What I Carry

Andrea ChilcoteThe final part of my “carry” series.

by Andrea Chilcote

John, (I’ll call you that to maintain anonymity) – this post is in response to your question, the one I never answered.

Once again, I wrote about “the way I carry things.” After reading my post, you asked: “Is it the way you’re carrying things, or what you’re carrying?”

Well, John, that’s another matter entirely. And it’s taken me this long to respond because I have spent the last two weeks considering what I’m carrying.

The load is staggering.

All day, I’ve pondered whether this is a topic worthy of a blog post – that is, something that connects and informs the women and men who follow it. And tonight I’m typing these words because I believe with every fabric of my being that we all carry burdens that could be lightened. That is, if we dare.

Sometimes when I write these posts, I feel I could go on and on, telling story after story to illustrate the theme. Time is usually the limiting factor. This one is different. If I tell you of my burdens, it will be like showing you the boxes in my attic or closet that should have been sent to Goodwill long ago.

“Why are you holding onto them, Andrea?” you might say.

And I would answer, “Because they feel like a part of me.”

My dear friend Dita shared a clutter management tool with me recently. She said that if your home or office feels cluttered, set a goal to give away or throw away five items per day – items of any size or importance. If you bring new things in, you must add the quantity to the original five and eliminate the sum.

Wow. I’ve been practicing this (albeit not perfectly), and it’s hard. The favorite socks (with holes) and the comfortable chair (that would cost more to repair than replace) come to mind. There have been some magic moments, though, like the times I’ve released (to the desert wind) ashes of beloved dogs who have passed.

For me, it’s even harder to release thoughts than things. Worrisome thoughts take space in our minds just like old clothes in our closets. They take space in our hearts like the ashes of canine friends who must be set free.

My short two-week assessment of “the things I carry” has informed me that while it’s very productive to release the physical items that don’t serve me, the mental load is even more daunting. I’m working on it though.

We all carry physical, mental, emotional and spiritual burdens. And, we rationalize them as needed life companions. I’m reconsidering that rationalization. Will you join me?

Carry Series:


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

The Way I Carry Things – Part Deux

Andrea ChilcoteAnother part of my “carry” series…

by Andrea Chilcote

I’ve never liked errands, and do-overs are especially annoying. So I was determined to complete the task of returning a gallon of mismatched paint to Home Depot quickly and efficiently.

As I carried the nearly-full bucket across the parking lot, I wondered when they stopped using a plastic sleeve on the wire handle. This might have changed in the 80’s and I never noticed, but it felt like the thin strip of metal, ready to pierce my hand, was a design flaw. By the time I reached the door, I had enough. I lifted the can to my midsection, cradling it in my arms. Relief.

Halfway between the front door and the paint department, I noticed a strange, sickening sensation. My clothes felt wet from my torso to my right foot. Slowing my pace, I looked down cautiously. Not only was yellow-orange paint running down my body and dripping onto my (new) shoes, I had left a long trail of the same on the floor of the store.

I stopped in my tracks. Even a slight movement would create more of a mess. Almost immediately, a Home Depot associate approached and handed me a small roll of paper towels. The look on my face must have suggested they would hardly do the job, because he said with a smile, “Those are for you. We’ll take care of the floor.” Kindly, he added: “It happens all the time.” I doubt that’s true, but it was nice of him to say.

Apologizing profusely, I began mopping up my shirt and pants. Then, I noticed my shoes – my new shoes! I asked where the restroom was and sprinted there, trying to make it before the paint began to dry.

As I was washing my shoes in the sink, another cheerful and kind employee approached me. She said they had free t-shirts at the contractor’s desk, and would be happy to give me one. I thanked her, but by this time the paint had nearly dried and my shirt was wearable, though ruined. And I had things to do.

By now you might be wondering why the paint can lid was loose. I can only say it must not have been shut tightly when last used (by a painter, not me), though of course I should have checked it. But the bigger question is why I carried a paint can tipped on its side like a baby doll. The way I carry things has been a subject of much examination of late, and highlighted in my January post.. “Here we go again,” I thought, as I sheepishly made my way back to the scene of the incident.

Workers had set up large barricades so that customers didn’t accidentally step in the wet paint. Once again, I apologized and offered to help, but they assured me they had the proper people and materials for this kind of job. I retrieved my can and made my way to the paint counter to accomplish my original purpose.

It turns out the task of trying to match my custom color was going to be a lengthy one. I had originally allotted 30 minutes for the entire errand prior to a conference call, but my delay used that and more. I told the paint associate I would check back, dialed into my call, and began wandering about the store.

With only a portion of my attention on the call, I began to notice things I needed. Soon, my arms were loaded. Another friendly associate approached me and asked if he could get me a cart. (There was probably an alert out to watch for a woman with paint stained clothes who carried things poorly).

“A cart! Yes, that would be kind of you,” I exclaimed, as if he had the most brilliant and original idea. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to mute my call, and now the entire group knew I was shopping. A minor faux pas given this particular call, but it was the second embarrassing moment that hour.

And then it dawned on me. A readily available shopping cart would have been an ideal device for carrying that can of paint into the store, just like an easily obtained backpack would have eased my significant load during a trek through an Atlanta blizzard in January.

What is wrong with me?

Readers of my posts know I have a life-long pursuit of presence, the ability to make the most of the moment at hand. And for at least the last five years, that practice has extended to a present awareness of my body – everything from how I stand and sit, to what nutrition or amount of rest I need.

I suppose I’m still “practicing,” because this morning I hauled my very heavy suitcase/computer case up a small set of stairs. After I had lugged it, I examined why I had not simply disconnected the two pieces, balancing one in each hand. The answer was the same as it was for the backpack and the shopping cart. Time. In an attempt to save seconds or minutes, I risk harm to my body.

A dear friend is suffering from a serious back injury, presumably the result of pushing through activities despite the warning signs of milder, chronic pain. I’m sobered by the realization that in my own haste, I too could potentially do harm.

Mindless speed, or deliberate action – it’s a choice to consider.

Carry Series:


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

 

The Way I Carry Things

Andrea ChilcoteIt’s the one year anniversary of Andrea’s trek in the Atlanta Snow Storm of 2014. Join her, as she shares her “carry” series.

By Andrea Chilcote

A moment of truth is defined as a critical or decisive time on which much depends – a moment when a person or thing is put to the test. I was put to the test this week, caught in Atlanta’s epic snow storm that paralyzed the city and left thousands of people stranded overnight in cars, grocery stores, and hotel lobbies. Harrowing accounts are being told of children stranded on school buses, as well as heartwarming stories of strangers helping their fellow citizens. I have no doubt that many found lessons as well as inspiration in the events. This post is a chronicle of my moments of truth.

On that fated day, I was leading a session scheduled from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. I had flown into Atlanta from Arizona primarily for this meeting, and upon hearing the snow was expected to begin mid-day, I was optimistic that we would be able to finish our agenda and get on the road before the major rush hour (and inevitable chaos) began.

By noon, mid-session, the snow had begun to fall. Members of the group began receiving emails alerting them to school closures, as well as an authorized early release for employees.

Moment of Truth, 12:00 p.m. – To Lead or Default

I looked around and observed the buzz as people checked their mobile devices. “Should we consider whether or not to proceed?” I asked. One nodded “Yes.” Others either shook their head “No,” or did not respond. I simply moved on.

Did I make a split second judgment based on what appeared to be consensus? Or did I allow the majority response to affirm my typical tendency to forge onward despite obstacles?

I thought about that decision many times over the following 24 hours.

Moment of Truth, 2:15 p.m. – To Rush Forward or Plan

We finished the session on time, at 2 p.m. After tidying the room and packing up my things, I headed to the elevators, bound for the parking garage. I heard a voice call after me. “Are you leaving?”

I turned and saw a woman I don’t know. She continued. “…because you won’t get out. There’s a back-up in the parking garage and gridlock on the road outside the office.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “But I’d rather get started.” I continued walking – and she persisted.

“Wait two hours at least. Do you have Netflix on your computer? Sit and watch a movie.”

I thanked her again, but proceeded to the garage – quickly. I didn’t even stop at the restroom on my way out.

There’s a part of me whose motto is “Patience be damned, I’m coming through.” It’s tenacious, deliberate and clear. But sometimes I fail to consider the impact of my choices on my own well-being.

I would consider this choice many times throughout the afternoon.

Moment of Truth, 3:45 p.m. – Taking Action

Because I exited the garage via the visitor lot, I didn’t experience the inside lines that I had been warned about. I would see them an hour later, when I had moved just two car lengths from the visitor exit.

Radio broadcasts provided no encouragement to my growing frustration and concern. It appeared that the entire metro area was in similar shape.

Ninety minutes and three car lengths post departure, I found myself at another choice point. On my right was a short access road between two buildings. I frequent the area, so I knew it led to the back of a shopping center parking lot. An idea had been germinating during the time spent in gridlock. I could park my rental car and walk the six or so miles to my friend Sara’s house in Dunwoody, where I had been staying. I googled the average miles per hour a human walks in order to gauge whether I would arrive before dark.

Despite being unsure how long it would take to traverse the distance between my location and the parking lot, and a bit nervous about losing my place on the main thoroughfare, I turned right. I could decide about the walk once I arrived at the lot. The fact that I now needed to use the restroom provided more motivation to turn.

It was a very good decision.

Moment of Truth, 4:00 p.m. – Being Resourceful

The pavement was becoming treacherous and I entered the parking lot carefully, looking for open restaurants that might allow me to use the facilities. Then, I spotted REI. Yes!

Parked and in the store, I said to the clerk: “I’m going to buy clothes. First, do you have a restroom I can use?” He pointed me to the back.

In that moment, my decision was made. I would purchase gear to supplement my somewhat meager winter outfit, and then set out for Sara’s on foot in the 22 degree day.

Considering the garments I needed, I approached the clearance section, as I was not inclined to spend more than necessary on items that I already had at home in Arizona. I selected a lined and hooded jacket that would fit nicely under my wool blazer and cape, then found a pair of thin wool socks that I could gift to my husband after my trek. I had gloves already, and the hoodie would serve as a warm hat. Amazingly, my dress boots were suitable for walking in the snow. But approaching the checkout counter, I realized I was wearing a thin skirt. Back to the clearance rack I went, settling on a thick pair of leggings. Done.

Clad in tights, wool socks, boots, leggings, a skirt, silk shirt, jacket, blazer, cape and hood, I left the building with just one more decision to make.

Moment of Truth, 4:30 p.m. – My Heavy Load

I couldn’t leave my laptop bag behind, locked in the rental car. Besides my computer, it housed all of my small electronics, files with client notes, and various other “important” items. I didn’t know when I would get back to the car – and the temps were forecast to dip into the teens. And, while I’m not overly cautious, I would never have left valuables in a parked car overnight under normal conditions, let alone these.

Seeking to lighten the load, I removed a box of markers, but was still left with 16 pounds of cargo. Being an avid hiker, I can easily carry that weight in a backpack. A briefcase would present a challenge on my long walk.

REI sells backpacks. I re-approached the clerk and asked if there were any inexpensive backpacks. He chuckled. “I’m afraid backpacks are never cheap,” he replied. I briefly considered looking at packs, then rationalized that it would take a quite large one – another thing I didn’t need as I had an ample supply at home. I left the store.

This decision would form the metaphor for my greatest lesson of the trip. How much easier would my journey (in life as well to Dunwoody) be if I would just change the way I carry things?

The weekend before my adventure, I had hiked many miles over rugged terrain. I calculated that this six mile walk would take less than two hours. Not a problem – except for that bag.

For the first 45 minutes, I was fine, admittedly even a bit smug as I passed growing gridlock. I realized that waiting two hours at the office would not have helped. (In fact, those who waited spent the night there – safe, but not my idea of a relaxing evening). I was quite warm, despite heavily falling snow. Approaching a commercial area called Dunwoody Village, I stopped for tea at a still-open Chinese restaurant to rest my arms that were already growing tired from the weight of my case.

Setting out again, my mind became focused on my load. What if I couldn’t do this – then what? What if my arms cramp or just give out? I would have one of these thoughts, create a possible but far-fetched solution, then take a deep breath and switch arms.

It’s funny what the mind does when given time. I regretted not having left my pack at my client’s office. But I couldn’t have known it would become the thorn in my side.

In the village, I looked for one of those rental storage places where I could leave my bag. No luck – but I rationalized that it probably wouldn’t have been open anyway.

I fantasized that someone I knew would be on the road, shout at me, and offer to take my bag in their car. Little did I know the number of cars that would be abandoned before the night was over, some towed away the next day. That would not have been a good solution.

Pre 9-11, I might have tried asking a security guard in an office park to lock it up for me. But now, I presumed, they might call the FBI after such a request. I briefly considered asking a father out sledding with his three young sons if I could buy their small sled to haul it. But I was unsure whether that would be of benefit without one of my huskies to pull it.

So many mantras filled my head. One step in front of the other. Pay attention or you will slip and fall. Slow down and breathe – this is not a race. Going back is not an option. On and on, but one refrain was the loudest.

“The journey would be easy without this load.” Perhaps it was the solitude of the walk in the snow that created this echo in my head. It was the one I could not shake, and it holds meaning beyond this trek.

By the time I returned home the trip was costly, but worth every choice that involved spending money. So why was I unwilling to purchase a backpack, the one item that would have made my journey an easy hike? Why am I sometimes unable, or unwilling, to lighten the other loads I carry in life?

Do I underestimate the drag they create in my quest for forward movement? Do l fail to see a simple solution, a re-design of the way in which I carry my valuables? Am I not investing in the solution? I’ll ponder these questions, and I hope you will too.

Moment of Truth, 6:00 p.m. – Asking for Help

At 6 p.m., I was nearly to Sara’s – about a mile to go. I crossed the icy GA 400 overpass at Northridge Road, and turned right onto Dunwoody Place. Suddenly, no more gridlock. The road, though dangerous, was almost empty.

I paused to ponder for a minute, and then put down my case and took out my phone. I called Sara, who earlier had offered to come get me at Dunwoody Village. She was kind to volunteer, but would only have become victim to the jam. Now, perhaps she could help.

I explained that I thought she could get to me now, and being both brave and generous, she told me she would be right there. I kept walking.

About five minutes later, I encountered the reason there was no traffic.  A school bus full of children was disabled and blocking the road. Parents from the neighborhood were embracing their kids who were filing off unhurt.

Immediately I reached for my phone to call Sara, who was dialing me. She was stopped by a barricade on the other side of the bus. I had feared that she had gotten trapped in herself, but miraculously she was waiting for me in a driveway. Once there, I put my load in the backseat and hopped into the car for the short trip to her home.

Soon I was sitting by the fireplace enjoying a wonderful meal – something few commuters experienced in Atlanta that evening.

Moment of Truth, today – Heeding the Lesson

I’m back in Arizona, where it’s sunny and 70 degrees. My arms aren’t even sore, because I’m strong and fit. But just think of how far I could go if I changed the way I carry things.

Carry Series:


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

Shopping for a Boat

Andrea Chilcoteby Andrea Chilcote

A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? At least close to 400, the length of this post.

Andrea ChilcoteToday I saw a cartoon drawing on LinkedIn that stopped me in my tracks. In one box, labeled “your plan,” there was a bicyclist starting up a moderate incline, with a checkered flag at the top. A box below it was labeled “reality.” Along the road there was a pile of boulders, a washed out hole with a precarious bridge covering it, a deep body of water requiring a boat, and the requisite stormy skies. The checkered flag was missing.

Not being a pessimist, at first it was tempting to scoff. But the depiction got me thinking about an idea I’ve been kicking around lately with anyone who will listen. We need a new way of looking at change – in organizations and in our lives.

For many years, change gurus have been helping people manage through it by defining change as “transition.” The idea is that that change is a process not an event, and that there is a common psychological path we follow as we move though ending the old, shifting into neutral, then eventually embracing new beginnings.

My insight is that it seems that today there are no real new beginnings, at least not in the traditional sense. Rarely do things “stabilize” as we settle in. In the organizations I work with, change is usually a prelude to more change. It’s certainly true in families – births, deaths, unions and divorces are just events that precipitate more disruption in the status quo.

So maybe we need a shift in our thinking. Maybe the second cartoon drawing need not represent a series of inevitable negative events, but rather a “reality” that honestly depicts the truth of a complex and dynamic world. We can choose to view changes as obstacles, or we can choose to put one foot in front of the other and even enjoy the experience. Build a bridge, buy a boat. It’s my opinion that those who learn to do this with open hearts and minds vs. fear and resentment are the ones who possess the resilience essential for life as we know it.

Maybe the change gurus will come up with a new model for coping. Meanwhile, I’m shopping for a boat.

“…the measure of success is how we cope with the disappointment…”

—Evelyn Greenslade, character in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie


The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

Self-Care – Inspiration from New Year’s 2014

Andrea Chilcoteby Andrea Chilcote

I gave up “resolutions” some time ago because they’re often short-lived should-do’s that lack inspiration.

One of the many reasons resolutions don’t work is that they seem to set us up for either perfection or failure. When we fail (skipping the gym, eating the French fries) – why bother tomorrow?

For me, the key factor is that word “inspiration.” What inspires me in this new year of 2014? The advice I offered in last week’s post: Care for yourself first, if you wish to give to others.

I’m finally serious about this, and I’m not finding it easy. But this time, I’m reframing “failures” as small learning experiences. An example: On Monday morning, the amount of to-do’s before a trip challenged my usual gentle approach to structure. I made a list of nine items, then prioritized it. The latter step was important, given that I likely had less time than tasks. Guess what I noticed? The one thing “for me” on the list was #9. Interesting. I moved it up.

Andrea ChilcoteThis small realization has led to daily (and sometimes hourly) assessments about what I need. And, it’s not a selfish practice – far from it. I’ve finally (at age 52), decided it’s impossible for me to contribute what I wish to contribute in this world if I do not have the things I need to sustain my energy. In 2013, the scale was unbalanced. It will be different in 2014.

You are nurturing, caring, and giving beings. Is the scale in balance?

Self-care is possessing enough self-awareness to invoke repeated patterns of being that harmoniously correct the behaviors of over-functioning for others while under-functioning for yourself.”
― LaShaun Middlebrooks Collier


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

Attention Please

Andrea Chilcoteby Andrea Chilcote

I’ve noticed something lately – no one seems to be listening.

During an intense bout of post-holiday travel, I encountered many customer service personnel attending to the business of planes, trains and automobiles. Despite a fair amount of cheeriness given large crowds and weather-related delays, few appeared to pay attention to the matter at hand. Many seemed lost in their thoughts as they asked me questions I had already answered.

One morning at breakfast, I was greeted by a friendly server who enthusiastically described the omelet station that was available that day. “No thank you,” I told her, and gave her my simple order. My meal arrived promptly (and correctly), and as the server sat it down in front of me, she declared: “Your omelet ma’am.”

As days went on, it became clear that the problem was widespread. And, as was the case with the server, it seemed to be driven by a bias toward the listener’s thoughts.

The topic of my work last week was how to skillfully communicate relevant information to key stakeholders. In one of the exercises, participants have to relay the details of a presentation to other participants who are not in the room during the actual presentation. Then, those listeners recount the information to the original presenter. Predictably, the facts conveyed contained errors of omission, distortion – and even addition. We all had a chuckle when two honest individuals seemingly “made up” items that weren’t even discussed. And the learning point became clear when both admitted these items were things that were “on their minds,” or things they saw as important. The head-scratcher was that their biases so powerfully hijacked their listening, that they truly thought they had heard what they wanted to hear.

Even as I sat in judgment of the poor listening I was encountering, I found myself inattentive to the matter at hand. As I was preparing for the last workshop, I was deep in thought about a briefing I needed to give a particular participant I’ll call “Georgia.” Well, wouldn’t you know, at that very moment, Georgia walked in and sat down in front of me.  I rushed over to greet her. “Hi Georgia, I was hoping you would arrive early – what a coincidence.”

Except that it was Ginny who had entered, not Georgia. I know both of them, and was immediately embarrassed by my mistake. Hijacked by my thoughts – just like everyone else I had been observing.

Whether you have an omelet bias or Georgia on your mind, consider that your interactions might be more effective if you work to stay present vs. lost in thought. The effects of not listening can range from minor annoyance to disaster. I vow to pay attention. How about you?


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

Is Your Creativity Constrained?

Andrea Chilcoteby Andrea Chilcote

Have you ever uttered the phrase “I’m not creative?”  I know many women who have, and I may have found a possible solution.

On the eve of The Spirited Woman’s 2014 Sharefest theme, “I Am Creative Bliss,” I ran across an article extolling the many virtues of caffeine, as well as one big downside – it seems there’s scientific evidence that it cramps creativity. Caffeine apparently stifles the thing on which creativity depends: a wandering, unfocused mind.

While I don’t generally overdo caffeine, this “four cities in four days” week is putting me to the test. My usual two cups of coffee in the morning have expanded to an afternoon pick-me-up, and then some.

This is a week for focus and clarity, so it’s reassuring to know that caffeine is a support, not a hindrance. But here’s the interesting thing. This week, and in similar busy times, I long for a creative respite. While I’m doing the work I love, today I was looking forward to finishing my “real” work to write this post, even though I had no idea what I would write about. And now I believe that was the very thing I longed for – the opportunity to let my mind meander among the possibilities.

In his article, How to be Creative, Jonas Lehrer says creativity is not magic bestowed on us by angels, but rather a skill all can learn. He outlines many methods, including play, “with the abandon of a child.”

Those of you who know how much I enjoy hiking with my dogs, present to the sights and sounds of the outdoors, can appreciate that these walks provide me the opportunity to think and feel in an unstructured and playful way.

For me, a glass of wine helps too, though not while hiking of course. Lehrer also suggests that caffeine has a counter effect on creativity, preferring a beer to a Red Bull. His advice reminded me of an adage a writer friend shared some years ago, “Write drunk but edit sober.”

Humor aside, the insight I received from these articles is not about avoiding caffeine or consuming alcohol, but rather about the requirement for creativity – unstructured time.

I know you’re busy. You have significant responsibilities and people depend upon you. But can you give your mind a respite, even for a bit? There can be a beautiful payoff.

_____

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!