PBH for grown-ups

Five ways to find more time for the things that matter

Published by Lori Pickert on January 8, 2014 at 10:04 AM

Starting out the new year full of energy and enthusiasm? Ready for change? Focus? Action?

You already know you have to learn to use the time you have. Here are five ways to recapture some time that’s just going to waste so you can use it for something you really care about.

(Now: Picture a film in reverse where the Kool-Aid is magically pouring back into the pitcher…)

- Don’t waste time solving problems you don’t have.

How many posts have you read this year about “the cult of busy”? How many about moms beating themselves up for being human? How many about parents who are addicted to their iPhones?

Are these major problems of yours? Are you really struggling with these issues? If you are, fine, but if not…

Why do we waste time reading about, talking about, and thinking about problems we don’t really have?


Maybe because we crave that elusive sense of accomplishment.

If I apply myself to a “problem” that I already feel pretty confident about (I either don’t have it or I have the mildest case ever recorded), I can add it to my mental to-do list and then check it off before I even put the virtual pen down. #winning

Just reading about those problems we don’t actually have can give us a tiny boost of “Here (at last!) is something we’re pretty good at! Yay us!” We’re using other people’s problems to feel good about ourselves — because at least we don’t have that problem. Or at least we’re not that bad. It’s like the really flattering mirror that makes you look thinner and taller. Who doesn’t want to gaze into that all day?!

Whatever it is that really matters to you, you’ll have more time to work on it if you stop window-shopping all the things that don’t really concern you.


That includes interests you don’t really have as well as problems. If you spend a lot of time scanning food pins on Pinterest and you don’t cook…


Not genuinely your problem? Then not your priority. Move on. Use that time to move the peanut on something you really care about.


- Substitute specific for random.


Anxiety rises up when you don’t know exactly what you want or how to get it, like a class-five, full-roaming vapor on Ghostbusters. Couple that with an itch to feel like you’ve actually accomplished something, and you’re ripe for being drafted into someone else’s army.
The internet is a magical place where new clubs open every day and the organizers want YOU! YOU! YOU! to join and instantly be a part of something. The siren call of friendship and community can easily lure you off your own path and into someone else’s cove.



Sometimes the thing that someone else has made is exactly what you need. In that case, it’s a big win to join the community, adopt the mission, and make it your own.

Just be careful that you don’t opt in to someone else’s project because it’s right there, ready to go, and it sounds fun — I mean, at least you’ll be doing something, right?

This is what you want to avoid: Generic activities for generic people.

When you shrink from the anxiety and challenge of building your own thing and just jump into someone else’s thing out of fear/nervousness/avoidance, you’re choosing what’s easy instead of what’s hard. And the path toward your own personal, meaningful work is at some point going to require hard.

Stop and consider: Is this really the thing that connects me with my deepest interests, my nascent talents, and my values?

By taking a pass on some of these easily available pre-made activities and commitments, you can find more time for what really matters to you. The more time you spend on random activities, the less you have for connecting with your meaningful, purpose-filled work.

Prepackaged may mean convenient and time-saving — but make sure it’s not an excuse to put off working on the hard stuff. Specifically your hard stuff.

- Sign up for a class. Quit. Now save that blocked-off time for yourself.

Like a NINJA.

For some reason we’re ultra-focused on meeting commitments we make to other people.

This is true even when we didn’t really choose to get involved in the first place — have you ever gone to the bathroom during a meeting and come back to find out you’re now the chairman of something? Like that.

Or we signed our kids up and blocked off two afternoons a week because all the kids are in soccer or tae kwon do or swim team so we had to pick something.

Yet when it comes to the thing we want to do, we just can’t “find the time.”

We make time for others. Why can’t we make time for what matters most?

Why is it so easy to slip into full commitment mode for other people and so hard to commit to our own goals and protected time?

Maybe we slip into “good girl” mode. “I said I’d do it, so come hell or high water I must be good to my word.” It’s about character. It’s about honor. It’s like a John Wayne movie.

Maybe signing a form or paying a fee triggers a psychological mousetrap. “I paid that swim coach/zumba instructor/piano teacher 80 bucks — I don’t care what happens, we’re getting our money’s worth.”

Adult life is a minefield full of commitment bear traps where one wrong step mires you for weeks if not months doing things that mostly have to do with other people’s needs and other people’s goals.

“Here’s your check — and please enjoy this chunk of my life.”

The fact that we have full FREE access to our own life 24/7 doesn’t seem to light us on fire with possibility. Familiarity breeds contempt?

And if you’re about to say, “But I have no tiiiiiiime,” then where does the time come from that we hand over to others? We make that time. We part the red sea of our schedule and create it. We can do that for ourselves — but we don’t.

Just like prioritizing a savings account, when it comes to prioritizing your personal goals you have to pay yourself first. Take a hard look at the commitments you’re currently juggling and think about which ones you might replace with an open block of time dedicated to what YOU really want to do.

Then protect that time as if it were a puppetry class your third-grader signed up for.

Feel selfish? Remember:

The best way to increase the odds that your child will live a certain way is to live that way yourself. The best way to raise readers is to read. The best way to raise doers is to do.

The best way to raise active, engaged learners is to be an active, engaged learner. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

- Drop something (or someone) that’s making you miserable.

If it’s really making you miserable, then it’s not just killing the time it fills, it’s also killing a lot of the surrounding time:

- The time you spend dreading it/them beforehand.

- The time you spend gnashing teeth/recovering afterward.

- The time you spend lying awake at night staring into the void wondering what you should do about it.

- The time you spend staring blearily into your coffee in the morning because you didn’t get enough sleep.

And so on.

If you’re in a misery spiral then maybe the best thing to do is take a break.


Just set it aside. I already hear you saying you can’t set it aside. But I bet you can. I don’t care whether it’s your mother-in-law or your digital scale or your frenemy on Facebook or your floundering Etsy shop. If you’re stuck and you can’t go forward or backward, just take a break and get some much needed space between you and your personal whirlpool of despair.

“Everything I’ve ever taught in terms of self-help boils down to this — I cannot believe people keep paying me to say this — if something feels really good for you, you might want to do it. And if it feels really horrible, you might want to consider not doing it. Thank you, give me my $150.” — Martha Beck

There are things we do because we think we have to, things we do because we think we’re supposed to, and things we do because we’re terrified of the guilt/consequence storm that will roll in if we say no.

There are people who suck the very life force out of us every time we see them. That may not be entirely their fault. Maybe with a little needed distance you can crank the door on your heart shut so they can’t scoop you out like a melon the next time you run into them.

A break doesn’t mean forever. It just means you realize that you’re going to have to set it down for awhile. Give yourself some space, some rest, and something good to focus on and see how you feel about it later. The point is: If what you’re doing isn’t working, why are you still doing it?

This applies to everything, including (stay with me here) the process of quitting itself. If you’re trying in vain to quit something you do compulsively, like overspending or smoking or macramé, try quitting the effort to quit. As therapists like to say, “What we resist, persists,” and this is especially true of bad habits. Imagine trying not to eat one sinfully delicious chocolate truffle. Got it? Okay, now imagine trying to eat 10,000 truffles at one sitting. For most of us, the thought of not-quitting in this enormous way — indulging ourselves beyond desire — actually dampens the appetite. It’s a counterintuitive method, but if the “I will abstain from…” resolutions you make each year are utter, depressing failures, you might quit quitting and see what happens. When my clients stop unsuccessful efforts to quit, they often experience such a sense of relief and empowerment that quitting becomes easier — it’s paradoxical but true. — Knowing When to Quit

- Stop listening to people whose opinions don't matter.


Did someone just leap to mind? Yeah, I know.

You know what you want to do. Maybe you’re still struggling a little with owning it. Maybe you’re not feeling completely rock-solid yet. But listen — you already did your due diligence. You figured out what you want. You’ve decided to do the work. You don’t have to explain it to other people, even if you love them.

You don’t have to defend what you love. You don’t have to defend what you need. And you don’t have to defend wanting something more from life. As far as I’m concerned, your purpose here is to find your purpose. The meaning in life is making it meaningful. So I’m on your side.

Who’s working against you? Who’s making you peddle so hard just to stay stay in one place?

Is it a family member who’s “just concerned about you” and “wants what’s best for you”?

Is it a friend who oh-so-gently urges you to give it up and stay where you are (because that’s where they are)?

Is it a frenemy who simultaneously tells you “you can do it!” and then explains in great detail why you can’t, why you shouldn’t, or why you should at least wait a while?

Is it a blog written by someone who seems to subtly rub your nose in the fact that they have something you desperately want?

Is it a blog written by someone who seems to subtly suck you down lower and lower into “Who gives a !*(&*@?! People who care are stupid!”?

Bless ’em. Everyone is fighting a hard battle, apparently. That’s what I hear.

But you need to learn to let some people’s words and opinions roll right off you like water off a “been there, done that” duck.

You don’t have to tell everyone what you’re doing or why or how it’s going. You’re allowed to keep it to yourself.

You don’t have to belly up to the bar for another round of “let us explain to you why your dreams are ridiculous.”

You can just skip it. Just change the subject. Close the tab. Invent an excuse to avoid meeting up for a drink.

If you listen to people whose opinions don’t matter, you are gathering data you will never use. And you are increasing the chances that you will quit.

Trust me: When you reach success, some of these people will suddenly change their tune and start saying they always knew you’d do it. Some of them will just quietly disappear. They’re not always working against you for nefarious reasons. It’s usually more about them than you. But the salient point remains: Their opinions don’t matter. And time spent listening to them is time you could be using on something a lot more productive.

Your opinion matters. No one knows better than you what you want out of life and what you’re willing to do to get it. Absolutely no one knows what you’re capable of, including you — but you’re the only one with the ability to find out.


Take back a little of that squandered time. Press it together in your two hands like a snowball and create a chunk of minutes for yourself. Use them. Quick, before they melt. Do what you want to do. Learn. Share. Work on it. I have every faith in you.

Read more PBH for Grown-Ups posts here.


Pick yourself — even if the team wants you

Published by Lori Pickert on June 24, 2013 at 07:20 AM

This post is part of my series on PBH for Grown-ups — you can see all of the posts here.

There’s a popular notion going around:

Pick yourself.

Altucher says it:

Pick yourself.

Too often we want someone to like our novel. Or promote us. Or hire us. Or buy our idea. Or put our product on their shelves. Or tell us they love us. Or tell us we are good.

You have to choose yourself first. …

Greatness is when every moment you choose yourself rather than relying on the past or the future to choose you. Rather than relying on anyone else in the world to choose you. — What is greatness? @ The Altucher Confidential

Seth Godin says it:

It’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission and authority that comes from a publisher or talk show host or even a blogger saying, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one else is going to select you — that Prince Charming has chosen another house — then you can actually get to work.

If you’re hoping that the HR people you sent your resume to are about the pick you, it’s going to be a long wait. Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.

No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself. — Reject the tyranny of being picked: Pick yourself @ Seth’s Blog

But — there’s an extra wrinkle.

The truth is, if you’re good, someone else probably IS going to pick you.

Someone’s going to want to publish your book.

Someone’s going to want you to write for their blog.

Someone’s going to want your content, your marketing ability, your skills.

Someone’s going to want you to work for them.

It’s very possible that no one is going to pick you. And in that case, you better pick yourself — or get used to warming the bench.

But it’s also true that if you’re good and people notice, they are going to sweep in and want to take advantage of your abilities. They’re going to want to put your talent to use. They are going to want you on their team. They’re going to want to tap your potential.

The question you have to ask yourself is:

Would I be better off picking myself?

There are entire industries (like publishing) built around taking your work and making money from it. There are people whose entire living is hustling up worker bees to fill their hive. These people are constantly looking for content and talent they can use.

They might pick you.

If you get picked and feel tremendously validated, before you walk around telling people about your book deal or your new job, take the time to sit down and think about where you want to invest your time, your effort, and your talent: in someone else’s dream? Or in your own?


No one picks you to start your own business.

No one picks you to be your own boss.

No one picks you to self-publish your book and keep the profits for yourself.

No one picks you to build up your own website, brand, and products.

No one picks you to create your own designs and share them under your own name.

The only person who can pick you to do those things is you.

Sometimes being picked is the right option. Sometimes they have something you need — experience, opportunities, contacts. Sometimes saying yes to working on someone else’s thing is the right call. Sometimes it’s what you need in the short term while you hustle hard on the side making your own thing.

But take the time to think about what it is other people see in you — your talent, your ability, your special skill — and then think about how you might exploit that for yourself. Think about how you might build something of your own.

If no one picks you, then baby, get out there and pick yourself. Start hustling.

But if someone does pick you, take time to think about it. Consider what you’re giving them and what you’re getting in return. Consider what you’re investing and who’s going to reap the returns. Think about how you might invest your talents in something that would belong entirely to you. Then do what’s best for you. But keep your eye always on what you want — the life you want to live, the person you want to be, the thing you want to build and share. Don’t let someone else’s validation knock you off course.

Pick yourself — even if you get picked.

All those who call you to themselves draw you away from yourself. — Seneca

The fellow who sits still and does just what he is told will never be told to do big things. — Charles M. Schwab

Share your goals or keep them to yourself?

Published by Lori Pickert on April 22, 2013 at 08:30 AM

This post is part of my series on PBH for Grown-ups — you can see all of the posts here.

Should you announce your plans and intentions or keep them to yourself? Does it work for you or against you to share your goals with the people around you?

Reasons you might decide to share your goals:


1. Accountability. Other people will hold you to your plans. If you slip, they’ll encourage you.


How this can backfire: If you’re really doing the work, you will be constantly revising your goals. Other people won’t understand the nuances of your choices — if you don’t stick like glue to your original goal, they’ll say you’re making excuses. They’ll hold you accountable to your original, first goal, and that can be frustrating when you feel you need to adjust your sails. We already know we should avoid naysayers, but people who cheerlead you hard to stick with your original goal can be just as bad. There’s also the pervasive idea that you’re failing — even if you’re actually revising your goal based on new and/or better information.


Some people are great at encouraging; they are positive and supportive. Other people will tsk-tsk you, shame you, or tease you. If you share your goals at large, you’ll be getting all kinds of “support” when you slip.


2. Community. You’ll find other people who are working toward the same thing and you’ll all support one another.


How this can backfire: You want to write a novel, so you join a writing group. Terrific! People who are trying to write professionally supporting each other and giving each other valuable feedback … but is the feedback valuable? If you fold in everyone’s opinion, what happens to your original vision and your unique voice? Are these people really good writers, and is their advice any good?


The right community can offer support, encouragement, and valuable advice — but the wrong one can damage your work and your self-esteem along with it.


Finding community is tricky. You are on a journey to discover something entirely unique: yourself, your meaningful work, and your best life. The important thing is that you find the way that works best for YOU. Custom, not off-the-rack. Community sometimes drives toward sameness — there’s a right way and a wrong way. Two choices aren’t enough for you. You are looking for YOUR right way, and there isn’t a group for that. Get too entrenched in a particular community, and they may actually prevent you from growing.


3. Motivation. When things get tough, your friends can cheerlead you along.


How this can backfire: Are we looking for self-motivation or motivation from the outside? Sharing your goals brings on self-motivation to not embarrass yourself by failing in public. That’s not so great. A bit negative.


Then there’s the motivation you can get from others because they love you (friends, family) or they’re on the same journey (friends, community). That sounds better. Except we’ve already covered community: by definition, they’re mostly interested in an issue rather than you personally. They champion a particular way to reach a goal; they may not be so keen on helping you figure out exactly what works best for you and your family. Unless the community is  named “All About [Insert Your Name Here],” your goals and theirs are not 100% aligned. And we’ve already covered friends and family, too: As much as they may love you, their methods for encouraging you may not be what you need; in fact, they might work against you.


Thinking it through…


Do you need someone else to hold you accountable? If so, think about being your own trusted resource. Remind yourself of what you want to achieve and why. Build your supportive environment and advertise to yourself.


Do you need motivation? Stop and reflect often. Build a routine and habits that support reviewing your goals: keeping a journal, writing down your small wins, reflecting weekly/monthly/biannually about where you are, where you want to be, and how things are working. Ask yourself: Is this still what you want? Are you making progress? What specific steps do you need to take next? What tools do you need to take those steps? If you can’t break it down, you need to stop and figure out what comes next. If you no longer feel motivated, you need to ask yourself why. It’s no use having a group of people urging you on toward something that no longer feels meaningful.


Do you desire community? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Use different friends and groups for different things. Figure out which people leave you feeling energized and full of ideas and which leave you feeling negative and drained. Figure out what your groups and communities are good at and what they’re not so good at, and use them accordingly. Don’t fall into the trap of maintaining peace by pushing aside your own wants and needs.


Get this fixed in your mind: Our goals aren’t dreams. They’re plans. They’re intentions. We’re going to do the work to make them happen. We’re going to make slow but steady changes to align our daily activities with our values and goals. At some point, it’s the right time to share. At some point, we need to reach out and connect with other people. But we want to do it slowly, thoughtfully, and intentionally.


So what works for you — sharing your goals or keeping them to yourself?


For one more wrinkle, listen to Derek Sivers’ brief TED talk on the subject — he says that sharing your goals tricks your brain into thinking you already accomplished something, so it actually makes you less likely to succeed in the long run:

Repeated psychology tests have proven that telling someone your goal makes it less likely to happen.

Any time you have a goal, there are some steps that need to be done, some work that needs to be done in order to achieve it. Ideally, you would not be satisfied until you’d done the work. But when you tell someone your goal and they acknowledge it … the mind is kind of tricked into feeling that it’s already done. And then because you’ve felt that satisfaction, you’re less motivated to do the actual hard work necessary. — Keep your goals to yourself

How to believe in yourself

Published by Lori Pickert on April 16, 2013 at 08:23 AM

This post is part of my series on PBH for Grown-ups — you can see all of the posts here.

Here’s a chicken-or-the-egg for you: Which comes first, belief in yourself or success?

Can you succeed at anything if you don’t believe in yourself? Can you believe in yourself if you’ve never achieved anything?

You can see how this works with PBH. If you start when children are very young helping them deeply and meaningfully explore their interests, helping them set and remember their goals, helping them work through difficulties and find the knowledge/skills/assistance they need, then they learn very early on that if they keep at it, they will get where they want to go. They learn it’s not magic, it’s a collection of skills and habits and knowledge, and they can collect those and learn to wield them. That understanding, carried on through childhood and the teen years and into adulthood, is the path to meaningful work — the path to a life of passion and purpose.

When you help an older child get on this path, it’s not so easy. They don’t automatically believe in themselves the way a three-year-old does. They don’t have simple faith that if they want it, they can work for it and get it. They may have a set idea of whether they’re smart or stupid. They may have a set idea of what learning is. They may have lost their faith in themselves or in the adults around them. They may have begun to equate anything that smacks of educational as painfully boring and pointless. Bonus: also possibly humiliating, if they feel stupid. They may have lost their faith in you. They aren’t sure that you mean what you say; they aren’t sure they can trust you to follow through. Worst of all, they may have lost faith in themselves. They no longer believe they are smart, powerful, talented, and capable. They may have lost the joy in learning. They might prefer to avoid any situation that seems challenging, because they hate confronting their own insufficiency. They might not want to put themselves in a situation that’s going to make them feel stupid, and since every learning situation begins with figuring out what you don’t know, they may have decided they hate learning.

The most important part of getting that kid back on the path toward self-directed learning is rebuilding the trust between you. He has to trust that you are going to let him learn about what matters to him. He has to learn that you really are going to let him stay in control — you’re not going to take over, you’re not going to ruin what he loves by turning it into a unit. He has to begin to see you as a trusted resource: someone who’s going to be there for him, giving him what he needs, taking him where he needs to go, and not letting him down.

Then you begin to help him begin to believe in himself. You help him identify his interests. You help him identify his goals, and you help him break them down into achievable steps. You help him have a series of small successes — and reflect on them. He begins to see the possibilities of working on something that he cares about. He builds on that foundation of trust that you provided: it’s about him and what he wants to do, and you are going to help him make his ideas happen.

If you want to begin baby-stepping yourself toward your own success, you need to become that trusted resource for yourself. You need to learn to trust in yourself, or you will never be able to do the hard things you need to do.

(Let’s be clear about what we mean by “success” — we mean working hard at something you care about. We don’t mean Scrooge McDuck swimming in his vault of gold. We don’t mean limos and ticker-tape parades and magazine covers. We are talking about a meaningful life and the chance to apply your talents and abilities to something meaningful to you. We are talking about feeling competent, capable, and useful in a life that matters, doing work that matters.)

Whether you have supportive friends and family or not, you are always going to be your own wingman. How can you learn to trust yourself? To believe in yourself?

Are you a trusted resource for yourself?

- Do you act in a way that is beneficial to your own long-term self-interest?

- When you set a goal, how likely is it that you’ll follow through?

- Does “now you” always betray “tomorrow you”? (apologies to Seinfeld and night-Jerry/morning-Jerry)

- Do you keep sliding your promises to yourself to the next day while you do things for others?

- Do you like yourself?

- How well do you rate your chances at success? Would you invest in yourself?

- When you mess up, do you let yourself off the hook? Do you pile on the self-loathing?

- On a scale of 1 to 100, how committed are you to your plan? Are you giving yourself an out?

- Do you think you’re trustworthy for others? Do you do what you say you’ll do? Do you follow through?

- How do you feel when you’re alone with yourself?

- When you think about changing your life, do you focus on your strengths or what you want to change?

- Do you think your goals are achievable?

- When you make a “to do” list, how often do those things actually get done?

- Do you talk about your plans more than you actually work on them?

Maybe you need to build up some trust in yourself — so you can believe in yourself enough to accumulate some small wins. Those small wins will form the foundation of your future success. Chicken, egg — the important thing is to get the gears turning. A little bit of trust, a little bit of success. They feed each other, and they help each other grow.

How to build trust in yourself:

- You can’t build trust without giving yourself the opportunity to succeed or fail. Get in the game. Stop planning, stop researching, and try to choose action every day.

- Build up a balance sheet of small wins. Break down big goals into achievable tasks. Start small: set ridiculously small goals and then meet them. Then slowly ratchet them up. It’s more important that you work every day (achievable) than work for three hours a day (difficult). Use the time you have.

- Cultivate self-respect. Stop the negative self-talk. Stop focusing on everything you’ve ever done wrong and focus instead on doing something right. Would you trust someone you didn’t respect? Start becoming a person you can believe in.

- Own up. Don’t waste time making excuses. When you mess up, just accept it, call it what it is, and forge ahead. Every time you make an excuse and lie to yourself, you’re throwing another shovel of dirt on top of your self-respect. You’re making it that much harder to move forward. Plus, no one trusts a liar — even if the liar is yourself.

- Believe things can change. Don’t beat your head against a wall. If you just can’t write an hour a day, try a half an hour. Try 15 minutes. If you just keep excusing yourself and don’t change anything, you’ll keep getting the same poor result. You have to change one of the parameters. Either make the goal smaller or try something else, but don’t just keep repeating behaviors that don’t work.

- Keep a journal or daily log. It doesn’t have to be full pages of handwritten text. You might use a calendar. But jot down what you’re achieving. Keep track of your small wins. Write down the minutes you worked or what you achieved. Start focusing on the positive and make as much of it as you can. Focus on your progress, not your failure. Whatever you award with your attention will grow: pay attention to what’s working.

- Ease off the pressure. What you want is a solid foundation to build on. If you press yourself to hurry, hurry, hurry, all you’re going to do is fall apart. Yes, it can feel terribly slow to start with so few minutes a day of real work when what you really want to do is rocket your way to success. But success isn’t a magic trick. You are building something significant and you want it to be solid and strong. Learning to trust yourself means making a series of very deliberate and reasonable steps. Slow and steady wins the race.

- Pay attention to small choices. If you always have big plans for the future but make choices today — this morning, this afternoon, this evening, this hour — that don’t align with your goals, then your plans will never come to fruition. If you make small choices right now that do align with those goals, then you will slowly but surely advance.

- Wait to commit until you make a declaration of intent. Every time you let yourself down, you solidify your opinion of yourself as untrustworthy. The less you believe in yourself, the less likely you are to work hard for yourself. Why should you give up a doughnut this morning when you know you’ll just eat one tomorrow morning and the morning after that? Why should you sit down and work for 15 minutes this afternoon when you know you’ll just skip it tomorrow and the next day and eventually whatever you did today will end up in a drawer with all your other false starts? Instead of bumbling along in fits and starts, take a pause and either really commit and do it or don’t — because if you keep letting yourself down, you’ll never learn to trust yourself.

Learning to believe in yourself is much more than a flowers and rainbows moment where you look in the mirror and chant affirmations. Lack of trust in yourself is like a boot on your car, keeping you from going anywhere. Doubt eats up time. Doubt keeps in you in the planning stage forever, endlessly weighing options. Doubt delays taking risks. Doubt is afraid to fail, so it puts everything off until tomorrow or next week or next month.

Becoming a trusted resource for yourself is just like becoming a trusted resource for your child. It’s about focus and attention. It’s about commitment. It’s about realizing that how you support yourself is vitally important.

Start earning your own trust. Start becoming someone you can believe in.


American-style boot on car



When you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need, it frees up oceans of energy to make a difference with what you have. — Lynne Twist

This week on Facebook, some great links about project-based learning…

“As far as project-based learning is concerned, it may well be that those who were forced to sit in neatly aligned desks all day every day during their school years will see this approach as “nonsense.” They were accustomed to having information force-fed to them only so that they could regurgitate it on tests. But anyone who understands child development — and brain-based learning — knows that pursuing one’s interests results in truer, deeper learning. That hands-on, inquiry-based approaches stimulate the mind and the soul and will serve our children, now and in the future, far better than the expectation that there is only one right answer to every question.” — What If Everybody Understood Child Development?


We say that we want creative, passion-driven students, yet we reward the opposite. Standards-based education stifles engagement and passion in students. While drop-outs are considered to be lazy and unmotivated, many are simply not interested because they don’t understand the relevance of what they’re being taught. We’re rewarding students who are best at obedience, memorization, regurgitation, and compliance. And those who do succeed in school often don’t know what to do when they get out. We need to prepare kids to be successful in the real world, not just while in school.” — Nine Tenets of Passion-Based Learning @ Mind/Shift

Another quote from that article:

Being around passionate people is the best way to become passionate. A passion-driven teacher is a model for her students. … [S]tudents work harder with people who matter to them.” — Nine Tenets of Passion-Based Learning @ Mind/Shift

This is why we need to be active, engaged learners pursuing meaning and purpose — so we can help our children do the same. (Check out the PBH for Grown-Ups series — now with 15 articles to help you live the life you want to help your children live.)

And now some lovely PBH-related posts…

It literally took me years to trust in children’s genuine, deepest desire: to learn and discover. Once I got over the mentality that learning could only take place with a teacher hovering and a worksheet presented, I finally noticed the magical learning that had been taking place before my eyes in a more quiet and natural way.

And once I did let go of my fears of trusting my children in their own exploration of life, they flew.” — Letting Go… and Learning @ The Sleepy Time Gal

Michelle is continuing her great PBH series:

“I try not to let my mess or lack of space or natural lighting bother me too much. Ok, it still bothers me, but I don’t let it stop me. That’s the key. Look at your mess. Acknowledge your mess. (It has feelings, too, you know.) Tell your mess, “I hear you; I see you,” and MOVE ON. Clear a tiny space for five minutes today. Throw five things in a giveaway bag tomorrow. Baby step your way to a better environment, but don’t wait for the perfect creative space to get started!” — Project-Based Homeschooling Q&A: Supplies & Environment @ Raising Cajuns


[F]ocusing a little attention on your environment is worth the small investment of time. It breeds creativity and inspiration. — Project-Based Homeschooling Q&A: Supplies & Environment @ Raising Cajuns

This is the upward spiral — you don’t have to do it all at once. Just get started.

Carrie is sharing great project work by her young daughters:

“One of the things that popped out during my first read of Project-Based Homeschooling is Lori’s advice not to take field trips just for the sake of taking a field trip. … It’s simply not necessary. It’s more important to tailor our days to meet our kids where their interests are, and to give them long stretches to occupy themselves and develop their own interests, and to work on their projects. Time to wonder, imagine, dream, scheme, and make.” — Bugs & Bones @ Carrie Mac

Finally, a nice article on the topic of screen time, which I know is still a hot topic for many:

“[S]ometimes you’re watching because you meant to, with an intent to learn. … And that feels different. And you do all KINDS of different things on the computer, right? … This ‘what are you thinking/planning’ question has since become a staple of our family conversations around screentime. And Mr. D has started to make the case that sometimes, his screen time is not only not in the junk food category, it’s actually in the brain food category. … Once we started leaning towards thinking about screen time in these more specific terms, then we started talking about lots of things in terms of whether they represented a brain workout or not, and which kind of workout was more challenging.” — Junk Food, Brain Food, Soul Food @ Connected Learnings

Have a great weekend, and see you next week!

Be a part of the PBH community. Project-Based Homeschooling isn’t for only one kind of homeschooler — whether you’re a classicist or a radical unschooler or somewhere in-between, all kids deserve some time to direct and manage their own learning while pursuing their deepest interests. Read the posts on project-based homeschooling. Check out the book. Look over the 10 steps to getting started with PBH. Join the forum. Chat with me on twitter. Follow me on facebook. See my pinterest boards on learning, authentic art, play, and more. Come make friends, get some new ideas, and brainstorm about your challenges.

“To learn how to do, we need something real to focus on — not a task assigned by someone else, but something we want to create, something we want to understand. Not an empty exercise but a meaningful, self-chosen undertaking.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

“My kid is just a regular kid, and neither he nor I do this PBH stuff perfectly. But I’m so impressed with how well it’s fallen together, and how much he’s been able to learn, and how it really does work like it says in the book.” — from the PBH forum

How to give without being taken advantage of

Published by Lori Pickert on April 9, 2013 at 09:02 AM

This post is part of my series on PBH for Grown-ups — you can see all of the posts here.

The point of PBH is to teach kids how to direct and manage their own learning — and by extension, their own lives.

It’s to learn from the outset that learning is for you to do things that matter to you. It’s to learn what you can do with your interests and talents and how you can make a contribution to the wider world.

To focus on what’s meaningful, we move from randomness to deliberate action.

Giving your child a lot of isolated, one-off experiences (say, with weekly themes or random field trips) is like giving her one plastic brick, one wooden block, one gear, etc. She has a handful of things to construct with, but what can she make? The pieces don’t fit together. Your child can’t combine them to make something meaningful. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

To be successful, we move from intention to habits, routines, and strategies.

As adults who want to replace randomness with deliberate action, we have talked about

- learning to use the time have,

- remaking our surroundings so they reflect what we want to be and do,

- exploring to find our deepest passion and our purpose,

and more. So today we’re going to talk about reclaiming some of the time that we give away to others, not because we don’t want to give, but because we want to give thoughtfully and purposefully.

Because a big part of PBH is sharing what you know and making a contribution, community is essential. That includes our friends and family, our colleagues and collaborators, our teachers and mentors, and our larger community where we do field work and look for ways to share our work.

What we want to do is make room for purposeful sharing and contributing by eliminating some of the random giving we do now. We want to reclaim some of our time that others may be using for things that don't matter as much to us and use it for things that do.

Our aim is to be kind and generous without being taken advantage of or taken for granted.

Do you have some time you need or want to reclaim? Do you

- have trouble saying no to people?

- always put other people first?

- put off activities with intangible or long-term benefits in favor of ones where the reward is immediate and obvious?

- need to be liked (by everyone)? (or feel very uncomfortable when people are unhappy with you?)

- feel selfish if you say no when you could say yes?

- rationalize that you have more time, more money, more freedom than other people — and like Spiderman, your greater gifts require greater responsibility?

Remember: we're not talking about not giving — we’re talking about giving in a purposeful, deliberate way. We’re talking about sharing your specific talents and abilities in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling to you.

Some people react to the idea of self-directed learning like this:

“What?! Kids doing stuff they want to do? That sounds like fun to me. Kids who are just having fun will never learn to work hard! They’ll just goof off all day!”

Actually, kids who connect learning with their authentic interests are more likely to work hard. This attitude that “it ain’t really learning if kids are having fun” transfers to the area of giving. Is it really giving if you’re not suffering? Yes. It is. Giving deliberately doesn’t mean everything you do is full of carnival fun. It means that everything you do is steeped in meaning. You can man the cake-walk table at the PTA carnival for the seventh year in a row and walk away feeling nothing. You can spend a day hauling garbage out of a river and feel like a superhero. Or vice-versa. Meaning makes the difference.

If you’re stuck in a pattern of saying yes to things you’d secretly like to say no to, it’s time to lay in some new strategies for more purposeful, meaningful giving.

Be purposeful. Build in a pause before saying yes. Prepare what you're going to say every time someone asks you for something:

“I have a lot of commitments right now. I would love to say yes but I need to look at my schedule and get back to you.”

There are people and situations you already know are going to be extra-challenging. There’s the person to whom you have never managed to say no (whether it’s a relative, a friend, or someone at church). There’s the situation where you always end up buckling under pressure.

If you know this is an issue for you, then you know you’ll be facing it again sooner or later. Be prepared. Script your responses. The French have a phrase, “l’esprit de l’escalier,” meaning “stairway wit” — that situation when you think of the perfect thing to say when it’s too late. “So, when you do the cake walk this year…” “Actually, I won’t be able to do it this year.” “What?! But you always do it! We just assumed you would do it again. Now it’s too late to get someone else.” L’esprit de l’escalier answer: “Well, since I’ve done it four years in a row, I just *assumed* someone else would do it this year.” Real-life response: awkward stammering. Scripted response: “I’m sorry, but I’ve already committed to something else.”

When you decide to help someone out, contribute time to a cause, or say yes to a commitment, take time to think it over first (even if you’re sure you’re going to say yes). Say to yourself, “I am deciding to do this. It is my choice.” If you really want to say no, then say no. It’s hard — but it’s not as hard as living a life where you’re constantly at the disposal of whoever needs you to do something no one else will agree to do.

Help when you really want to help even when it’s difficult. The odd thing is, even while we’re reluctantly saying yes to people we wish we could say no to, we sometimes are saying no to things we’d really like to do. Often, it’s because a strong personality is shoving their problem in our face while the giving we’d like to do is more long-term and no one is rallying behind it. If someone is pressuring you to help out with an event, it’s an easy thing to say yes (even if you don’t want to do it, even if you’ve done it the last ten times and there are plenty of people who could step up) because it will make this person happy and you know exactly what you need to do. Whereas there might be a need elsewhere that you really feel pulled to, but it’s more complex; there are more steps involved, and there’s a less clear-cut path toward success. You might not be quite sure what you need to do to make it happen. So you push that off (over and over again) and agree to man the cake-walk table at the PTA carnival again.

Don’t feel bad when you say no. If you are the go-to guy for solving everyone’s problems (because you always say yes), then you’re going to be very, very busy working on other people’s priorities. We’re not talking about converting from being an awesome giver to being the most selfish person in town. We’re talking about converting from being an awesome giver of random services to whoever asks first to deliberately and purposefully giving where you think it counts the most.

Don’t feel ashamed when you’re taken advantage of. Sometimes you get taken. Sometimes you say yes and then you realize you got taken advantage of. Someone asks you for a favor and seems desperate and even though it’s difficult, you say yes, then later you find out there was no emergency and you wrecked your day (or your week) just because they didn’t want to inconvenience themselves. This happens to most of us at some point, and it happens to most of us more than once.

Making the wrong call and being taken advantage of is upsetting — but the shame storm you experience afterward can linger for a long time. And it doesn’t help you avoid being taken advantage of the next time — in fact, feeling shame can lead to saying yes again because you desperately want to feel good about yourself.

When someone takes advantage of you, shake it off, put the blame where it belongs, learn from it, and tell yourself that next time you’ll use the pause. There are a lot of takers out there, and they are expert at getting what they want from the people around them. They are like pickpockets who’ve been practicing every day for years; they’ll have your wallet and be strolling away eating an ice-cream cone before you know what happened. Instead of blaming yourself and sinking into a morass of self-loathing, put your money in your shoe. Meaning: no more automatic yeses. Make them work hard enough for it and they’ll move on to an easier target.

Redraw the lines with people who’ve been taking you for granted. Whether it’s a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or someone you work or volunteer with, you CAN change the ground rules. Maybe you shoveled your elderly neighbor’s driveway because you wanted to be nice but now she expects you to do it every time it snows — and meanwhile you found out she has plenty of money and hires people to do her gardening … and her adult son lives with her and watches you shovel her snow. Maybe your friend asked you to take her kids on a teacher inservice day and now she just assumes you’ll always take them — and you’d really rather not. Maybe your siblings assume that since you’re home with the kids, you should be the one to shuttle your elderly parents to their doctors’ appointments — but they don’t step up in any other way, leaving you to shoulder most of the burden. There are a million little ways you can accidentally fall into a pattern where over time you realize you’ve committed to something that you really don’t want to do. The main reason it continues is because to break the pattern you have to have a difficult conversation. In general, we all hate those and would go to great lengths to avoid them. But remember: That time you’re giving away is time you could be using to do things that really matter to you.

Define yourself, your motives, and your values. Don’t let other people define these things for you. Don’t fall for the compliment (“You’re so awesome — I don’t know what we’d do without you”) that really means “We knew you’d do it — you always say yes even when you don’t want to.” That’s not really a compliment. Don’t fall for the insult (“We really thought you’d care more about the children/church/neighborhood/earth”) that really means “I’m annoyed that I have to go find someone else; I heard you were a soft touch.”

Know who you are. Know what you care about. Know what you want to do with your time, your money, and your energy. Be thoughtful about where you invest yourself. What other people think about your decisions is not something you need to spend time worrying about. Worry about whether you’re living your values.

It’s okay to keep something back for yourself. We ladies seem to have a special problem with stopping giving until our pockets are turned inside-out — and we’re the pocket. We give to our spouses, our children, our family, our friends, our church, our job, our community, and we don’t stop until we’re a shreddy little shred. It’s trendy right now to talk about “self-care” — taking care of ourselves, giving ourselves the oxygen first, etc. But we’re not talking about taking a yoga class or getting a mani-pedi. We’re talking about believing that our lives are supposed to have purpose and meaning.

In order to figure out who you are and what you have to give, you need to make room to learn about yourself, acquire knowledge, and build skills. In order to live a life of passion and purpose, you need to clear out the random things that fill your day, your week, and your year. You need to replace that randomness with deliberate, thoughtful action.

It can be a little addictive to say yes. You can form an identity around being the go-to guy, the one who always helps out. Saying no sometimes and making room to figure out what you really want to do — that’s the harder work. And that’s what we’re here to do.

Getting support from family and friends

Published by Lori Pickert on March 25, 2013 at 08:32 AM

This post is part of my series on PBH for Grown-ups — you can see all of the posts here.

Okay, this is going to be an open thread because while I have things to say on this subject, I have little in the way of actual advice. (Or, to be more accurate, I have plenty of unproven advice, since I can pontificate on any subject at will.) So let’s provide some talking points and then open it up for discussion.

In generally, personally, I like to err on the side of self-sufficiency. When asked the question

How can I get my friends and family to support me as I grow and change?

I think, “Learn to live without it.” That’s not a hugging moment, I know. Pragmatism is one of my superpowers.

When I started my first company, I was 22. My friends were not super excited about my goals. Neither was my family. I heard a lot of variations on this: “Ugh, you work too hard! You should quit doing that and get a regular job so you can go out and have fun! You’re only 22! Lighten up!” And also this: “This isn’t why you went to college to get that valuable English Lit degree! Get a job and save some money! You can start a business in a few years, maybe, if things work out…”

That wasn’t very supportive. But, then again, why should they support me? How was my working 60 hours a week for very little money benefiting them?

When you decide to do something new, you are starting down a path of growth and change. In general, the people around you like you just the way you are. That’s why they’re friends with you. And if they’re related to you, then they’re very comfortable with you the way you are — you have a defined personality and a defined role in the family. Why would they want you to change and shake everything up? If you change, they might be forced to change, too. Your change is liable to shift the whole dynamic of the group. They can sense it in the air, like Disney animals before a forest fire.

If you change — if you seek something more out of life — there is a subtext of you being dissatisfied with the life you have now. No spouse wants to hear you say you are dissatisfied, ever. And your friends are thinking, “What’s wrong with how you are now? You’re just like me! So if you think you need to change, what you’re really saying is that *I* need to change. So, what? You think you’re better than me now?”

(Now, maybe you have a really supportive spouse and family and friends, in which case, see you next week. You are very lucky. No one wants to hear about that. Unless you magicked them that way, then please stay and detail your methods.)

For a lot of us, our desire to do something different — our growth and change — will be met not with flag-waving and excited jumping up and down but with resistance and maybe a little suspicion.

Your spouse may be a bit discombobulated by you wanting something different. You may have the sort of friends who say “well, good for you” while passively-aggressively torpedoing your efforts. (“I know you’re on a diet, but I baked us a cake” or “I know you want to write that book but I need you to come out with me tonight because I’m depressed about work”).

How to Get Support from Your Friends and Family: Unproven Advice

If you can sit down with your spouse and articulate your goals for your children — and if those goals include supporting them to explore their interests and develop their talents — then it shouldn’t be a big leap to applying the same support to each other. But you may have a spouse who is happy with things the way they are and nervous about you rewriting the script — because you changing changes everything: the family dynamic, the relationship, how you see yourself, how you see your spouse, how your spouse sees you. Acknowledge this to yourself: You changing might freak out the people you love. They may need time and help to adjust.

Be aware that you are doing something that has no clear value for them, therefore they may not enthusiastically get behind it, flag-wave, and etc. Not that everyone you know is a selfish bastard, but it’s pretty much built into our DNA to chase rewards and avoid punishment — and a big win for you offers no discernable reward for them and probably a little punishment.

Think about it:

- They like you the way you are now — or at least they’re used to you the way you are now.

- If you change, they might be forced to change, even a little, and that sounds not fun.

- If you grow, they might not feel good about themselves — you might look better or make more money or get a lot of attention.

- You may have awoken long-dormant feelings of competitiveness — they suddenly feel the need to knock you down a peg or two.

- They suffer from “there’s only so much pie” syndrome — if you get more, it means less for them.

- They suspect they’re going to have to give something up for you to get what you want.

- Your wanting something different for yourself makes them feel judged and criticized.

People think mostly about themselves. When you say “I want to go back to school,” they hear “I’m going to be smarter and better educated than you — and maybe make more money, too! MAYBE YOU CAN WORK FOR ME.”

You are stretching and challenging yourself. Obviously what you’re doing is going to stretch and challenge the people around you — whether they like it or not. You are facing fears and taking risks — those people are being dragged along for the ride and they are vicariously having to face fears and take risks, whether they’re comfortable with it or not. You are choosing this for yourself — they didn’t choose it.

Maybe it would help to show the other person the clear advantages that await. To your spouse: “I’ll be working on this a few evenings a week so I won’t complain about how much X-Box Live you’re playing.” To your friends: “I’ll totally let you ride in my limo.”

Maybe it’s best to share your goals incrementally. Rather than saying, “I plan to be a bestselling author and live in a mansion made of gold,” you could say, “Writing makes me feel happier and less likely to stab someone with a fork, so I’m going to try to do it a little more often.”

Try not to run yourself down — because sure as shootin’ someone is going to hear that and apply it to themselves. (Remember the rule: People think mostly about themselves.) If you say, “I hate being fat and out of shape,” they hear “She thinks I’m fat and out of shape — and she hates me!” If you say, “I hate just lying around on the couch watching stupid reality TV,” they think “But I love reality TV — she thinks I’m stupid and my life is stupid.”

Instead of expecting everyone to enthusiastically sign up for whatever it is you want to do, accept that you’ll probably make some new friends specific to that interest. You’ll find a writing friend or two or three. You’ll find someone to walk with. You’ll meet people who care about this thing that you care about. So you don’t have to try to force your friends and family to care about it.

“Surround yourself with people who have ambitious plans, meaningful purposes, and big goals. Even if their goals are different from yours — and they probably will be — you’ll feed off their energy, and they’ll feed off yours. — Jeff Haden

When we get excited about making positive changes in our lives, sometimes we start sharing all our great feelings with the people around us — and instead of being inspired, they feel criticized. So maybe don’t drag your soapbox around for handy sermons on whatever it is you’re excited about. They’re your friends, not your audience. They’re your loved ones, not your followers.

When you do need support, be very clear and specific. Do you really need your spouse to believe 100% in your historical romance novel? Or would it be enough if s/he took the kids to the park for two hours every Sunday so you can write? Instead of getting angry and upset that he or she isn’t “supporting you,” ask for something that would make you feel supported.

Instead of resenting your loved ones for not cheerleading you, find a few new friends who actually want to talk about photography or writing or starting a new business for hours on end. Look for people who share your enthusiasm and build a community where you can support each other. That doesn’t mean dumping your old friends — actually, finding new friends to whom you can safely vent your passion may allow your old friendships to stay healthy.

Remember that you are modeling for your children not only how to grow, change, learn, make, and do, but how to build a support system for yourself. That support system includes your environment, your habits, your routines, and your relationships.

If your child has a bunch of friends from soccer and he’s interested in filmmaking, would you want him to squelch that interest because his friends aren’t into it? Or would you encourage him to keep his old friends but make some new friends around that new interest? You are showing your child how to connect with people who have similar interests and make supportive friendships — but also how to maintain good relationships even when you don’t have every single thing in common.

Build yourself a support system. Learn to support yourself. Ask your spouse for very specific (and reasonable) things that will help you make progress. Allow your friends and family time to adjust to the new you. Don’t expect them to care about what you care about, and don’t be negative about your old life and your old interests. Let them see you happy, but don’t preach to them about your new passion — wait until they ask, then share.

So what do you think? Are your spouse, family, and friends supportive of your goals? Do you have suggestions or ideas to share for getting them on board? Please share your thoughts!

The Introvert’s Guide to Building Community

Published by Lori Pickert on March 18, 2013 at 09:06 AM

This post is part of my Monday series on PBH for Grown-ups — you can see all of the posts here.

Note: This is not about excluding extroverts. Extroverts are like honey badgers — they don’t care. They are welcome as members of the introvert’s community, and they’re welcome to use this guide to build their own.

Personally, I am an ambivert, meaning I have both introvert and extrovert traits. On the one hand, I prefer staying at home and I crave a lot of alone time. I’m a happy hermit. On the other hand, I love public speaking, teaching workshops, and talking to strangers. If I’m somehow tricked into going to a party, I always have a great time. (Regardless, I won’t want to go next time, either.) I love to build community. I love to help people connect, work together, and support one another.

So whether you’re introverted, extroverted, or a lovely blend, these tips should work for you — but it seems to be the hermits who need the most help, so that’s who we’re focusing on today.

1. Build it yourself — and be in charge.

I know what you’re thinking — “I don’t even want to GO, let alone be in charge. I don’t want to FIND it, let alone build it.” But if you’re the person at the party who is driven crazy by the loudness of the music, wouldn’t you prefer to have your hand on the volume control?

Being in charge is the comfort position. You control everything. You set the parameters, you set the goals, you set the tone. You control the information — you’re the one with the phone numbers and e-mail addresses. If you are picky about how things go down, then you want to be in charge so you can make the group and activities fit your needs and your comfort requirements.

There are a lot of challenges when you try to break into an existing community:

- You don’t know the unspoken rules.

- You don’t understand the social hierarchy.

- There are existing friendships and cliques.

- The agenda has already been set and things are traditionally done a particular way.

The main challenge is that someone else is making all the decisions and you will have to adapt. If you build it, you can customize the experience to what you need and want. Whatever effort you would save by choosing an existing group, you would have to expend bending and adjusting to something that doesn’t fit you and makes you miserable. If a group exists that suits you perfectly, great. But if it doesn’t, you’ll exhaust yourself compromising. You may as well spend your energy building something that would make your life exponentially better.

Invest your energy where you’ll get the biggest return. Building a community that gives you what you need and want is worth the effort.

2. Always start small.

In software, it’s the beta. In marketing, it’s the test group. At every single stage, every time you contemplate trying something new, always, always do a test version. Never commit until you’re sure you’re happy with your results.

You may think “community” and imagine the people on Friends hanging out at Central Perk. But community can start with just you and one other person. After all, how did the friends on Friends get together? Monica and Rachel were friends in high school. Ross and Chandler were college roommates. Chandler and Joey shared an apartment. (Are you scared I know all this?) Community is built of small nodes of friends as well as individuals. You will be the nucleus of your community. If you have just one other person who is committed and on the same page, you have what you need to start. And note: this person does not have to be a close friend. In fact, you and this person don’t have to have anything else in common — just this.

Whatever you want to start — art class, sketch walk, hiking group, book club — first set up one or more stand-alone activities. Arrange them at different times so you get different participants. (Advertise in your local Yahoo homeschooling group, at your co-op, at the library.) See how it goes. Meet the people and remember to collect their contact information. If you like them, tell them one-on-one that you’re thinking of doing something similar on a regular basis. Reflect on how things went and what you might want to change in the future. This is a good way to find other people who can form the nucleus of the community you want to build.

If you’re going to make mistakes, make them in the beta version. Move into your new group having already identified possible issues. (For example, one thing I’ve learned is that if you offer a free group for kids and don’t require parents to stay, you’ll be treated as a free babysitter.)

Testing also gives you the opportunity to try out different venues, different ways to organize the time, and so on.

Start with a very limited version of what you envision, test it, learn from it, then launch the bigger version.

3. Respect your own needs.

It’s not selfish to fit your community to your own needs. Understand this: every time someone creates a community, they are building for a purpose. There is no way to make something that is “fair” or “perfect” for everyone. It is perfectly legitimate for you to create something that works well for YOU. And there are plenty of other people who would prefer something different from what is usually offered — they will find you. You are creating parameters that appeal to YOU but they’ll also appeal to someone else. And if some people don’t like it, they can build their own community just as you did.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to please everyone. It’s a recipe for pleasing no one (including yourself). A great community has a strong leader who isn’t afraid to say “this is the way we do things — sorry, that’s just not for us.”

Remember that when you make a safe space for yourself, you are making it for others who want and need the same things. You don’t have to make it for everybody.

4. Commit.

Community succeeds or fails on the basis of commitment. You have to commit. Then you have to find one other person who is also committed.

There must be a nucleus of committed people. There can be a larger, looser group who dip in and out, but there must be a solid core who always show up and who really care.

These days, people have many, many things vying for their time and attention. There are a million ways to fill your free time. With any one person, there are only a few things they really, truly care about. The other stuff? It tends to slide off the bottom of the to-do list. You cannot build a community unless you have at least a few people who are going to put this front and center. And you absolutely have to be one of those people.

Charging money is one way to push people to commit. If they have paid for it, they are a lot more likely to show up. But remember that accepting their money means you are absolutely committed. Keep it defined — a particular number of meetings/get-togethers/classes. Then, if things go well, you can do it again.

When parents decide which activities to drop, they will always drop the free ones first. They feel like they should stick with the things they paid for, to get their money’s worth. Adults are much the same. It’s not about which activity is more fun or more satisfying; it’s about how much you invested. So remember this when you begin to build — if people don’t feel they’ve invested anything, they’re more likely to pull out down the road.

You don’t have to charge money — but if you don’t, you will definitely need a core group of committed individuals for whom your community is essential.

5. Be prepared to say no.

Other people will be surprisingly bold about asking you to change every aspect of what you have arranged: the time, the location, the age group accepted, the conditions of participating (small fee, parent participation). Like shoppers at a garage sale, they will consider everything up for discussion. If this surprises you and takes you off guard, you’re more likely to (perhaps accidentally) give in to their demands.

If you don’t think about it ahead of time and prepare your answer, your stumbling and stuttering may be taken as a yes by a human steamroller. The best thing to say in any situation where you find yourself at a loss is,

“Let me think about that and get back to you tomorrow.”

This works in a whole variety of situations, by the way. It’s what I taught my staff to say to parents who were upset or had complaints. When someone else is either emotional (making a complaint or upset themselves) or ambushing you (surprising or stunning you with their question or demand), this simple sentence gives you time to collect your thoughts, time to get your own emotional response under control, and time to gird your loins and prepare your reasoning if you have to say something difficult (like “no”).

The next day, contact the person in the way that feels best for you: phone, e-mail, or in person. If you’re saying no, try this:

“I wanted to give your question/suggestion serious thought, but I’m sorry, we are going to stick to our original plan/schedule/location. This is what works best for us. I will let you know if things change in the future.”

You cannot be all things to all people. If you find a core group that is happy with what you’ve created, that is all you need. People who are unhappy are free to start their own group. If you start trying to cater to everyone’s needs, you’ll soon find that your group has lost focus. The more defined it is, the better it will be — so you may as well define it by your own needs and wants and then find others who are happy with it, too.

6. If necessary, pull the plug, take a break, then try again.

Sometimes you realize it’s just not working out for one reason or another: wrong people, wrong routine, wrong focus. Or maybe your needs have evolved. That’s okay. Make an announcement that you’re going to have to withdraw from organizing the group due to personal reasons, offer to pass the responsibility for running it to one of the other members if they contact you within a set amount of time (say, two weeks), then wish everyone a happy day and close it.

If you want to reboot your community, don’t offer to let someone else take over — let it die completely. That way you can rebuild using some of the same people. Contact them one-on-one and let them know you’re hoping to reboot sometime in the near future with a few changes. This would be a good time to ask for their input, too.

Take a break, reflect on what went well and not so well, brainstorm, and you can try again now that you have a better idea of what you want to do (and maybe who you want to do it with).

• • •

Figure out what matters to you. That’s your meaningful work. Find out who else it matters to. That’s your community.

No matter what you want to accomplish, community is key. Whether it’s online or offline, whether it’s focused on you or your kids, community is where you see how you fit and how you can contribute. It can be as simple as having two other families to hike with once a week or as complex as an online forum with thousands of members — but it comes down to finding other people who want to do what you want to do. It’s about making friends, but it’s also about finding colleagues and building a network. It’s about building a community of people who can help each other accomplish something larger than what one person can do alone.

Take your time. Start small. Figure out what works best for you. You have the freedom to craft something customized to your wants and needs — take advantage of it. Look for one other person who shares your interests and goals. Create the opportunity to find that person.

You can build the community you dream of. Someone has to take the first step. Believe it or not, it can be you.

Renovating your brain: building new habits of mind

Published by Lori Pickert on March 11, 2013 at 10:07 AM

I have been getting a lot of feedback about this series, and the bulk of it is along the lines of “How did you get inside my head?” “Do you have a camera in my house?” and etc.

My secret for getting inside your head: I have my own head. And the inside of it looks remarkably like yours.

I don’t have to sit anyone down and say, “It’s okay. I’ve pulled the curtains. We’ll film you in silhouette. Now please explain to me what it feels like when you’re terrified of failing. Let’s explore those complex emotions you undergo when you have to expose all your ugly little ambitions. Here’s a box of Kleenex in case ugly crying ensues.”

I don’t have to do that because HELLO, I have already experienced all these things. I have learned first-hand why failure is absolutely unavoidable. I have had to struggle with my own haters and overcome my own worst enemy, which was, as is the usual case, myself.

We’re really all the same. Artists know this. It’s how they get into our heads, too — not by research, but by living. They expose their own lives and feelings and their audience recognizes themselves in what they write or paint or sing.

But — for some reason, we are determined to believe 1, that we are special (it’s different for ME), and 2, that other people who succeed have some magical combination of luck and ability that boosts them higher.

Those two beliefs work together beautifully to keep us mired where we are, unable to get going. We both gift ourselves with an abundance of excuses about why we can’t and gift others with superpowers and riches that allow them to soar.

From yesterday’s Debbie Millman excerpt:

Every once in awhile — often when we least expect it — we encounter someone more courageous, someone who chose to strive for that which (to us) seemed unrealistically unattainable, even elusive. And we marvel. We swoon. We gape. Often, we are in awe. I think we look at these people as lucky, when in fact, luck has nothing to do with it. It is really about the strength of their imagination; it is about how they constructed the possibilities for their life. In short, unlike me, they didn’t determine what was impossible before it was even possible.

There’s nothing special about you, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. This is a theme we will explore again and again, because that feeling that the normal rules don’t apply to us regenerates over and over again — and so over and over again we must slough it off.

Everyone has to go through the difficult parts. Everyone.

My only comfort was the knowledge that I was not alone. Huddled in the smoky hallways and making the most of our pathetic French, my fellow students and I engaged in the sort of conversation commonly overheard in refugee camps.

“Sometimes me cry alone at night.”

“That is common for me also…” — Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris

We have some idea that there’s a difference between us and the people who make it. There isn’t.

It isn’t about who has more money, more time, more connections. It’s about who is determined to do the work and who gives up. Whatever your circumstances — lack of money, lack of time, small children — they’re just your circumstances. They’ll change across your life. These problems will fade away and be replaced with different problems — health issues, elderly parents, teenage children. Other people have their own circumstances. Hardly anyone is living your fantasy life of free time and a dedicated studio. Let it go.

Successful people have all the same thoughts, feelings, problems, struggles as people who fail — they just don’t quit. If you fail and quit, you’re a failure. If you fail and keep going, you’re just whatever you are: a writer, an artist, a photographer, a chef, a gardener, a builder, a maker, a doer.

We’re all the same. We have the same thoughts and feelings and struggles. We’re much more alike than we are different from one another. This isn’t just another pep talk. There are important reasons why we have to ingrain this in our minds:

You need other people. And if you stay convinced that you’re a special snowflake and ordinary rules don’t apply to you, you can’t find or build community — because community is built on what we have in common. You can’t seek help and you can’t offer it. You can’t be part of things. You can’t contribute. And these are all things that you need to do. This series isn’t about you sitting alone in your house baking a perfect scone. Whatever your talents are, whatever your abilities are, you need to share them. To repeat: The world needs what you have to give.

You need to get comfortable with your flawed humanity. Making excuses so you don’t have to start so you can forestall pain and humiliation just keeps you out of the game. And once you’re in it, if you think success means pretending everything is easy for you and nothing hurts, you’re wrong. What binds us is our common experience. The only way to build intimacy is through vulnerability. When you lift your chin in the air, you can’t look anyone in the eyes.

You need to mentor and be mentored. Sharing your work means connecting, and you need people you can help and people who can help you. It’s a continuum. You never stop learning and growing. You never stop trying to help the guy behind you. 

You need to break the excuse habit. Every time you find yourself sliding back into that thought rut of “they’re different” or “I’m different,” just stop yourself. If someone else can do it, you can do it, too. If you can do it, you can help someone else do it. It’s not about being rich or popular or having loads of time or money — it’s just about what you do. So do the important thing. Do what matters. Do more of it. And keep doing it.

We can (and will) talk about concrete strategies for doing our meaningful work — creating a supportive environment, getting mentors, building community.
But so much of what holds us back or helps us succeed falls into the category of habits of mind: how we’re inclined to think or react. Our habits of thought form the foundation on which everything else is built.
The reason we want to help children direct and manage their own learning is so they can strengthen those habits of mind. We’re a little older; we are doing more renovating than building. We have to tear down those thoughts and beliefs and habits that aren’t working for us and replace them with better ones. So here’s one bad thought you can concentrate on tearing out and replacing: that belief that some people have advantages that you don’t, that you have it a little harder than everyone else. Even if it’s true, is that thought really helping you? Replace it with something that will: It’s what you do that matters. So do something that matters today.

Imagine more, not less

Published by Lori Pickert on March 10, 2013 at 10:29 AM

Debbie Millman on getting out of your own way:

I discovered these common, self imposed restrictions are rather insidious, though they start out simple enough. We begin by worrying we aren’t good enough, smart enough or talented enough to get what we want, then we voluntarily live in this paralyzing mental framework, rather than confront our own role in this paralysis. Just the possibility of failing turns into a dutiful self-fulfilling prophecy. We begin to believe that these personal restrictions are, in fact, the fixed limitations of the world. We go on to live our lives, all the while wondering what we can change and how we can change it, and we calculate and re-calculate when we will be ready to do the things we want to do. And we dream. If only. If only. One day. Some day.

Every once in a while — often when we least expect it — we encounter someone more courageous, someone who choose to strive for that which (to us) seemed unrealistically unattainable, even elusive. And we marvel. We swoon. We gape. Often, we are in awe. I think we look at these people as lucky, when in fact, luck has nothing to do with it. It is really about the strength of their imagination; it is about how they constructed the possibilities for their Life. In short, unlike me, they didn’t determine what was impossible before it was even possible.


If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now. — Debbie Millman in Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design