Best Reads of 2013

Well, 2013 is drawing to a close and I thought I’d give you a look at my top reads this year. As I sorted the list I realized these selections are quite good indicators of the areas of life I dwell on the most these days: faith, parenting and work. And of course, I tend to look at all of these things in the context of calling.

Faith/Spiritual Living

favourite reads 2013The Prodigal God by Tim Keller. What a powerful little book. This is one of those short reads that you should probably spend a long time reading. It was a big eye-opener for me to realize I am definitely the older brother in this parable. I’m not sure I had ever heard anyone really talk much about the older brother, especially to show how he is equally lost – that it’s a parable of two lost sons, not just one.

favourite reads 2013The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I wrote a little about this book here. It might seem like a typical self-help book but goes much deeper because Brown happens to be a research professor on powerful topics like shame and vulnerability, fear and courage and worthiness. She shares very personal stories to demonstrate this vulnerability and gives a few optional exercises to try at the end of each chapter. If you don’t have time to read, her two TED talks are a great option.

favourite reads 2013Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth by Walter Brueggemann. This is a book of poem prayers that a friend recommended and wow, both John and I were drawn to the raw honesty and piercing accuracy of our human ways. We read them aloud at dinner although I think it would probably be more worthwhile to read them with a journal handy. They’re beautiful and they really make you think. It’s good to be sort of “jarred” out of our normal approach to prayer.

favourite reads 2013The Lost Art of Lingering by Rowland Forman. This is a very practical, gentle guide to mutual mentoring and is packed full of resources on the topic of living the Christian life together. A good friend recommended this to me and it was a perfect refresher course for me after not reading anything on mentoring since college. Like, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp, it’s a good reminder that we’re all supposed to be ministering to each other.

 

 

Children

favourite reads 2013How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich. Wow, this book was fascinating and worth reading whether or not you’re a parent. The material in here can be applied with any kids you know and regularly hang out with. It’s easy to read with cartoon illustrations of their points and lots of great examples that put their ideas into context for you. I got it out on CD for John to listen to and he stopped it after only the first 20 minutes to talk about it with me because there was already so much good stuff to discuss.

favourite reads 2013Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson. There are some great resources out there on boys and emotional intelligence so I’m not sure if I liked this one best because I read it first or because of the title, but it was an excellent overview of how boys are often raised to be “emotionally illiterate” and how this can increase school troubles etc. There was quite a bit in there about how our school systems are not supporting how boys learn and grow. I find anything about educational theory and systems fascinating so that was very helpful for me.

favourite reads 2013How Children Raise Parents by Dan Allender. Just listened to this one on CD and it seemed like a short “read” – only 3 CDs. What I appreciated most about this book was the fact that we will fail as parents and that this is to be expected. His big points are that children have two main questions, “Am I loved?” and “Can I have it my way?” which we need to answer with a “yes” and “no” respectively. This is not a “how-to” book at all but it was a great perspective on how parenting changes us and how our children teach us.

Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki. This isn’t on Amazon, so no picture. It’s a pdf book that I just read and I loved it. I’ve browsed through multiple potty-training books recently and they all seem a bit scared to pull any punches. They present options but don’t really want to tell you how to do it. This book is not scared to call it all like it is. I loved her emphasis on capability rather than the nebulous concept of “readiness”, how she blocks out the learning process and all the little tips and tricks to troubleshoot various issues.

 

Business/Coaching

favourite reads 2013Sticking Points by Hadyn Shaw. I blogged about this one here. This is a book every business needs to have on hand because every business is likely dealing with generational issues (actually it would probably be just as helpful for churches and extended families!). Shaw is fair to each generation and helps each generation see where the other generation is coming from. As a millennial, I’m sensitive to the fact that our generation is constantly under a microscope in the media. This book is an urgently-needed thoughtful counterbalance to a lot of the stuff floating around out there.

favourite reads 2013You Already Know How to Be Great by Alan Fine. Sounds cheesy I know. But his major point for coaches was that often our clients already know what they need to do and potentially even how to do it. They may not need more training or teaching (in fact that might make them perform worse – I talk a little about that here). What they really need help with is simply clearing out the noise and interference to help them focus effectively. He has a great model to use in coaching conversations that I have found effective in every day conversations as well.

The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. I also blogged about this one here. This is one of those books that you wish every CEO was required to read before becoming CEO. It lays out very clear exercises to help leaderships teams get clarity and unity so that they can communicate effectively with those they lead. It all seems so simple when you read these kind of books and then you look around and wonder why it so rarely gets implemented. Possibly because it’s one of those very-hard-but-extremely-worthwhile things to do.

favourite reads 2013Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. Loved this book and all the other ones they’ve written as well. Great stories, simple but powerful concepts. I wrote about one of them here. These guys are so interesting and practical.

 

 

What were your favourite reads in 2013?

P.S. Disclosure: All image links are affiliate links so if you click on them and buy one of the books, Amazon pays me a few cents.

Calling & A Meat Marination Stick

You’ll probably laugh about how much I thought about this story over the weekend! I read this NY Times piece on Thursday about a Christian lady who credits her invention of a meat marination stick to God. You should read it. And also watch the video of Mary describing her product. Go ahead, take a break, I’ll be here with my thoughts when you get back.

meat marination stick
Image Source: Cuisine Noir

Now if you’re like me, your first instinct when you hear someone say “God told me” is to tense up and wait for the crazy. And in fact, I likely read the entire article with a skeptical face. Sometime later in the evening, I realized I should know better by now. I’m always ranting and raving about how diverse our callings can be and about how we need to quit making secular/spiritual divides. I thought I’d already learned to appreciate how often God uses the material and the physical things of this world to shape, grow and bless us.

And I started thinking, What if God really gave her recipes? What if he really did give her a vision for this meat stick? Why not? I thought about heaven and considered the possibility that God uses material tools to create his feasts there even though I always picture it all appearing like magic. But what if God loves the process of cooking? What if he gave this lady a little gift from heaven to bless her family and church? Why not?

Maybe all that thinking is too crazy for you, but it totally reminded me again again that we tend to carry around assumptions and expectations about what makes a calling, or what work God is really trying to do, or how he wants people to serve each other. And these assumptions and expectations can blind us from seeing the work God is already doing in ours and other people’s lives. We can be so busy looking for what we think should be there, that we miss what really is. It’s another part of the reason, I really prefer to say that we recover our callings rather than discover them. Our callings are already present in our lives. Whether we can see them or not is the real question.

Have you had an experience like this?

The Birkman: Affirmation & Awareness

The Birkman Method: Affirmation and AwarenessFirst off: the winner of the book with the free report included is Kathryn! Congrats – contact me with your address and I will put the book in the mail for you!

To wrap up September and our series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) on the Birkman, I want to talk a little bit about how to use assessments like this. More specifically, how you use the information about yourself.

Affirmation

I was able to do the mini-consultation that I gave away at the beginning of September this past week and had a blast as usual. It is so neat to see how affirmed people feel when they see how much the report “gets them.” The Birkman Method has an excellent accuracy level so I’m not surprised by that. What does continue to surprise me is that sometimes people are just waiting for an outside confirmation to really do what they already know about themselves. It’s like they just need that extra boost of confidence that they really are right about their own needs and interests. The Birkman is a great way to get confirmation if that’s what you’re looking for.

There’s a warning that comes with this though: If you don’t know what you want to do, the Birkman is not a blueprint for what you should do. It can tell you how much more interested in Social Service or Music you are compared to others. It can tell you what careers you are most similar to in your responses. But it won’t tell you that there’s just one perfect job for you. That’s because many people are successful even in their least similar career matches. These people will most likely feel different than the other people doing that job, they will bring a unique set of skills to that job and by extension face some unique challenges because of their differences to their peers, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done.

For example, I did the Birkman recently with someone whose entire career was in a job that showed up last on his Job Families Report. Did that mean he had spent his entire life in the wrong job? Absolutely not. It meant that he had faced a lot of stress integrating into an environment that wasn’t natural for him but that he had brought wonderful gifts that weren’t usually seen in that department. His career has been fruitful and rewarding. So taking the Birkman as your Bible for which jobs you should take and which ones to write off is a dangerous game, because you might miss out on opportunities that you should explore even if they don’t necessarily look like an exact fit.

That’s why I prefer to focus on awareness as the best part of the Birkman. With the Birkman by your side, you’ll know when you’re not a “typical” fit in a certain role, and that awareness will help you  leverage your unique strengths and manage the unique challenges that arise.

Awareness

When I looked at John and my Birkman reports this month, I was more aware of which factors contribute to our ability to handle this crazy entrepreneurial life and which factors contribute to our downfalls. I get affirmation that if anyone has the personalities to make it work, we do. We have high Freedom scores (comfortable with being uncoventional), low Structure scores (flexible with routines). But better than that, I gain awareness to watch for our common struggles. The low Structure score is as much a liability as an asset. I dream of being so much more organized than we are. We both have high Thought scores which makes decision-making a longer drawn-out (and sometimes painful) process even when it doesn’t need to be.

I actually had to laugh out loud during certification training when we were looking at the Organizational Focus report and my pattern of having very short bars showed that I was not typical to workers in any of the four work environments (Operations/Tech, Sales/Marketing, Design/Stragey, Administrative/Fiscal), “This pattern does NOT mean the individual will not be satisfied in any work environments; rather, she enjoys a mixture of tasks across conventional work environment types and, potentially, will be more likely to create her own distinct work environment for her chosen profession.” I felt affirmed about my career path, but more importantly it made me aware of my need to diversify and not get bogged down in only one type of work. It helped explain my restlessness in the corporate world.

Tell me about affirmations you’ve received in your life that you were going the right direction – where did they come from? What insights and awareness about your own personality have helped you the most at work?

And again – if you’re interested in taking the assessment yourself and meeting with me for a consultation (in person or via skype), simply check out my services page. If you want to read up more on the Birkman, you can head over to my info page or their website.

 

The Birkman Method Book & Free Personal Report

The Birkman Method Book and Personal ReportSo I’ve been doing this small series (see here, here and here) on how the Birkman Method plays out in our lives in order to get you excited about reading this book. The current CEO, Sharon Birkman Fink, recently published a book appropriately titled, The Birkman Method: Your Personality at Work and it includes a free personal report (I believe it’s a condensed version). I was sent a free autographed copy in exchange for a review. Since I already have my own report I would like to give this copy away to a reader! Now is a good time to be excited.

The book explains each of the eleven behavioral components that the Birkman Method measures as well as the interest scores. It gives you many great stories and examples of how people have used the information in their reports to solve problems and work more effectively. Even though I have my certification as a consultant, I found the illustrations so helpful in broadening my understanding of how this tool can be put to good use. For those who are unfamiliar with the Birkman Method, it is a great overview and introduction to the material and what you can do with it. You’ll find that it’s a quick, easy read.

I think my favourite takeaway from the book was a point repeated once at the beginning and once at the end:

While certain unique behaviors and customs are taught in different cultures, the more important underlying motivation and needs that drive people are shared around the globe. In other words, we humans are more alike than we realize, more similar than we are different. There is consistently more diversity within any one group than there is among groups (p. 10).

The difference among individuals in any particular nationality are much greater than any differences among nationalities (p. 155).

This is such an important truth for us to absorb as our communities and workplaces become more globalized and culturally diverse. It’s something we need to remind ourselves of, whenever we feel tempted to think in “us vs. them” terms. Underneath the cultural differences in behavior we might see, we are much more similar in our motivations and needs than we think. And that means that no matter how strange it might feel, it is possible for us to relate and connect with people anywhere on earth. In fact, we should seek to find those common bonds wherever we can.

If you would like to win my free copy of The Birkman Method and get your free personal report, all you need to do is leave a comment that interacts with this blog post. I will select a winner out of a hat and send you the book! If you would like to get a full Birkman report and enjoy a consultation with me, then check out my services page and contact me. You can also continue reading more about The Birkman Method on this page. You can also check out the beautifully redesigned Birkman website for more info.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention I am giving this book away on Monday the 30th! So you have until Monday lunch to leave a comment that will be entered into the drawing.

How the Birkman Interest Scores Show up in Our Lives

[ANNOUNCEMENT: The winner of last week’s giveaway was actually a friend and former colleague – Congrats to Melissa! She is still deciding which prize she’s going to pick.]

Today, I want to talk about one page report in the Birkman called Areas of Interest. In The Birkman Method, CEO Sharon Birkman Fink writes,

Areas of InterestOur Areas of Interests show us a nutrient in our lives – something that strengthens our emotional well-being. In addition to using the scores to point to a career path, improve your work environment, and tailor a job to suit you, they also show you what you require in your life to maintain your energy . . . Feeding our most vital interests is as essential to feeding the spirit of a person as water is to a plant. So a high score means it is an Interest that is likely to inform your choice of work as well as your recreation. You have to tend to your passions when you are trying to be your creative and productive best. This is especially true when you have to work your hardest over many hours – exactly when your obligations can obscure your Interests or start to crowd out time for recharging.

Artists in a Messy House:

Recently, as I was rereading our Birkman reports, I was struck by how the highest interest score John and I have is the same: Artistic (his score is 87, mine is 94 for those of you who love numbers). The Birkman boils down the “Artistic” interest to visual interest or how things appear. Interests don’t necessarily equate with talent but in our case, we have some of both.

Areas of Interest
Silver Light by Andy Eccleshall

We love to create “works of aesthetic value” (duh! photography) as well as simply enjoy works of art at a gallery (my favourite gallery being Cole Gallery downtown Edmonds – buying works of art is one of those things I dream of doing). Before Canon was born, going to the Edmonds Art Walk was a frequent date night for us.

This shared interest also explains our mutual love for home decorating which has created more than a little conflict the two times we’ve moved (“No! I really think this room needs to be yellow!”).

But what really hit me this time, was what a basic influence this Artistic value has in our daily lives. Both John and I experience elevated stress in messy situations (sidenote: remember messy is defined differently for everyone). As you might guess with a mobile toddler, this season in our lives is very, very messy so I’m noticing the connection more.

I’ve been assuming for a long time that I just need to get over my perfectionism about how clean the house “should be” while at the same time thinking it odd that I care that much because I have never been a perfectionist about cleaning. I could care less if there are dishes in the sink, as long as I can’t see them. I only start caring about dust when it becomes visible. My love of organizing? Probably mostly about how nice it looks at the end. So I think my desire for a tidy home is related to my Artistic (visual) interest score!

When Canon goes to bed, I tidy the family room because that’s where I want to spend the rest of my evening. I don’t care if the living room is a disaster because I can’t see it. This isn’t really a perfect hypothesis because even though mess stresses John out too, it does so to a much lesser degree. He can live in chaos and put up with more disorganization than I can. So obviously there are more factors at play. But I think this score plays a role!

Literary Polar Opposites:

If you were wondering why Literary wasn’t my highest score, don’t worry! It’s my next highest at 92. If you have read this blog for any length of time you’ll know that I love words. I love to write. I love to speak. I love to edit. I care deeply about what words mean and using them properly – many of my rants concern sloppy language. Poor John has learned the hard way that a “you know what I mean” excuse just doesn’t cut it for a word-girl.

And of course, I love reading – it’s definitely an essential “nutrient” in my life.

Areas of InterestGuess where John’s Literary score is? It’s his very last one – a 6 (anything under 10 is something you prefer to delegate to others and which causes you stress if you have to do it!).  While I am sometimes sad that John won’t just pick up that book that I want him to read, it has been easier than I thought to get around this “problem.” Often I simply tell him about what I’m reading. Sometimes I’ll get out the audiobook for him if it’s a great novel I know he’ll enjoy. On more informational books that I want to discuss, I’ll check out the DVD from the library (if there is one) or audiobook or just read parts out loud.

I always thought that marrying another reader was going to be essential, but it turns out that what I was really looking for was someone who still loved to learn. And thankfully, John has rotating hobbies (we call it “My Next Obsession”) so he often reads and researches all evening (usually online) anything from fishing to how to build adirondack chairs to baking the perfect artisan bread to the latest lighting equipment. Which leads right into:

Persuasive & Scientific: John’s Photography Trifecta

Artistic Interest
Groom at a Wedding

After John’s top Artistic score, his next two are Persuasive (80) and Scientific (76). These are very much what they sound like:

  • The Persuasive interest is about interacting with people, motivating them to action, influencing them, competing, teaching and sales.
  • The Scientific interest is about investigative research (ahem, next obsession!), curiosity about why and how things operate, involvement with technology and experiments etc.

I am amazed at how these scores come together so perfectly in his photography work. He has a perfect balance of the artistic vision, the ability to communicate and motivate others during the shoot, and the scientific know-how to operate all of his complex gear to perfection. His highest interests are all engaged when he is shooting and you can tell (I know I’m biased but I think he is a crazy amazing photographer – see for yourself).

Ok – that post is way too long, proving the second interest and also the first (I spent 25 minutes finding photos and then resizing them, rearranging them etc until I thought everything flowed!)….. classic!

Find out more for yourself!

If you are intrigued about the Birkman be sure to read up more about it here and check out my services here – I would love to provide the assessment for you and discuss the results!

Two Tips for Getting Clarity on Tough Decisions

Decisions I just breezed through Decisive by Dan Heath and Chip Heath (I’m on a Heath kick – John and I just listened to Switch and I have Made to Stick waiting on the bookshelf). It was another fun read! These guys tell great stories and also pack a ridiculous amount of practical advice into their books. Decisive is all about helping you develop a good process for making decisions.

I just want to give you two of the great tips they suggest when you’re agonizing over a decision. Heath and Heath talk about how our short-term emotions often tempt us to make decisions that aren’t good long-term. Maybe we’re scared of being embarrassed by failure, insecure about our talents, anxious about money, angry at our boss, infatuated with the person we just met or obsessed with an exciting business idea. Whatever the emotion, it can blind us. Distance helps us gain clarity which hopefully leads to a wiser decision.

Tip one for getting distance: 10/10/10

The authors suggest asking yourself how you’ll feel about your decision 10 minutes after making it, 10 months after making it and 10 years after making it. They use a simple example that also illustrates how short-term emotions can blow the importance of the decision out of proportion: A guy can’t decide whether to call a girl he met. Maybe you can imagine the agony of trying to get up the courage, wondering if he’ll be rejected, worrying about what to say etc. If he decides to call her how will he feel about that decision in 10 minutes? Maybe he’ll still be nervous but he might have gained some confidence about the fact that he’s taking action. How will he feel in 10 months? If the call goes well, maybe he’ll be so grateful he did because they’re now dating. If the call goes poorly, will he even remember it in 10 months? Probably not. The same can be extrapolated out to 10 years. Potentially the happy couple looks back at that phone call as the thing that started it all. More likely the momentary panic about whether or not to call the girl will be long forgotten.

This kind of distance helps us put our decisions back into proportion and can show us the “worth it” factor in our decisions.

Tip two for getting distance: “What would I tell my best friend to do?”

Simply switching shoes mentally with a friend helps us create distance from the emotions of our decision, allowing us to be more objective, just like our friends usually are when we spring crazy ideas on them. Maybe you’re tearing yourself up trying to decide whether or not you should take a job offer. Ask yourself, “What would I tell my best friend to do?” If you automatically think “I would tell her to go for it!” then consider whether you have your answer. Ask yourself why you would give that advice to your friend and what’s keeping you from giving that same advice to yourself.

If you have some decisions to make that feel daunting, this book is chock full of great ideas to make sure you’ve thought everything through as best you can. If you don’t have time to read the book, you can go over to their website, and register to access the first chapter, a one page summary and workbook (all for free!).

Do you have a favourite method for making decisions that helps you? What do you normally do to seek clarity?

 

Almost Walking

Almost WalkingCanon is almost walking independently. He has great balance. Give him something to push and he almost runs. He cruises all around our house holding onto walls and couches, doors, cupboards etc.

But stand him up by himself and suggest to him that he start stepping out on his own and he’ll protest, sitting down promptly. Or he’ll wait and put his hands above his head waiting to grab our hands before he starts moving forward. He doesn’t trust himself yet. Crawling seems quicker. Holding onto things feels safer even though it means going the long way around when he’s trying to get to the piano or the kitchen or me.

I keep seeing the parallels in our adult lives. Unsure of ourselves, not ready to let go, preferring to do what we’re already comfortable doing instead of continuing to grow. Protesting the push to try something new.

No matter how much we cheer Canon on, he won’t walk until he believes he can do it. It doesn’t seem to matter that we believe he can do it – he has to figure it out for himself. It just makes me wonder, how many times in life have I waited and waited to try something because I didn’t trust myself yet? How many times have I pulled back from a challenge even when those around me had full confidence I could do it, the encouragement sounding like gibberish or crazy talk in my ears?

And then I think about patience and letting him go at his own pace. I’m always there to offer him a hand if he wants to walk around, we don’t prod him too much. And if God is like a parent, think of his infinite patience with us. His desire for us to grow but his ability to wait for us as we learn at a snail’s pace, always there to offer us a hand as we test out our steps of faith.

Seriously, it cracks me up when I tell Canon, “You can do it – walk to me!” and he frowns and looks at me like I’ve made a ridiculous suggestion. He doesn’t know what I know – that walking will soon be his norm. He doesn’t see what I can see – that this phase of limited mobility is fleeting and he’ll soon be free to run.

God knows and sees so much more about each of us than I know and see for Canon.

He knows where we are headed: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6) and He sees our future without limitations: “ To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 1:24-15).

We’re all almost walking in this life. And it makes me so excited to learn how to run someday.

Why a little doubt is better than supreme confidence

doubtI recently read Daniel Pink’s book To Sell is Human. He makes the case that we’re all in sales now even if we don’t have a “sales” job. He defines non-sales selling as: “the ability to influence, to persuade and to change behavior while striking a balance between what others want and what you can provide them.” He explains why the old sales model got such a bad reputation (used car salesmen) and what you have to do in order to be successful in today’s work environment.

He explains that, contrary to a lot of advice we’re given, it’s actually better to ask ourselves “Can we succeed?” than to simply pump ourselves up with an “I can do this!!” mantra. This is called interrogative self-talk and we should be using it before any daunting task.

In sales particularly, most of the focus has been on declarative self-talk that is positive “I am amazing” “I am the best salesperson ever!” etc. Pink writes, “Yes, positive self-talk is generally more effective than negative self-talk. But the most effective self-talk of all doesn’t merely shift emotions. It shifts linguistic categories. It moves from making statements to asking questions.”

A little doubt: “Can I do this?” allows us to marshal the reasons we can. A question like this forces us to answer it by thinking through our preparation and analyzing our resources. If we’re doubting whether or not we should take on the task, asking the question will also help us clarify our internal motivators, “Questioning self-talk elicits the reasons for doing something and reminds people that many of those reasons come from within.” When we’re intrinsically motivated we are more proactive and often do better at whatever challenge we’re tackling.

Pink highlights a social science experiment where participants had to solve anagrams, “The researchers instructed the first group to ask themselves whether they would solve the puzzles and the second group to tell themselves that they would solve the puzzles. On average, the self-questioning group solved nearly 50 percent more puzzles than the self-affirming group.”

So if you find yourself facing a challenge in the next few days, remember to ask yourself “Can I do this?” and then take the time to answer your own question.

 

Dependable Strengths or Motivated Abilities Exercise

I recently got to attend a great seminar on finding your “Dependable Strengths.” It was interesting to see that the core exercise was very similar to the Motivated Abilities Pattern that Arthur Miller suggests in his book The Power of Uniqueness. Today I thought I’d repost an exercise I blogged last year with a couple updates to the instructions from this seminar.

“The surest way I have found to unlock the essence of a person is to look at what he likes to do and do well.” – Arthur Miller

Exercise:

Jot down at least 10 experiences you can remember that satisfy the two criteria: things you enjoyed doing and things you did well.

Be specific about these experiences. List as many details as possible about what you were doing, how you did it, who else was involved and what you felt throughout the process. Here’s a handy acronym to help you:

  • S – Situation
  • T – Task(s)
  • A – Action(s)
  • R – Result(s)

These experiences don’t have to be from a job or school. If building sandcastles as a child was something you enjoyed doing and did well, then write about that! Cleaning your closet, dancing, leading meetings – it really doesn’t matter what realm of life your accomplishments come from or how tangible/abstract they are.

When you’ve written out these ten things that you enjoyed doing and did well, you want to look at the patterns. Even if the activities themselves are widely diverse, there will probably be things about each one that are the same.

Here are some questions to help you:

  1. Do your experiences all fall into one or two general categories of interest? If not, are there other things that each experience has in common?
  2. Did you see patterns to the situation, tasks, actions you took in each scenario?
  3. Look carefully at the results you wrote down. What do they tell you about your motivations?
  4. What did you enjoy most about each activity – your actions, the social factor, the environment you were in?
  5. If you had a hard time coming up with ten things you liked doing and did well, why do you think that was?
  6. Did anything surprise you?

If you try it, I’d love to hear what you uncovered about yourself!

A Student’s Prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas

I was organizing in the office last night (you can expect a new “organizing the house” blog post on that coming up soon – the transformation is in the works) and I finally sat down and went through all my paperwork to at least sort it into piles. Wow – I’m a paper hoarder. It’s my weakness. I can’t bear to throw away articles I might reference again, notes I took long ago that might provide some insight later. I get all nostalgic about pages containing brainstormed ideas for projects long completed. Maybe it’s a bit narcissistic (ok, it totally is) but I love rereading my old thoughts and seeing the roots out of which later writings grew.

Anyway . . . all that as a long introduction to a prayer I wanted to share with you today. It was in my pile of notes and it’s something I had propped up at the computer when I was writing the rough draft for my book and I prayed it before sitting down to write every night of that month. I think I first ran across it in Mrs Storr’s English or Creative Writing class in high scool. Sometimes it’s so comforting to pray with someone else, to use someone’s else words. This prayer gave me the words I needed and probably wouldn’t have found on my own.

The Student’s Prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas

The Student's Prayer

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.

I ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hope this prayer is inspiring and helpful to you today with whatever you’re working on. We may not be formal students anymore but I think it’s still applicable even in our most basic daily conversations.