Sunday, June 29, 2014

10,000-Hour Rule

I've been thinking about the "10,000-Hour Rule" in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, which postulates that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to master a skill, be it excelling in sports, computer programming, music, or writing the great American novel.

Gladwell points to the success of the Beatles and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates as evidence of the 10,000-hour theory and even notes that Gladwell himself took exactly 10 years to meet the 10,000-Hour Rule, counting from his days at The American Spectator until his tenure at The Washington Post.

For the record, the Canadian writer has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He has written five books, The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (2005), Outliers (2008), What the Dog Saw (2009), and David and Goliath (2013). And, in case you didn't know, all five books have been on The New York Times Best Seller List. Nice to know he didn't stop practicing his craft at the 10K mark, because I have all of those books, and I absolutely loooooove reading them--the books challenge my mind in the most intriguing, compelling ways.

So... I've been thinking about the time we creative people spend on our craft. We write, we paint, we sculpt, we strum our guitar, we blow our harmonica, we click our heels and soar through the air because there is a wildness in our spirit that has to be expressed; it is as necessary to our creative spirit as breathing is to our physical bodies. Truth is, we create our art for the sheer joy of creating. 

Often, however, when we begin a project, the internal critic rears its satanic head. The internal critic  is the villain who is always looking for the opportunity to kill the spirit in anyone's creative life. The internal critic whispers, "Don't put it out there in public view. You'll be destroyed by the bad press. You're not good enough. Face it, you can't create with the same perfection as the Great Ones."

Here's my response: "To hell with that malarkey. It's called practice, and I'm racking up my 10,000 hours with every sentence I write."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer Solstice

Yesterday was the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. I celebrated it with fourteen women who joined me at Church Street Retreat. My friend Wynell brought magnificent sunflowers to adorn the table around which we gathered in a circle of trust. We filled the space with hope and willing hearts. We explored our dreams, letting go of the ones that no longer served us and embracing those we wanted to bring into reality.

We lunched on homemade vegetable soup and garden fresh salad. My friend Lil brought a made-from-scratch baked pecan pie and a fig torte to share with us. The sweetness of the effort intensified the blend of the ingredients. Sumptuous.

In the afternoon, we listened to a guided meditation by Cassie Premo Steele, inviting us to plant the seeds of our creativity. We wrote about the seeds growing inside us and about whether we were living a life that gives joy to our soul--and if not, how we could realign ourselves so that we could follow our heart's desire in the days ahead. We gave a collective voice to our intentions to live authentic lives.

And we wrote our dreams on red and purple tissue paper, folded them into cylinders, lit the tips and watched them burn brightly and take flight to heaven. ( is where you can purchase your own.) The house literally shimmied with the creative force of feminine energy and the divine.

I am wowed and inspired by the power unleashed by these women.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day Thoughts

One-half gallon of pistachio ice cream has always been a staple in my freezer for the three months that Blue Bell makes it. Pistachio was my father's favorite. He introduced it to me at Howard Johnson's on a family trip to Houston. I was a child--probably 10 years old and in the third grade--but I remember clearly how grown up it tasted. Crunchy, exotic.

For the 19 years since his death, I reached for the green carton of Blue Bell when pistachio came in season. I would spoon the ice cream in my mouth and savor the sweet, sweet memory of my daddy. Most times I could delight in 1/2 cup, but occasionally I was so lonely for him that I'd gorge in the entire carton till I was sugar drunk and had to sleep it off.

I miss my daddy, especially today; it's Father's Day. But ice cream is not on the menu. Instead, I let my heart ache as his memory washes over me. No need to anesthetize my feelings and let them get stuck and cripple me. Instead, I focus on my son and how much of my father's best qualities he carries. Matthew is creative and kind and loving and intelligent and compassionate and adventuresome. Irish-American blood runs deep currents of steadfastness in the souls of its ancestry. My father has left this world and yet the best parts of him still live within and through his grandson.

I am blessed.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Exploring less traveled roads

I've been thinking about life. How it twists and turns and manages to surprise us no matter how carefully we try to plan our future to fit our dreams.

Has anyone lived the life he/she planned? It occurs to me that little American girls dream of growing up and having lavish weddings to handsome men, giving easy births to obedient children, living in a mansion on a hill with a vacation home in the mountains or on the beach, and.... well, you get the picture.

I look at my life and those of the women I know, and I see the complexity of lives that are shaped by the premise M. Scott Peck's book A Road Less Traveled: "Life is difficult." Or as Buddha taught: "Life is suffering." Buddhists believe that when we accept life is suffering, we transcend it because once we accept the fact that life is suffering and difficult, the fact that life is suffering and difficult no longer matters. 

One way to look at life is to see it basically as a series of problems to be solved. Peck says what makes life difficult is the painful process of confronting and solving our problems. However, it is in the meeting and working through our problems that we find meaning in our respective lives. "Problems call forth our courage and or wisdom; in fact, they create our courage and wisdom," Peck writes.  Pretty deep, wouldn't you say?

Of course we're human, so we work hard to avoid pain. We do this by avoiding the problems that confront us. But in actuality we only suppress our pain by repressing our feelings.

Eventually, though, if we are to live fully and grasp the full meaning of life, we embrace the FROG motto--Finally Relying On God, because--at least for me--the way to face the painful hardships in life is to feel them,  move through them, and learn from them. And yes, my friend, doing that takes courage.

In his "The Road Not Taken," Robert Frost writes: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/And sorry I could not travel both/" He ends the poem with: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,/ I took the one less traveled,/ And that has made all the difference."

The choice is ours. Do we take the road that "appears" safe, or do we go within, to the dark corners of our souls, and learn from our difficulties? Either way, we have amazing stories to tell about the journey, wouldn't you say?

Which roads have you taken that have changed your life and given it meaning?

Sunday, June 1, 2014


My day job is serving  director of faculty development at Lone Star College-North Harris. I just returned from the annual Teaching Professor Conference, held this year in Boston. One of the sessions was "Self Care: Preventing Burnout and Re-engaging Passion." The session was packed.

If you're not a college teacher, you may wonder what kind of ninnies can pack a workshop on faculty burnout. Get real, you may be thinking. Most faculty teach 15 hours per week, and many take off summers. Burnout? You gotta be kidding. In fact, I remember a friend's husband telling me regularly that I got big bucks--huge dollars--when you figured how little time I actually worked. He was working on the assumption that the 15 hours in the classroom were my only working hours.

Of course he was wrong. And frankly the fault is mine because I, like my colleagues, make teaching look so easy.

The truth is, teaching takes preparation... about 3 hours of prep time for each hour in class, and another 10-plus hours dedicated to grading the 120-160 essays and other short papers students turn in weekly. There's another 5 hours (minimum) of office hours where students drop by to argue over points deducted for spelling errors or why they believe they should be allowed to turn in late work. In addition to all this (do the math, we've gotten to a 70 hour week so far), there's also several hours a week working on one committee or another. As for those summers off? They're often spent working on a project to improve our teaching.

Bottom line: many faculty work as many hours as those contemporaries climbing the corporate ladder and pulling bigger paychecks.

The burnout comes from blurred boundaries. We take our work home: grading papers, answering emails, evaluating new textbooks, looking for relevant YouTube and Ted Talks and other resources to liven up class... the list goes on.

The consequences are serious. Burnout results in emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (detachment from students and cynicism) and a sense of ineffectiveness. We gain weight,  neglect our spiritual practice, and neglect our families.

The cure? You need to pay attention to your emotional and physical state so that you can de-stress instead of soldiering through until you implode. Some of the best advice I heard in the session:
  •  Keep a gratitude journal (write down specific things you are grateful for each day)
  • Keep a folder of "fan mail" (notes from students and colleagues about the specific instances where you made a significant difference or contribution)
  • Meditate (schedule quiet time in the busy-ness of your day)
  • Move the body--take a walk in nature
  • Have date night with your sweetie on a weekly basis
Great ideas, and not just for teachers. Writers will find more enthusiasm, productivity, and happiness in their daily work if they, too, incorporate these ideas. As Steve Covey reminds us, we need to take time to sharpen the saw. If we don't, life will become dull and we'll lose our passion.

How do you care for yourself so you don't crash and burn?