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Goals? Grammar? Gulp…

Ahhh…  nothing like blogging at the crack of dawn on a Friday morning.  (Actually, is the sun even up yet?)  Why not?  I’ve been up since 4:45 am and have already cleaned dishes, made a grocery list and checked off about five other mundane household chores.  Coffee is brewed.  Body is showered and dressed.  I am ready to face the day with a fresh start – all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  Right?  I wish. 

I am up-and-at-’em this early in the morning because I woke up in excruciating pain.  While my two career confidants have been diligently plugging away at setting goals and learning how to blog, I have been focused on my health in 2009.  Just after my first ever blog post, I was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which is a nervous system ailment that is a nightmare to treat.  Luckily, my doc was able to piece together the painful and UGLY symptoms before they progressed to a point of no return.  It’s a nasty disease and is really painful for those in later stages – just read the blogs. 

I’m fortunate.  The disease, so far, has been concentrated in my left foot.  Sometimes it shimmies up my left calf, but those days are few and far between.  My CRPS has been relatively easy from a pain perspective, but my woes are nothing to quickly dismiss.  CRPS is limiting most of the blood circulation to my foot and toes and is causing funky discoloration in those same areas.  I go from milky white to mottled raspberry to midnight purpleish blue.

Since then, I’ve been treating my illness from all possible angles.  I take six pills a day (which, by the way, caused blurred vision, brain fog and discoordinated muscle movements when I first began taking them.)  I bounce back and forth between two doctors – a pain specialist and a podiatrist – and see a physical therapist twice a week.  I go to the pool daily (those seven-year-old swim team kids eat my wake) and relentlessly exercise my foot. 

Two weeks ago, I had what’s called a lumbar sympathetic block.  Not familiar?  Imagine a couple of really long needles being stuck into the inner side of your spine.  Now, imagine having to go back again for more.  Give you the heebie jeebies?  Yeah – me, too. 

My time is precious now.  I am typically exhausted, so I’m sleeping more than ever before.  (That is probably a good thing, but my new 9 pm bedtime has been an annoying adjustment.)  I spend an average of 10 hours a week just treating this illness-o’-mine.  That doesn’t count the time I was laid up post-injection or my travel time, which adds up to a couple of hours give or take.  Oh yeah – on top of all this, I’m still working around 50 hours per week.   

Time management has always been a tricky topic for me to navigate.  Before my diagnosis, I was constantly on the go – overbooking both my professional and personal calendars.  I was ever-so-carefully trying to balance all the different parts of my life: my career, my education, my emotional growth, my creativity, my finances, my friends, my family and so on. 

Now, my schedule doesn’t allow for much of anything outside of my daily work and my healing process.  I don’t have time to spend with friends or to do the millions of other things I love.  My foot, which has been captive to a walking cast (a lovely knee-high gray and black boot with lots of velcro and plastic) since November, slows me down to a turtle’s pace – and makes me less productive and efficient.

I don’t know how to deal with my new self.  Physically, I’m pained.  Mentally, I’m frustrated.  Overall, I’m drained.


The Bones of Blogging

Image by cliff1066 (via flickr)

Image by cliff1066 (via flickr)

When I agreed to start a blog with Alli and Maria I knew that I was up for a challenge. I like to consider myself a writer. I can form grammatically correct sentences and succinctly convey my thoughts. I often develop characters and storylines for my own amusement. And I dish out witty prose over e-mail that occasionally makes people laugh. But, writers write, and outside of legal opinions and other professional documents, I don’t do much writing. I don’t know where to start.

For over three weeks I have delayed posting a new entry. I spent that time “researching.” This research was uncharted. In fact, I only call it research now because I justified each distraction with the thought that it would help me decide what and how to write. My research took me to literature, grammar reference books, and Facebook.

First, I read several letters and early short stories by Jane Austen. Although I’ve previously read all of Austen’s novels, I hadn’t encountered the works from her teenage years. Even in her youth, Austen could turn a plot into the unexpected and expose the ironies and humanity of her characters, rewarding the good and giving the selfish their just dues. But in her early fiction, Austen only presents the bare bones of the stories. She doesn’t complicate the characters with emotions. She tells rather than shows and concentrates her observations of people into a few pages, or lines, of text. Reading these stories made me think that Austen would have loved Twitter, especially while she was young.

In between Austen stories, I breezed through Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Grammar Girl breaks down common mishaps of the English language into a logical format, with conversational explanations. She’s funny too. Grammar Girl showed me that I know grammar and made me feel cool, not geeky, in coming to that realization. I started following Grammar Girl on Twitter, and I put Grammar Girl on my bookshelf space formerly occupied by Strunk & White. I will probably give the Grammar Girl gift to multiple people over the next year as a means of encouraging them to write (and blog).

Finally, I bowed to the latest Facebook trend: 25 Things. My friend and former roommate got me started on this, but the concept spread quickly through my friend list. I jumped on the bandwagon and brainstormed a list of 25 experiences and ideas that have shaped me. Interestingly, I had seen a different version of the 25 Things concept earlier in the week on a blog that came through on my Twitter feed. That version required the author to write seven things that he or she had given up or stopped doing. Either version seems like a good writing exercise, like something from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. With this comparison, I came full circle to my observation upon reading early Austen: begin with the bones.

Several years ago, I took a storytelling course at the community college in my southwest Washington logging town. The instructor taught us how to tell stories by deconstructing the tales to the bones of the narrative. The bones give the basic structure. By remembering the bones, a storyteller can work through the plot of the story while giving each telling its own mark of spontaneous details.

The bones and blogging go hand-in-hand. When blogging, I may need to write the bones first, as Austen did. Blogging the bones may suffice. In other cases, I may need to deconstruct the bigger idea, as Grammar Girl does. For now, I have decided on my bones of blogging:

1. Set a blog posting deadline for each Wednesday
2. Keep a notebook or electronic document at hand to capture ideas throughout the week (Twitter may work for this too)
3. Read blogs to identify different styles and feel more comfortable projecting my own voice
4. Write, write, write


Six Posts to Help You Navigate Your Goals for 2009

Image by Castielli (via flickr)

Image by Castielli (via flickr)

Was this the year of the “Resolution Blog Post,” or was I just not paying attention in 2007-08? Right at the time we were all reflecting on 2008 and on what we wanted from 2009, we were downright inundated with great advice on how to do it.

Here’s a handful of the resolution-related posts that stuck out for me:

1. Goal-less?

Don’t kid yourself. Goals are important. They give us direction, help us better respond to unexpected events, and actually correlate to success. But don’t take it from me. Seth Godin thinks so, too.

2. The Bucket System

Chris Brogan talks about picking three words that are linked to your goals and filtering your actions through those words. I love this method because it forces you to make a determination about each action you take during the year: does this belong in one of my buckets, or is it a distraction?

3. Share

In true Keith Ferrazzi fashion, he recommends identifying three things you are going to do in 2009 and sharing your list with others. Sharing creates accountability and could help you build stronger relationships with those you choose to share with.

4. Define Your Career Mission

Jeremiah Owyang advises that you run your career like a company and set your mission: what do you want to be doing when you are at the height of your career? Define your mission and focus your activities on achieving it.

5. Challenge Yourself

If you currently walk your dog everyday and you set a goal to walk your dog everyday, you haven’t pushed yourself very hard. You should be asking yourself to step out of your comfort zone. This post isn’t a “resolution post,” but it talks about how to tackle something new. It caught my eye because one of my [completely random] goals is to sing in public. I haven’t attempted it since high school–and I don’t count college karaoke at last call.

6. Let Yourself Fail

I like to say that failure is just an opportunity to try again. Of course, I mostly like to say that when discussing failure, in general. It’s always harder to apply it to my own failure, even if it is just as true. As you head into 2009, don’t feel like you have to be perfect. Perfectionism was so last year.

What were your favorite “resolution posts” this year?

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all things good begin with golf

I met Suzanne at a golf outing two years ago.  The tournament was hosted by a mutual business partner at Arrowhead, one of the most beautiful courses in Denver.  The course website entices, “Come play the course that was 300-million years in the making.  Featuring extreme elevation changes, abundant wildlife, rolling terrain, dramatic vistas, and thousands of feet of ancient red sandstone rocks towering majestically above you.”  I couldn’t resist.

Despite the appealing website description, I was nervous about playing.  I’m NOT a great golfer.  Granted, I can hold my own – on a good day with a handicap – but I am not a stellar player.  When I golf with strangers, I stiffen up; under pressure, I begin to crack.  The mere thought of swinging my sticks in front of a bunch of professional peers (none of whom I know and most of whom are men) makes my palms sweat. 

Despite my insecurities, I mustered up the courage to pack up my clubs and play in the tournament.  I rolled up to the clubhouse in my borrowed-from-my-ex Honda Civic just in time to check in and limber up a bit.  I was THRILLED to see that my foursome had another woman player – Suzanne. 

Throughout the round, Suzanne and I became quickly acquainted.  Early on, it was apparent that we were playing that day for very different reasons.  Suzanne was there to build professional relationships; I was there to play.  (I’ll take any opportunity I can get to swing my sticks free of charge and chalk it up as an honest day’s work.) 

Shortly after, Suzanne contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in getting together with her and her friend, Alli, to talk about our careers.  It would be a chance for the three of us to articulate our individual dreams and to establish clear goals to achieve them.  Alli, Suzanne said, shared our common desire to be esteemed and respected for our abilities, hard work and intelligence.

Great idea, I thought, but I wondered what I would ever contribute.  I had similar career aspirations, but I was too different from Alli and Suzanne to add any value.  I don’t have the drive, the dedication or the discipline to do this, I thought.  (Remember:  I agreed to golf in the tournament not to “network”, but to take advantage of a free round and to play hookie from work.)

Nevertheless, I agreed to join Suzanne and Alli for an initial meeting, hoping that their extraordinary personalities would rub off on me.  That was two years ago.

Jane Austen once said, “Everything nourishes what is strong already.”  Welcome to Sunday Brunch.


thirtysomething… and Why I’m Writing Here

“This must be why the show ‘thirtysomething‘ was a hit,” I said to Suzanne over coffee a few weeks back.

I never watched “thirtysomething.” I was nine when it started in 1987, so at the time the subject matter (which I can only guess hovered around the lives of those who were in their thirties) didn’t exactly grab me in the same way that “Degrassi Junior High,” which also started in 1987, did.

And yet, suddenly I feel like I get it. The thirties carry a certain gravity that the twenties never did–at least for me. There is opportunity for greater reward along with opportunity for greater failure. Like falling, it hurts more when you’re older.

I imagine the show to basically be about my life now (though, like with most things, chances are I am completely wrong). There are significant career moves, changing priorities, money problems and competing interests. Only when I run into problems or choices, they don’t all get wrapped up at the end of 60 minutes–or, for the really serious issues, at the end of the season.

But sometimes I can work through them at brunch. Sunday brunch.

Just over two years ago, I started meeting with a couple of women (my co-authors on this blog) on Sunday mornings. These women, like myself, did not have all the answers. Together, we get just a little bit closer. Through these relationships, I have discovered the value of surrounding yourself with trusted advisers–both within the brunch circle and beyond. I may not have a scriptwriter to wrap everything up in an episode, but I have many people I rely on to help me write my own script.

I don’t know what I expect from this blog. I know I plan to share resources and thoughts on professional development, building a circle of advisers and, importantly, being a valuable adviser (still not sure “adviser” is the word I’m looking for, but it will do for now–maybe I’ll work that out online, too).

My own little selfish wish is that we’ll be able to build a community from which I will learn much, much more than I could ever hope to on my own.

Thanks for reading.

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An Introduction: Suzanne Leff

Welcome to Sunday Brunch! I’m one of your hosts, and I look forward to sharing some stories with you on this blog. To give you a little background, here’s a snapshot of who I am and how I came to Sunday Brunch.

My name is Suzanne Leff. I am a thirty-something (Gen X?) mother of two children and wife of a community college professor. I work as a real estate attorney representing homeowners associations in Colorado and am a trained mediator. I volunteer with my daughter’s public elementary school and live in a cohousing community. In my recreational time, I cross-country ski, walk my part-time standard poodle to the dog park while listening to This American Life podcasts and Santogold, read graphic novels by Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi and others, and watch classic movies with my family. My future posts will add dimension to each of these aspects of my life, while also documenting my search for professional opportunities that allow me to focus on policy, legislative drafting, and more direct involvement with services that benefit underserved populations.

Sunday Brunch serves as a next step for Alli, Maria, and myself. For over two years, the three of us have met regularly, and on an as-needed basis, to set and discuss our career goals, challenge one another to follow through on commitments to ourselves, and celebrate success. We have come to know each other’s strengths, fears, and personal factors that drive decision-making. Originally, we recognized the benefit of providing a structured and supportive environment for defining our professional development goals. But I have come to look forward to my meetings with Alli and Maria because of a deeper friendship that they offer. I trust their feedback and know that, with their help, I will learn more about myself and, consequently, will find more fulfillment in my personal and professional endeavors.

We meet on Sunday mornings and rotate hosting responsibilities. Our sessions routinely cover personal relationships, family, health, exercise, entertainment, travel, and, of course, compliments for the always delicious food that the host serves. Through this blog, I hope that more people will join us for Sunday Brunch (any day of the week) and all the topics that we dish up.

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