“You Balance Me.”

I said that to my husband the other day as he was helping me down the stairs, and it’s true. We hold hands when we walk together, not only for affection, but also to keep each other from falling flat on our faces. I willingly admit that that is more likely to happen to me than to him. I get distracted and forget to look where I’m going. I trip on curbs more often than I’d care to admit. I miscalculate stairways. My depth perception is tenuous at best.

So we walk along, acting like a third dimension that gives structure and shape to what would otherwise be a flat, ineffectual plane. We lean on each other when necessary. We prop each other up.

And this extends to the emotional realm as well. It’s great when someone is willing to validate your thought processes. It’s nice to have a sounding board. It’s comforting to be able to give and receive advice. We each have different structural and emotional strengths and weaknesses. We allow each other those. We don’t cling or overwhelm. We supplement each other.

When seeking out a partner, it is important to have a lot in common. But don’t overlook the opposite qualities, either. If your ship lists to port and his or hers lists to starboard, you can meet in the middle and keep each other from sinking. It’s quite nice.

Lean

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An Advisory Thought Experiment

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I occasionally come up with thought experiments to keep myself entertained during my long, boring commute to and from work. It’s either that or fall asleep at the wheel (very, very bad) or resort to road rage while witnessing the stupidity all around me (even worse). So here is a thought experiment that I came up with recently:

If all humanity, with its current knowledge, were about to disappear, and you could only leave one sentence behind to help the next humans get started, what would it be?

Would you say “Wear a mask and wash your hands if you want to stay alive”? Because, let’s face it, if anything is going to wipe us out, it’s going to be that.

Would it be developmental advice, such as how to start a fire or build a wheel?

Perhaps it should be something related to the environment, such as the fact that fossil fuels and plastics do much more harm than good.

Or maybe it should be something along the lines of Make Love Not War.

But frankly, if we’ve finally managed to wipe ourselves out completely, then we have a lot of nerve trying to give any advice at all. That and, humans being what they are, they’re probably not going to listen to it anyway.

So my advice would be, “You’ll figure it out.” Because they would. And maybe they’d do a better job of it than we have. Here’s hoping.

But of course, the one basic flaw in this exercise is that the people would have to somehow know how to speak and read English from the very start. So yeah, maybe I should just focus on my driving.

Advice

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Don’t Push

A friend of mine recently made a drastic life change for the better. Boom. Just like that.

I’d been wanting him to make this change for well over a decade. I’ve been worried about him. I’ve been watching his self-destruction and feeling absolutely helpless about it for so long that it had become part of my routine.

Yes, I had talked to him about the situation. He listened. He got angry. I didn’t want to turn into a nag and completely push him out of my life. But I had to make my opinion clear, and so I did. Case closed. Nothing changed.

He is a full grown adult, capable of making his own choices. He was hurting himself much more than he was hurting anyone else. Yes, it was painful to watch, but it wasn’t impactful, per se, on others. So on life went.

The hands-off approach was the best one in this instance, based on the carefully gathered statistics that I’ve accumulated over a lifetime:

  • Number of people whom I’ve convinced to take my advice for their overall betterment: 0.

  • Number of people whom I’ve been worried about who have made changes on their own: A miraculous quantity, slightly higher than 0.

And the hands-off approach turns out to have been much, much better for my own mental health, too. When all is said and done, I still have a friend. That’s definitely a plus.

Yes, I realize that this isn’t a one size fits all scenario. Your results may vary. Life and relationships and situations are way too complex to resolve within the confines of this little blog post.

Even so, I really think I’m on to something here. I may have to try applying it to other areas of my life. I think that if I shut my pie hole a little more often, the world will be a much better place. At least for me. Plant a seed with people, yes, but then back off and let them decide if it will take root or not.

Now, to keep from telling him “I told you so.” That’s a separate challenge entirely, but it pairs well with the shutting my pie hole plan. Wish me luck.

Letting go

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I’d Love Your Advice

In recent years, with the benefit of age and life experience, I’ve come up with a strategy that has greatly increased the positive energy in my world. It will sound counterintuitive, but when I have a goal that I’m trying to reach, no matter how small it may seem, and even when I already know how I plan to reach it, I will ask for someone’s advice.

Have you ever seen the look on someone’s face when you tell them you’d like their opinion? Pure delight. You just gave them the highest compliment on earth. You value their insight. You respect them. You want to hear what they have to say.

Be sure to be genuine with your request. Even if your game plan is in place, by employing this strategy, you may be rewarded with some fabulous ideas that you hadn’t considered. It never hurts to get someone to look at your project from a different point of view.

And remember, you don’t necessarily have to take their advice. Either way, you’ve just made a huge deposit in someone else’s emotional bank account. They’ll remember that.

This approach will also keep you humble. It will remind you that you aren’t the only person with solutions in this world. Going it alone isn’t always the best way to get ahead.

I have never gotten anything but positive results from this tactic. Try it. Pick one person during the course of your day and say to them, “I’d love your advice.” Extra points for asking someone who rarely gets to give advice, like a young person or an elderly person.

See what happens. I think you’ll like it. I guarantee that the other person will.

lucy-advice-booth

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Let Me Solve Your Problem

I have this friend who is getting old and is convinced he’s going to die soon. He’s an artist, and he told me he wanted to distribute his art to the world before he makes his grand exit. He hates to think of it just sitting there, not being appreciated.

I instantly came up with an idea. I have been focused on my Little Free Library of late, and I’ve also blogged about Little Free Gardens. So, why not a Little Free Gallery? Construct a box, put it in an artsy/touristy part of town, fill it with your art, write on it, “Take some art, share some art” and away we go!

His art would be distributed, and other artists could put some of their stuff in as well. Even children could add their beautiful little scribbly contributions. Art for the common man. It sounds like a delightful idea to me! Visions of this really catching on and taking off.

Except I forgot who I was talking to. As much as I love this person, he doesn’t really want a solution. That would require action. He instantly threw up roadblocks, which I found easy to knock down.

Roadblock: I’m not really very sociable.

Solution: I could easily find you someone who would allow your little free gallery in front of their shop. Then all you’d have to do is put your art in there. You don’t have to sit by it.

Roadblock: I don’t need to get rich. I just need to spread my pictures to as many people as I can.

Solution: That’s why it’s called a Little FREE Gallery. You’d be giving your stuff away.

Roadblock: The library idea involves taking and putting back. A gallery wouldn’t be like that.

Solution: Who cares? But other artists could put their work in there too, if they wanted.

Roadblock: Still, it wouldn’t be sharing like a library is.

Solution: It would be sharing your artistic talent with the wider community. A lot of people love art, but most of us can’t afford it. This would be a great way to spread art to the world.

Roadblock: I like the idea of offering pictures at low prices without a store. Low price is important. Free stuff goes in the garbage can.

Frustrated response: Well, if there’s money involved, you’d need someone watching over it. And no one would give you a free space or a free box or contribute to it if it’s for money, so you’d have a much harder time.

Roadblock: I want someone who takes one of my pictures to take it seriously. If it’s a freebie, they can chuck it like a plastic bag.

Irritated response: You have to have faith. I also hope my library books actually get read, but there’s no guarantee. But if even one person reads something they wouldn’t have already read, I’m happy. Sometimes you just have to put positive energy out into the world and hope it makes an impact. You started off saying you just want to distribute your art to the world before you die. Now it sounds like you want to pursue profit. Those are different goals.

Roadblock: I’m an old guy who wants to get his work out in the world no matter what. I do not support schemes that have artists give out work for free. Artists need to make a living.

Resigned reponse: It’s not a scheme, it’s a public good. No artist would be forced to participate. It may be a fun way to put some small art works out there and get themselves some recognition. Oh, never mind.

______

I think what I need to take away from this conversation, the lesson that I need to learn (and will have to learn over and over and over again in my life), is that when someone presents me with a problem, they often aren’t really seeking advice. They’re just spewing words into the world with no real destination.The conversation should have gone like this:

Him: I want to get my art out into the world, no matter what.

Me: What a great idea. Good luck with that.

If I approached more conversations from that angle, I’d probably have fewer grey hairs and less acid reflux. But noooo…

problem-solved-jeff-jarvis

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Why I Could Never Be a Life Coach

You’d think that being a life coach would be the perfect job for me. If you’ve read this blog with any frequency at all, you can see that I’m chock full of advice. I can figure out how to solve every problem on earth except my own.

What I seem to lack is the ability to persuade people to take my advice. Nobody listens. This is where my life coaching skills fall flat.

Because of this, I’m getting much better at only proffering ideas when asked. If someone comes to me with a problem, I am thrilled to put my thoughts out there, but more and more I’m learning that most things are best left to the ring master of the circus in question.

When someone does share a dilemma with me, and I give my advice, it comes as a profound shock to me that they think there’s any pressure applied from my end. Take it or leave it. I’m too used to being ignored to be overly upset when I am, in fact, ignored. It’s expected, actually.

So while the whole Life Coach idea has its appeal, I think I better just stick to my day job, and keep my suggestions within the confines of this blog.

Life Coach

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Realtors — The Inside Scoop

People don’t give Realtors much thought unless they’re buying or selling a house. At least, I never did. And then I went and married one, so needless to say, I have some newfound insight on this particular career.

It’s a unique job that requires a unique skillset. 90% percent of the people who get their license do not renew it at the end of two years. And only 1% of Realtors make it to 25 years. My husband has been at it for16.5 years, so I’d say he’s at the upper end of the bell curve.

He also happens to love his job. That, of course, helps in any profession. But it’s a particular boon in this one, because it’s a challenging job to succeed at.

First of all, you only get paid if the sale is made. You might work with someone for months, and in the end walk away with nothing. Only half the people you work with result in a paycheck. A lot of the time it must feel like volunteer work. That would drive me insane.

Your paycheck isn’t steady. It’s either feast or famine, and that must make it difficult to pay your monthly bills. But my husband is quite good at long term planning and budgeting.

And then every time he does get a paycheck, he’s unemployed again. Much effort is expended in finding new clients. Fortunately he gets a lot of referrals from old clients, because they recognize how good he is at what he does.

He spends tons of time and money in continuing education, advertising, and marketing. So that big commission gets divided in a lot of ways. The profit margin is extremely slim, and it gets even more strained during an economic downturn.

He’s also never off the clock. He gets calls all hours of the day and night, seven days a week. If you want to do this job well, you have to strike while the iron is hot. And you never know when that will be.

People who go the “for sale by owner” route don’t realize how much they shortchange themselves. Realtors earn every penny they make. They increase your home’s exposure, they give advice in staging it so it looks desirable, and they are up to date on all the legal issues so you don’t make a horrible, expensive mistake. They are familiar with the market in the area so that you can be sure that your home is not priced too high or too low. They make sure all the t’s get crossed and all the i’s get dotted. They also have well known contacts in other parts of the industry so that you have a competent team on your side. When you try to go it alone, the real nightmare often comes when you forget to do something and it comes back to bite you after the sale is closed.

If you’re looking to buy a house, I cannot stress enough the importance of finding the right Realtor for you. The term Realtor is misunderstood by many. When people get their license from the Department of Licensing they are a real estate salesperson, aka Brokers. But only those that become members of the National Association of Realtors® are Realtors. Brokers don’t bother to correct people when they are mistakenly called a Realtor, but there is a higher standard and a Code of Ethics that Realtors adhere to. So don’t just pick some random person off the internet, or latch on to someone that you’ve only just met. Do your homework. Find someone who has worked in the field for several years, and knows your area well. Choose a someone who is a member of the NAR and who loves his or her job and will give you all the attention that you need.

The interesting thing about the job, the thing I would have never guessed, is that it’s really a helping profession. I think that’s what my husband loves best about it. You are helping people find a home that they can afford, and that they will love.

When he was helping me find my home, he spent a lot of time listening closely to what I was looking for. He quickly learned that it was important to me to have a big bathtub, a fireplace, and a dishwasher. On the other hand, I didn’t really care if I had a garage. But I did want off street parking (which is an important consideration in the Seattle area.) He figured out that I wouldn’t feel comfortable in one of those neighborhoods where all the houses looked alike. I would have stuck out like a sore thumb in a gated community. Because he took the time to learn all those things about me, he was able show me listings in my price range that fit the person that I am. That counts for so much. No two people get the same image in their heads when you say the word home. My husband really understands that. A good Realtor always will.

Another thing that a good Realtor will do is tell you to walk away from a house that he knows is not right for you. My husband did that several times, even though he knew that would delay his getting a commission. That’s when I knew he was a keeper, professionally speaking.

He also understands that the house buying and house selling process is stressful as all get out. There were two points in my process where I had a complete meltdown. I’m learning that that’s not uncommon. Sometimes my husband takes on the role of counselor or bartender. He listens. He advises. He reassures.

He also enjoys getting to meet new people. He shows them that he’s honest and really has their best interests at heart. For a long time, he couldn’t figure out why he felt a slight let down after a sale. Shouldn’t he be feeling triumphant? But then he realized that his clients quickly become his friends, and he was going to miss seeing them every day. Many of them are still friends years later.

I think the best part, for him, is getting to be his own boss, and being able to work with good people, knowing that their success in this monumental life task will also be his own.

If you are buying or selling a house in the Seattle area, (basically from Everett to Tacoma), contact me and I’ll put you in touch with my husband. You won’t regret it. And if you are located in any other part of the country, he can also help you find a reliable Realtor in your area.

49056697_1181899115292052_7122932033231257600_n

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Finding the Right Hairstyle for You

I had been sporting the same hairdo since high school. That’s rather pathetic, since I’m now in my 50’s. It was time for a change. But such a drastic transformation should not be entered into lightly. It’s really important to do your homework before choosing a hairstyle.

First of all, you need to know the shape of your face. Not all haircuts are created equal. Some will flatter a round face but will look horrible on a square one, for example. This article will help you determine your face shape whether it’s round, square, long, oval, or heart shaped.

I have a square face. When I look at myself in the mirror on a good day, all I see is a jaw. On a bad day, all I see is jowls. But I have good company. Gwyneth Paltrow, Sandra Bullock, Demi More, Angelina Jolie, and Isabella Rossellini, to name just a few. Supposedly we’ll age well and be very photogenic. Go figure.

But it also means I have to be careful. I have to do things to round out my corners. For example, I look horrible in those trendy narrowly rectangular glasses that I love so much. I have to go for something more curved. And hairstyles can be a challenge, too. No blunt cut bangs or blocky styles that end at the jawline. I need more rounded cuts. More asymmetry. Layers. Waves.

Once you’ve determined your face shape, head on over to therighthairstyles.com to see examples of styles that will flatter you. I was thrilled to see that they had 50 ideas for square faces! The possibilities seemed endless.

While I was able to narrow down the possibilities, I still wanted to consult that font of all human knowledge, my Facebook friends. I linked them to the 50 suggestions, and I got an amazing amount of feedback about what I should do. As is normal in life, some advice I took, some I did not. But after all that, I settled upon the one style that I felt would work best for me.

This was going to be a radical change. I didn’t want to rely on some 12 dollar hairdresser-in-a-box franchise place. I wanted an expert. (Look at this as an investment in you. It’s worth it.)

Fortunately, I have a fantastic hairstylist in Douglas, at A Better Day Salon in Lake Forest Park, Washington. I found him by looking for Aveda salons near me. I went to an Aveda salon for years in Florida, and was always satisfied with the results. They have a reputation to uphold, so they tend to go for the best.

Another great way to find a hairstylist is to approach women whose hair you admire and ask them for their advice on where to go. Also, look for feedback on line. Getting the right professional for you is important.

BarbShortHair

So here’s the haircut I wound up with. I’m still getting used to it, after years of long, feathered hair. But I am getting lots of compliments, and I feel like I’m a new woman. It’s fun! And, hey, if I change my mind, it’ll grow out and I can start again.

Good luck, everyone, in finding the look that’s right for you!

_____________________________________

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Guidance Counselor Horror Stories

It happened again the other day. A friend told me about the outrageous treatment she received from a high school guidance counselor. She was basically told to stay in her place and look for a husband. The nerve.

I’ve heard so many horror stories over the years about people in this particular field that it leaves me sputtering. Either they discourage you from pursuing your dreams and try to send you down another path, or they tell you to give up because you’re a loser, or if you’re a high achiever, they try to push you beyond what you’re financially or circumstantially capable of achieving. Some of them simply throw diagnostic tests at you and try to fit you into a nice little box based on the results.

This topic is so insidious that it has even spawned its own “Guidance Counselor Horror Stories” forum topic. I started to read it. I really did. But it made me angry.

Because really, how hard is it to tell someone that every human being has potential, and each one is unique, and with some effort, can find his or her calling? Why not say, “Go for it. Your life will be what you make it, so make it great.”

In most cases, their “sage” advice is ignored. Thank goodness. But occasionally their slings and arrows hit the target and they negatively influence someone for life.

Guidance counselors can be a force for good or for evil. If you are one of the ones who is a force for good, I sincerely thank you, and hope you’ll keep up the good work. I wish we could clone you. Unfortunately, based on anecdotal evidence, the bad apples seem to take up most of the space in the barrel.

It must be a heady experience, sitting up on your throne and predicting someone’s entire future. But the fact is, it’s about as accurate as soothsaying. Some people with really bad grades and unruly behavior in high school go on to be quite successful in life. And some valedictorians wind up in prison. You just never know.

Personally, I’m thrilled that I am no longer the person I was in high school. I don’t particularly like who she was. I didn’t even like her at the time, which was half the problem. If we met today, we would not be friends.

I was expected to become this super successful CEO of a fortune 500 company or something. Everyone thought I’d be a smashing success, and that’s what success would look like.

But that kind of life would have made me miserable. I tried for it, for a time. But I kept throwing up subconscious roadblocks in front of myself. Even then, I knew, on some level, that that wasn’t supposed to be my path.

Decades later, I’m not rich. I don’t own a penthouse or a fancy car. I won’t be able to retire early, if at all. But I’ve learned to measure success by a different yardstick. I’m content. I like my job. I’m happy with how I turned out.

And I still have absolutely no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

Lucy

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If I Were You

It is so easy for me to look at other people’s lives from the outside and figure out what they should do to solve their problems. It seems so obvious. Unfortunately, people rarely take my advice. It’s really annoying.

But they shouldn’t. Because if I were so good at this stuff, I’d have all my own problems solved, wouldn’t I? I’d be all enlightened.

The fact is, I don’t really have a clue most of the time. Like the vast majority of homo sapiens stumbling around on this planet, the sapiens part should be taken with a grain of salt. I pretty much make it up as I go along. It’s all very random.

Sometimes I think our dogs are more clued in than we are. They know what they want, and they make a point of letting us know what that is. They always get a full night’s sleep. They’ve figured out a way to survive without having to work. And they express every single ounce of love that they feel, without hesitating or expecting anything in return.

So don’t listen to me. Listen to my dogs. At least that’s what I would do if I were you.

Smart Dog

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