One Foot…in Front of the Other

little boy walking

Beginnings, middles and ends….they’re the milestones we navigate every day, in ways both large and small.  Are you like me?  The Muddling Middle is Maddening….even though I know I must traverse the sloppiness to get to the finish line.  I know it, but that doesn’t mean I like it.  Nope. 

The Middle can be oh-so-messy.  The voices that ask, ‘Are you sure?’ Or, as if they see the destination and have reconnaissance I lack, they whisper: ‘It’s not too late to turn back’.  Having the confidence and poise to stay the course, while muddling in the Middle takes resolve. 

And I’m not just mulling over the BIG DECISIONS in life.  The biggies command our attention and one way or another, we decide with intention, or indifference as we choose to slow down, set sail or retreat.    

But alongside the biggies sit the littles – the everyday events, tasks, conundrums, and relationships – that we massage and manage.  Dutifully, we navigate the littles; the individual arcs, the blips and bumps, and hopefully triumphs, too.  Such is life, the mundane and routine riding along with the blasted big stuff.  

In the cycle of “BMEs” – beginnings, middles, and ends – I’m most often mired in the Middle because of my nature – I want to influence the unfolding with eyes planted on the destination.  I know I’m not unique.  The predictable outcomes, the ‘sure things’ give me peace but they’re harder and harder to come by as age and experience season us.  We learn to prepare ourselves for disappointment.

All of this may sound a little sobering, but I’m in a pondering frame of mind for a reason. Someone I care about is laboring in the Middle right now and he’s hurting.  His resources include patience, but it’s waning, along with his confidence.  I’ve offered what guidance I can, as well as my shoulder to lean on, but I wish my shoulder was heftier, more formidable. I wish I could do more. I wish I could be a better champion and tease out a conclusion for him – an ending point – some sort of punctuation.  I want to lighten the hold that his Middle malaise has on him. Provide relief.

The MIDDLE isn’t a villain, really and it doesn’t mean to conjure anxiety.  It just does – as the holder of menacing ‘what ifs’.  Those dreaded doubts. They create shadows masking the glimmers of hopeful light. Like summer fireflies, the glimmers ARE there – but harder to detect.  Or is it the fear of having hope?  If I greet this sweet elusive light, might it run from me and retreat into the shadows?

But move we must, and this is what I tell my friend. Don’t languish in the Middle.  As the finish line and destination appear, remember that invariably, a new path, a fresh beginning is likely there as well.  And he’s in charge.  Want to loop back?  Do it.  Forge a trail that may be both new and unfamiliar? You can. Just remember to pack well, carrying more confidence than doubt and consider heeding the sweet advice from Tom Hiddleston:

“You never know what’s around the corner.  It could be everything.  Or it could be nothing.  You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.”

One foot in front of the other, indeed.

Vicki ❤

Shine On…

As a favor to a client, I sat in on a meeting this week to do a little reconnaissance about a colleague conundrum she’s facing.  My presence was undetected given it was a public gathering in a community center.  Right up my alley. 

When my client asked if I’d attend just to ‘soak up’ what she was feeling, I felt like a combo of super sleuths.  You know, Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Drew. Maybe Sherlock Drew or Nancy Holmes? 😉 Intrigued by my client’s request I agreed and thought I’d likely learn a little in the process.  A win for both of us.

Grabbing a seat in the back, I scooped up a copy of the PowerPoint notes and perused them while “the Speaker” set up his slide deck and others rolled in.  I didn’t think I’d know anyone there and even if I did, it was plausible for me to attend given the social services topic and my profession.  Even so, I was nervous.

For a few minutes I wondered if I was doing an astral projection thing – imparting my unsettledness onto the Speaker as I watched him struggle with his laptop, then the podium as he tried to share his slide deck ‘on the big screen’.

Still watching, I sauntered over to the refreshment table and grabbed a coffee and then retreated to my seat to unpack my laptop and settle in.

The Speaker continued to struggle, and I noticed no one came to his aid.  He was a sweaty mess…and me being ME I couldn’t bear to watch him melt down.  I debated my desire to help against my twin need for anonymity and decided I needed to sit tight.

Restless in my seat, I continued to observe.  Another ten minutes passed, folks settled into their spots and all eyes were still on the Speaker as tech support from the venue finally popped in with what looked like a new cable and voila – slides appeared on screen. 

The forty-something, disheveled-looking Speaker finally spoke, starting with a bizarre introduction that was more of a self-adoration rant followed by a literal point-by-point reading of his PowerPoint content.  Mind. Numbing.  But that wasn’t the intel my client was after.  She already shared that the Speaker was a lousy speaker.

She gave me the backstory: The Speaker insisted on handling this gig on his own, despite the fact that it was her area of expertise.  Without giving away too much, let me just say that his profound need to lead this workshop prompted him to engage in roller-derby like sabotage, shoving her to the sidelines.  Eager for attention?  Threatened by my client’s expertise? Perhaps.

Mindful of my body language and facial giveaways, even in a big room, I monitored my non-verbals as the Speaker proceeded, continuing to read from his projected PowerPoint deck while punctuating every bullet point with a tidbit about his accomplishments.

I felt my chin drop and my eyes narrow.  That thing I do when I’m perplexed, bordering on agitated. Trying not to be obvious, I scanned the room, as best I could, to see if anyone else was vibing with me about the Speaker.  It was hard to tell — not a single person had eyes on him.  Everyone was looking down.

And still the Speaker continued, motoring through slides while inserting tidbits, subtext, and ad libs about his own accomplishments.  Oddly, at times it seemed he was nearly mocking or heckling himself – in his own presentation. It was a wild ride.

Was it painful?  Oh, my goodness, yes.  But this man was on a mission.  For reasons that are still unclear, the spotlight mattered to him but the quality, integrity, usefulness of the content? Not so much. It seemed the audience was irrelevant, even when attendees began to depart, a couple of folks at a time, soon after he began.  What should’ve been a 90-minute workshop ended, mercifully, after 45 minutes of torture.

My client was anxious to hear my observations.  As I sat in my car for a long while, my first thought was ‘what a waste of my time’.  I was peeved.  He was a jerk, jerk, jerk.  Do I share that with my client to confirm what she already knew?  No, no.  She’s looking for more, Vicki.  Self-talk city once again.  Me in the car having one of my one-way chats.

But my processing head invariably leads me to opinions, appraisals, conclusions. Regarding the Speaker?  This dear, bumbling human likely lost a year or two of his life as a result of pushing to present content that didn’t organically belong to him. In way over his head, he plowed forward, motivated by a wicked combo of insecurity with a side order of desperation. 

When I called my client, I told her this:  

***Despite her anger and misgivings about what happened, how he treated her, she should lift her chin up and remember she has assets he can only dream of

***She possesses two elemental qualities in my big book of terrific character traits:  Competency and Authenticity

***No matter how many times the Speaker shoves someone aside to take the spotlight, being in the light doesn’t mean you shine 

Just sayin’…so shine on, people.

Shine on!

Vicki 😉

Photo by Blue Arauz on Pexels.com

The Yodas Don’t Lie

I made a promise to myself in July.  As I waited to learn whether a publisher was going to take me on – work with me to move my manuscript/mommy memoir into (gulp) a book – I leaned into advice received from my most trusted writing Yodas 😊.

The Yodas included my beloved beta-reader and the sage and patient readers from my academic world who provided endless guidance.  I don’t make it easy.  My dissertation gurus logged hours of ‘time served’ as they guided me through the nuances of academic prose and the how-to’s of co-authoring a textbook, but this was writing of another sort.  Personal and intense. 

My beta-reader knew most of the backstory that undergirds the manuscript.  Academic peeps?  No – not their lane at all, and yet their insights were welcome.  All input must be good input, I reasoned.  A variety of ‘notes’ came forward and while I embraced everything, one nugget stood out, most of all.  A common denominator of wisdom – across all Yodas:

If you want to write, write.  Oh yeah – and read everything.

So, I’m trying.  While juggling other business, home and family duties, WordPress has become a welcoming place.  Much more so than I expected. 

I remember my first-ever “like” and a comment to a blog post – from dear, sweet Wynne.  As a more seasoned blogger, her encouragement in my first week was a gift.  I might’ve quit early on…it felt like I was writing (ehh…more like blathering) into an abyss.  Worthiness issues intertwined with the underlying compulsion to do it anyway

WordPress is encouraging on a systems-level.  I’m on a ‘streak’ with 60 daily posts and I’m still amused by the WordPress “high five” message when it pops into my inbox.  I wasn’t looking to be a streaker 😉 LOL.  I was just heeding another bit of advice from the Yodas:

Write.  Do it even when you think the tank is empty. Do it. 

So, every morning, I plop myself down and you know what?  Despite my misgivings about quality, words flow and stories come. 

The internal critic is a tyrant, though.  She riles me up with her sideways chatter.  THAT topic again?  You’ve covered this, you fool.  Or my academic, professorial-like nemesis arrives.  She surfaces – ready to chide me for writing in a too colloquial way.  Too friendly, familiar and GAWD what’s with all the hyphens and ellipses…and bad punctuation, generally?

I try to shoo them away and listen to the other voices.  Bits of praise that still stick with me if I ferret them out:

Vicki – you write the way you speak.  What makes you compelling on the conference circuit as a presenter, keynoter – and in the classroom – makes you fun to follow when the written words flow.

Hmm…maybe.  But what do I repel, on a genetically based DNA level?  Praise.  What a conundrum.  The thing I most need to keep moving is often the input I dismiss. 

And so…back to the promise in July. I’m staring down October and it’s the month where I need to buckle down and tend to the manuscript-in-motion in order to meet my publisher’s deadline.

My writing, for fun, on WordPress might need to take a back seat for a bit.  Rather than daily posts, I’ll shoot for 3-4 a week.  Blogging was never about broad viewership or followers.  It was and IS about connecting and I’m grateful to those of you who’ve been reading and chiming in with fun, life affirming scenes and stories.  I’m grateful you haven’t booted me off the WordPress Island. 😉

If you’re a newer follower, don’t worry.   I’m just paring down a bit and the trust you’ve placed in me – allowing me to pop into your space (whether you read/don’t read, like/don’t like, comment/don’t comment)? It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly. 

And hey – some among you might be cheering!  Hurray!  She’s finally taking her foot off the gas, and I won’t see “Victoria Ponders” Every.Single.Day.  Either way, all good.

So – whatever’s in front of you that you think you can’t do – do it anyway. The Yodas know what they’re talking about.

Take care!

-Vicki ❤

Creativity and Professor Plum

Professor Plum, CLUE game character
Greetings from Professor Plum

I’m not an artist or musician.  I’m an okay cook and baker (attempting Snickerdoodles at five was a mistake, but hey, they looked good in the Betty Crocker cookbook with the glossy photos).  I’ve improved since then – at least creating edible cookies w/very few burnt batches.  😉

And so, I’ve devoted a bit of introspective time over the years to the ‘why’ behind my need to create.  The thread that’s continuous back to my childhood is the need to express myself.  Using words because that’s where my individuality resides. It’s never mattered whether it was in written form or interpersonal expression. It never mattered whether it was vocational or avocational, paid, or unpaid. Expression related to home décor and design sit equally alongside the work-related satisfaction I’ve found as a helping professional.   I’ve loved it all.  The visual and verbal just go together. 

The blogging experience so far has been a revelation.  If left unattended, I could endlessly obsess about the quality of my posts, especially because I’m able (now, anyhow) to write every day without feeling pressured.  My too-busy brain is continually cataloging a topic, based on a discovery, a conversation, or a memory.  These snippets are just THERE – bouncing around needlessly – so I might as well use them as blogging fodder.

In grad school I met a lightning rod in the form of a beloved professor.  Decades later, his wisdom is still a touchpoint for me, even though we lost track of each other long ago. 

Why?  Professor Plum 😉 (not his real name) vaguely resembled the beloved Clue character, minus the purplish fuchsia sweater. Other than that, spitting image, I say, spectacles and all.  I often wanted to greet him with a candlestick and ask if he’d been in the drawing room but I knew better.  Keep it to yourself, Vicki.  Besides, given my bad hair days – then and now – he likely regarded me as a blend of Marge Simpson and/or Cruella.

But back to Professor Plum and creativity.  His overstuffed office carried the stink of woe begotten ideas with a whiff of something spiritual, magical.  Soothing, almost.  I realize now it was an atmospheric mix of hope and the joy of creativity.  The odorous intrigue also included a pungent tobacco punch. He smoked – something –  in his cave/office and more than once I imagined the potential fire tragedy.  If only he’d open his window…he had one…but it was jammed to the top with stacks upon tipsy stacks, eclipsing all light and the potential for fresh air.

He offered mumbled, stooped-over apologies every time a student entered.  “Sorry, sorry” he’d say – scraping away a layer on the lone side chair in his office.  “Here, sit here.”  He’d stand for a minute or two to ‘reconnoiter’ his back with his legs.  “Too long, I sit.  Good to stand” he’d say.

I’m still embarrassed about my non-verbals the first time I visited. I know my face conveyed shock and despite my unkind visage, he did his best to welcome me. In explaining the mess, he surveyed the piles with outstretched arms, sighed and said:  “Some of us are compelled to create.  This is me.  Everyday — thinking ‘write or die’ and it’s all here.  It’s me.”

Ah.  Comfortable with self.  His declarative ‘It’s me’ was liberating to hear.  Excessive worrying about the quality of a creation – whatever it is – gets in the way, muddles the magic.  He knew that and managed to share, in little slices and interludes, how he made peace with it – and forged ahead, just the same.

Summoning his perspective helps – especially when I’m feeling critical of myself.  What else? I appreciate this piece about the ‘science of creativity’.  More than once, it’s helped to normalize and quiet the inner critic, enough to let the creative juices flow freely:

Despite the widely held belief that some people just aren’t endowed with the creativity gene, there’s not really any evidence that one person is inherently more creative than another… creativity is something that anyone can cultivate.

How do you get to your creative place – that spot of ingenuity that’s uniquely you?  Sometimes just by doing.  And then “doing” some more and shushing the gallery.  Kudos to Professor Plum – write or die, indeed!

-Vicki ❤

Love, Magic, Wonder

Love with heart
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

This morning I peeked at pieces I’ve written recently (and some that are still ‘in the pipeline’) and remarked (yes, talking to myself) that three words seem pervasive:  LOVE, MAGIC, WONDER.

No, I didn’t do an official search and count…I’m not going for precision here.  But still, I spent a meditative moment (followed by some necessary self-talk) ruminating about being repetitive and boring. 

Yep – there’s the self-evaluator in me surfacing.  I hollered back, ‘So what? What’s true, is true!’  And then I remembered this from Persian poet Hafiz:

“The words you speak become the house you live in.”

Taking a little liberty and swapping out ‘speak’ for ‘think’ or ‘write’ offers the guidance I needed.  It’s okay.  Go forward, Vicki, and use “love, magic, wonder” endlessly, boldly, authentically. 

And so…I send those three things to you today.  Love, magic and wonder – in abundance!

-Vicki ❤

At the Barbeque

people at a barbeque
Photo by Pragyan Bezbaruah on Pexels.com

It’s so easy to remember the critics in our lives – the reprimands and challenges and the heaviness that rides along.  One of my least appealing personality characteristics is a tendency toward judgement.  I don’t mean to but if left unattended, I might spend my entire day thinking about feedback I’d love to offer but don’t dare deliver.  There’s nothing worse than unsolicited input.  This I know to be true.

My sometimes judgey-attitude and needless filtering…the quickness to classify and label is a by-product of neanderthal needs for safety.  Adopt the group mindset.  Don’t stand out. Birds of a feather…flocking together…Except all of that group-think nonsense is counterproductive to being our best, unique selves and celebrating individuality.

What nurtures growth and promotes positivity?  An honest, heartfelt compliment which calls out what’s special about each of us.  With all the ‘likes’ and ‘following’ going on in the world, an old-fashioned I see you and you are fabulous…goes a long way toward soothing the bumps and bruises we all collect.  Just by living.

As I mulled this over today, I challenged myself to summon an impactful compliment – offered honestly, authentically, freely and it took me a minute.  Not gonna lie.  When my roundabout memory finally sifted out the clutter, I recalled a colleague who offered praise a few years ago.  As I think about what he shared, I can’t help but smile.   His exuberance – about me – lifted me up – at least three feet from the ground. I floated for a few hours after. 

Let me set the scene.  “Rob” (not his real name) and I volunteered at an employee barbeque.  You know the type; intended to promote team spirit and boost morale with a spread of ribs, chicken and burgers.  (Side note:  This was a terrible job for me.  I ‘over-portioned’ every single plate and was the messiest ‘guest chef’ ever, which created the unintended entertainment portion of the event:  Watching Vicki juggle plates overly laden with grub.) 

Rob was my ‘guest chef’ partner and we met just once or twice before.  He was the newbie and I was the long-tenured veteran…with the aforementioned sloppy serving skills.  After he repositioned my lopsided chef’s toque (fancy name for the big stove-pipe head gear, I learned) the good time vibes were rolling and they didn’t stop.

Why?  Rob could not believe I knew each person in line – by name.  Maybe we served 100 folks, give or take.  I served “the meats” and Rob did the sides and as colleagues moved through the line, I greeted each and introduced Rob (because most had yet to make his acquaintance).   It was easy.  It was fun. 

But part way through, Rob pulled me aside while the actual chefs were restocking the steam table and said, “Who are you?  Never in my life have I seen someone handle introductions the way you do.  You know everyone by name plus tidbits about their families, their jobs, where they work, what they do.  You’re like magic and I want to be you.”

We were pretty sweaty at this point. Did I mention it was an 85-degree day?  The combo of the hot food, the steamy weather?  I was already a wringable, soppy mess and Rob’s sweet and heartfelt comment triggered more moisture – tears.  As they rolled down my cheeks, I imagined (hoped) it looked like more sweat than emotion, but inside, I was flying.  The sincerity of his compliment shook me.  Not because it was necessarily true but because it WAS my intention to acknowledge and connect as many people as possible that day. And he saw me.

Here’s to being the light. Barbeque or wherever. 

Big smiles,

-Vicki 😎

Confident – From the Inside Out

gold star

I suspect we’ve all been there.  Where?  In the self-defeating cycle of insecurity where we become dependent upon acknowledgement from others.  Might be a new-found friend in the blogging world 😊 or a spontaneous interaction with a stranger.  It’s true!  A positive nod or word of encouragement is a gift. 

Revel in it – whether it’s a compliment from someone near and dear or a person you may never see or hear from again – many of us are hungry to be seen, heard, recognized. Especially true for those who identify as achievers. 

But that’s okay, right?  Yes, I think so.  It’s truly what makes the world go ‘round.  People taking care of one another by offering praise and recognition nurtures love – for the greater good.  I’m a fan. 

Except…when you are incapable of acknowledging and celebrating your own successes (small or large) because the only praise that “counts” comes from the outside.  That might be a sign that your need for external validation is dragging you down. 

The fix is straightforward but requires a wee bit of practice.  Being mindful of your unique gifts and talents is a good first step.  Yes – you have them.  Make a list if you need to.

Be ready to celebrate and ‘high five’ yourself at every opportunity.  Be the first…not the last…to offer praise and give yourself the gold star.

Visual imagery can help.  Take a minute or two to connect with your breath.  The simple act of breathing in…and out…while allowing your head and heart to peruse the things that make YOU feel good about you is restorative.

Don’t go spelunking around for heroic acts of bravery here.  For some, getting out of bed is praise-worthy if the day dawns bleak and gray (whether actually, metaphorically or emotionally).  Hurray for YOU!  You’re up! 

If you make it a practice to celebrate the little wins, it will become less and less necessary for you to feel good only if praise comes from someone else. 

My wish for you?  Don’t let ‘external validation’ be your only (or main) source of ego strength.  You are fabulous.  You always were. 

-Vicki ❤