Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Make Great Things Happen

By Martha Reed

Hell, there are no rules here - we're trying to accomplish something.
Thomas A. Edison

I had the great good fortune to spend most of last weekend with my niece since her parents went to Kansas City for her Mom’s high school reunion. It was quite an eye-opener, living with a child. I had to play parent and she had to deal with a 50-year old never been married childless writer aunt who suddenly discovered that she needed quite a bit more quiet down time than she had planned on. Fortunately, Bug is an easy keeper and she loved the fact she got to watch endless episodes of The Sweet Life of Zack and Cody every time I collapsed into a chair for a nap.

Keeping up with a pre-adolescent isn’t easy and growing old ain’t for sissies.

Bug was openly curious about How I Lived My Life and her questions made me take a pause and look at what I’d been up to lately. The real surprise – to me at least – was that this year I seem to be making things happen. What I’ve been doing isn’t really difficult – church bazaars, family reunions, steering committees, short stories – and it’s not even about being especially organized. I think the genesis of my success this year is that I’ve served as a lightening rod for decision-making. I take a stand and own my decisions and that alone seems to be getting things done.

For example, consider the preplanning of an event. First and foremost is which date? Nowadays, with everyone so busy and schedules so hectic, it’s hard to find a date everyone can agree on. That’s where I come in – I pick a date, initiate a preliminary discussion and then PICK ONE. Of course, some folks will have conflicts and there will be a certain amount of gruff grumbling but amazingly enough once you pick a date the other planning details fall in line.

Another key item is that I seem to have migrated away from the naysayers. Honestly, I don’t know how much of this is just due to age; I simply do not have the patience I once had and if you’re going to whine about doing something I’d much rather just dig in and get it done and move on even if it means you get left behind. If you’ve reached this point in your life I hope you realize that it’s an important threshold because once you begin to identify the people, places, or events that are holding you back you can very politely and gently move them out of the way. I’m not advocating that you clear the decks and toss everyone overboard but it certainly doesn’t hurt to learn when to decline a distraction and sit down guiltlessly to get some creative work done.

There’s a Hollywood cliche that says you’re only as good as your last picture. I’m borrowing that phrase now and taking it to mean that you’re only as good as your last project. Even if your last project was a complete disaster it wasn’t a failure if you learned something from it. Who was it that said it doesn’t matter how many times you fail as long as you fail forward? Every time you try something new you can learn from it and learning from it will make your next attempt even better. And isn’t that what we do when we edit our manuscripts? Keep on trying until the day the magic happens and the end result, looked back upon, takes your breath away?

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.
Thomas A. Edison


Tory said...

So much in your blog I can relate to, Martha! Being 50, single, and a writer, for starters.

I also notice I'm the one at work who gets things done. Other people have great ideas, I pick the ones really worth doing and make them happen.

Some days, all I get for it is flak. But days like yesterday, when someone came up to me after such an event and said how much she appreciated my work, make it all worth it!

Martha Reed said...

Tory, is decision making a natural part of your personality or did you have to learn it? That's what I'm wondering about: if it's learned behavior, what can I do to encourage or teach other people to develop it? Is it really just a matter of self-confidence?

JennieB said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Martha -
I don't have much trouble making decisions - it's the follow through that gets me. How do you manage that?

Gina said...

See what I mean? I decided on a comment and wrote it and posted it, but somehow left out the step of putting my name on it! [This is Gina, in case I forget that step again.]

Martha Reed said...

Gina, I find that guilt is the best tool I have for following through on something - my mother taught me to send thank you "bread and butter" notes and that seems to have carried over into my project management experience.

Here are my 7 personal commandments, they may help:

1. Do the work
2. Follow the directions
3. Ask for help
4. Follow-up & follow through
5. Say thank you
6. Cherish your friends
7. Keep it real.

That's it! Do you have any commandments to add?

Cathy said...

I can relate to no down time. My friend came to visit for five days, didn't have a car, didn't visit any other old friends, but after she left, I missed her. How old is your niece?

I guess I would add visualizing and meditating about the project to your list, and doing affirmations. I didn't make this up--there are multitudes of books about this out there now. Many are using these tools.

Martha Reed said...

Cathy, now that you mention it I do use another tool: a small notebook/folder I won as a doorprize has turned into a real find. It has a pad of paper and each morning I make a list of what I want to accomplish that day. I check the list every once in awhile, on the bus, or at lunch, and then move forward to cross something off the list by the end of the day. I'd try visualization and keeping all this in my head but I'd probably forget it! The notepad really helps.