberate, singular decisions. There is something fundamentally restorative in that, if you ask me, and I want to get back to it. Through running, and thinking, and writing, and reading, more.

I don't typically share things I've read, but as I think about mantras and how I am starting to look at my life—my mid-thirties life—what Murakami wrote made me feel like I was lying down in the middle of every page, covered in the words. So, here are a few pieces I wanted to put in a place to come back to. And in doing so, I'll share them:

It might be a little silly for someone getting to be my age to put this into words, but I just want to make sure I get the facts down clearly: I'm the kind of person who likes to be by myself. To put a finer point on it, I'm the type of person who doesn't find it painful to be alone. ... I could always think of things to do by myself.

Something I've always loved about running, is that it's sort of an inescapably solitary activity. You can join all the running clubs you like, and run all the races in the world, but even if you're running together, you're running on your own.

There are three reasons I failed. Not enough training. Not enough training. And not enough training. 

...

It's pretty thin, the wall separating healthy confidence and unhealthy pride. When I was young, maybe just a fair-to-middling amount of training would have been enough for me to run a marathon. Without driving myself too hard in training, I could have banked on strength I'd already built up to see me through and run a good time. Sadly, though, I'm not longer young. I'm getting to the age where you really do get only what you pay for.

Speaking of mantras... seems to me the older you get, the more you kind of hope you (and the folks around you) realize that you get back what you put in. In almost everything.

To a certain extent, I figured, it's sometimes hard to avoid losing. Nobody's going to win all the time. On the highway of life you can't always be in the fast lane. Still, I certainly don't want to keep making the same mistakes over and over. Best to learn from my mistakes and put that lesson into practice the next time around. While I still have the ability to do that.

That last part is the kicker, huh?

In order to get there you have to stubbornly, rigorously, and very patiently tighten all the screw of each individual part. This takes time, of course, but sometimes taking time is actually a shortcut.

I personally quite like tightening all the screws of all the individual parts. I know it isn't always the most popular way to get something done, but I believe in it wholeheartedly.

Even if, seen from the outside, or from some higher vantage point, this sort of life looks pointless or futile, or even extremely inefficient, it doesn't bother me. Maybe it's some pointless act like, as I've said before, pouring water into an old pan that has a hole in the bottom, but at least the effort you put into it remains. Whether it's good for anything or not, cool or totally uncool, in the final analysis what's most important is what you can't see but feel in your heart. To be able to grasp something of value, sometimes you have to perform seemingly inefficient acts. But even activities that appear fruitless don't necessarily end up so. That's the feeling I have, as someone who's felt this, who's experienced it.

---

Long-distance running (more or less, for better or worse) has molded me into the person I am today, and I'm hoping it will remain a part of my life for as long as possible. I'll be happy if running and I can grow old together.

In the end, I too, will be happy if running and I can grow old together. And in the meantime, I'll just keep aiming to put one foot in front of the other.

Best Practices

In the beginning, when you stare down a project—say, researching and photo editing a news story or photo feature, or becoming a new boss—it's not always our first instinct to take a step back and decide "I'm going to take this step by step, write it all down, and record the process so I know how to do it even better next time." And usually we just don't have the damn time. But it's so crucial to becoming ace at anything you do, to really pay attention to the process and the key pieces that make something successful, just averagely so, or a total flop.

Somewhere around a year or so in to being in a recently new role, I received a request from an international partner asking me and my team to essentially teach their team how we did our jobs. This isn't a small feat, as each team member has varying degrees of expertise and subject matter knowledge. It's something that makes our process really great, but also really hard to distill down into a primer. We decided to give it a go because we wanted to help our partners out—we also wanted to take the opportunity to document a process by which we had been leading excellence in visual standards all along.

It took us a while to come up with the format, but we settled on a nice concise PDF, because, who doesn't love a good PDF? It outlined everything from general principals and a bit of theory on research, to a full set of technical and image quality guidelines, to specs on file handling and archival naming structures. It was a pretty nice looking PDF when we were done with it. It had pictures—lots of 'em. The best part was that the whole team weighed in. It wasn't just a group exercise in formalizing a process, it was a document that recorded how we worked as a group.

I'm not trying to get sentimental about a PDF. But our PDF was great, and it's because it represented something we did as a team, plus something a little bigger for me personally. Looking at the finished product, it offered a chance for me to pause and reflect on how far we'd come together, and on the fact that because I'd held true to some of my own personal best practices and guidelines, I think I had started to become the type of boss I'd hoped I would. 

I wish I could wrap up all the things that led me down that particular path in a nice neat PDF. For now, I'll just keep writing about them—and then I'll take an even longer moment to pause and reflect again.

Like, a Boss

When I became the manager of a team of photo editors and producers a few years ago, the job frankly started out as a survival game. Everything from transitioning off of my own projects, to managing other people's time and efforts, to figuring out how to be a good leader and a caring boss, seemed overwhelming at best. I bit my fingernails a lot. Like, a lot.

At first, all I knew I had to do, was GET. WORK. DONE. Without philosophical musings, without pausing to reflect, without eating lunch sometimes—just get it done, and most critically, help my tireless teammates get it done. I cried a little (every day). I wondered why I'd ever decided to try for the position in the first place. Wasn't I just happy doing what I was doing? Did I really want to stretch myself that much? The answer ended up being yes, unequivocally. Managing a team has been one of the most rewarding and most joyful experiences I've ever had because it didn't just stretch my "career skills," it made me a better person.

Yeah, So, Hi

I've been inducted into the website relaunch club. The one where you get all jazzed about putting up a new version of your site, and declare—nay, vow—to write more. Blog more! Write every day and who cares what you write, just write! 

And then you realize you need to work at it. To learn how to get to "good" writing.

Kind of like meditation. You don't just go straight to being yogi and sit quietly ("resist the urge to fidget" but god, I love fidgeting) for twenty minutes at a time. You cultivate it. Like the breath. You start with 60 seconds. Or go to class and pretend to do it for five minutes, but really do it for 90 seconds and spend the rest of the time thinking about things. All the things.

Hopefully the trick is in the trying. Practicing. Breathing. Writing. 

I'll spend some time practicing here, and maybe on paper. But I'll be back.

Pants, Getting 'em Scared Off

Last week I started a new job. It's not just any job, it's one I've been dying to do. About a month ago, I decided to leave my post and the amazing people I'd worked with at National Geographic for an opportunity to work with the crazy-talented folks at A Book Apart. I knew it would be a significant change in my career—one that offers the exact right set of conditions for me to grow and thrive, and support a process and people I believe in. One that scares the pants off me.

When I became the manager of a team of photo editors and producers a few years ago, the job frankly started out as a survival game. Everything from transitioning off of my own projects, to managing other people's time and efforts, to figuring out how to be a good leader and a caring boss, seemed overwhelming at best. I bit my fingernails. A lot. (It's a thing, stay with me)

For this I am grateful because I needed it. The truth is, I had become a bit complacent in moving past just getting better. I need to get great. I have loads of excuses and none of them matter now, because being uncomfortable is the best way to find out that you have the guts to not only go after something and take it on, but to deliver on a challenge in a way you never thought possible.

I will fall down, I will worry late at night and I will bite my nails. I will also succeed and get great for myself, and for those people I believe in. And, I will hopefully be wearing pants.