Not so unprecedented

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1

My daughter just finished a month of theater class. Theaters in the pandemic are dark. Shut down.

During this time

This uncertain time…this unprecedented time…Now more than ever…people pulled in for survival.

Food, Lysol and toilet paper were hoarded and everything that wasn’t needed in the next 5 minutes was jettisoned.

Now more than ever, think about what REALLY matters…I bought a 10-pound bag of pinto beans.

Last week I finished the last bean. Still here. Even bought a few more (smaller) bags of beans.

What really matters now? I had focused on keeping the world working, keeping systems working and keeping my kid learning even without a school.

And then came summer, which was not much different since it meant even less to do with no school.

I scrambled for activities. Didn’t ANYBODY have anything fun?

Online theater class. She’s a born theater geek. Fun is what I was looking for.

I didn’t realize how much more she was looking for it. Fun learning that required her to look inside herself. Finally, someone was asking her to bring herself to the moment.

That hadn’t happened since the pandemic. Math, social studies and spelling was not a reflection of herself.

But being a character—that she invented—was.

That brought me back to what really matters. As the story goes, in the beginning God created. And that is how God made up God’s days. I am supposed to be that same spirit. The spirit that creates.

Veronica was asked to create. It scared her.

Creating is scary for everyone. There is this high standard for creating, that it must be 100% unique or it somehow doesn’t count.

Genesis 1 tells us the story first thing: “In the beginning God created.” And just to put that impossible standard to rest, the bible tells the same story again, but different: John 1 says “In the beginning was the word”

It’s like he completely plagiarized!

Yes, and it’s ok. John had a new way of saying the same story. A way that echoed and created in its own way. Which means I can do the same, pressure is off.

Veronica had a great teacher, who showed her how and encouraged her and it made her happy. Not hyper happy, but grounded and at peace happy.

Which is what really matters.

I found some time to create this week too. My tight little worried soul got to stretch a bit. It was worth it to play some music with my hands. And out some colored pencils to color.

I’m grateful for those pinto beans. And I am grateful I get to keep creating and bringing myself to my life. Now more than ever…

Not again

If I have to do it more than once, I should do it better the second time. That’s what I aim for, and I mostly hit it. Mostly.

But if I’m staying in a hotel for a weekend, I don’t make the effort to organize everything. Doesn’t seem worth it. I’ll only be there a couple days.

That’s how I’ve been living in this pandemic. Like it was a weekend. It’s stretching out.

I’m doing these same things again and again, and I am not doing them well. It’s time to act like I live here.

Things have changed, while I was thinking they would revert. The world has settled into a groove when I thought we were at a traffic light.

I joined a virtual summit this week about how to communicate virtually. How’s that for meta?

But we are all talking through cameras and laptop speakers. I think that I need to get better at it.

Last month it was enough just to turn my camera on. But almost everyone is doing that now. I will need to bring more to the party.

Bringing More

How can I bring more of myself to my online communications? How can I be there for others?

Yes, I could buy a better microphone. And better lighting. I may do that.

But one of the keynotes at the summit had another slant: bring more of my best self. Fatima Doman had a talk about using authentic strengths while communicating.

I know this technology. It’s not the lighting, it’s the love. It’s the welcome and the curiosity that makes my communications addictive.

And when I say addictive, I mean addictive for ME. Sure, I want other people to want to talk to me. But I want to have my meetings and conversations be a sincere delight.

That means I can’t phone it is. I have to bring my attention to it, and find the miracle.

There will always be a miracle. It’s my job to spend enough time and attention to find it. It might not take long.

I’m not willing to settle for short-term living. Wherever the horizon is, it is too short. I need to aim past it.

I’ve been falling short. I’m going to get up, dust myself off and try again, with my expectations set for endurance.

Some things never change. I know for sure I won’t get it right the first time. But I will keep trying.

Preparing for the Journey

I got to hear Toni Morrison give a lecture at the Central Library in Los Angeles. Well, I wasn’t there, but I heard the recording a few years later

At the end, in the Q&A, she said something I can’t forget. I’m paraphrasing:

‘I remember taking it all so seriously when I was young. Being so hard on myself to GET IT RIGHT. You are asking if it would be cold comfort to give in to superficiality…At my age I take whatever comfort I can get.’

Times are hard. I’m living through a collective lonely experience, when time stands still and comforts are few. I don’t mean to be a downer, but it’s getting tough.

Toni was a wise woman. Take the comfort you can.

They made another change today, because of COVID. shutting down more things that had just opened.

We used to be able to make plans, with the only factor being if I wanted to. Now, there are a lot of locked doors.

So, I’ve been indulging in escapism: romance novels. I only wish I were better at escapism. Right now, I’d love to have a consuming low-level hobby. Like video games or Sudoku.

But this is all I’ve got. I’ve always been about books and music.

It’s down to me in all these responsibilities. A whole lotta sameness all at the same time.

I thank you Toni. It was a nice to have permission to have some comfort in my escapism. I got a breather from the unrelenting duty of staying home. I can get up to not go out for another day. That’s the endurance challenge.

No One Expects

“We are going to walk the dog,” I said to my husband.

“Good! I’ll be able to take the sink apart and fix the drain without the dog in the way.”

I didn’t say it, but I thought it. Right now? Is this the time? It’s a holiday tomorrow. A plumbing project right before a holiday means we can’t call a plumber if it goes wrong.

We came back and it had gone wrong. I still didn’t say anything.

Oh well, we could brush our teeth in the kitchen sink. One day of a plugged-up sink, alright. We’ll get through the 4th of July and call for help on Saturday.

This is pandemic marriage. Let go of the things you CAN let go of. We’re all stuck in this together.

My holiday morning started nice and cozy, me and the cat, then my daughter and dog all joining in lazy activities.

But Chris woke with a mission. He would keep working on that sink. And that faraway look in his eye made me nervous.

This time I said something: “I don’t’ think this is a good idea. Is this how you want this holiday to go? It could go very wrong and you’re going to be frustrated no matter what.”

I said it.

But he had a mission.

Great. My holiday down the drain, because the drain wasn’t working.

Situation: Huge plug of my hair down the drain, and he had tried to snake it, but it went past the trap and deeper than he could reach.

We’d tried using our decrepit plunger in the sink, but it was good and stuck

Action plan: but Liquid plumber from the hardware store and a funnel to pour it in past the trap.

At least he took the daughter to the store and let me and the cat to pursue laziness.

Result: liquid plumber was added, and that didn’t clear things. But some time passed and


He had bought a new plunger and that plunger in the sink was the key. Six Dollar plunger for the win!

This plunger had an adapter to work on smaller drains.

Neither of us were aware that plunger technology had made this significant advance. We know a lot, but that one had complete escaped us. For six bucks, this was a no special fancy thing.

I was braced for an expensive and time-wasting hassle. But the solution was waiting right there.

I know very little about plumbing. I do know a lot about remote collaboration and communication.

I knew, when this stay-at-home thing started, that it was waiting for everyone. It wasn’t painless, but it was there.

I’m proud of us for not blowing up and sticking to the point, getting work done. Things are working out.

Good for me for not losing my cool at my husband either. With a little patience and persistence, things got unstuck.

Who does own it?

A colleague recommended the book Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seal Lead and Win by Willink and Babin. These veterans fought together, came home and started an executive consulting company. Then they wrote this book. The book reads more like a war movie than a business book. That’s probably what made it go so fun.

It starts off with a war story describing a nightmare scenario. So many things going wrong, his men dying and Willink has to give a report to the higherups. How could he isolate key misstep from all the chaos?

This is the linchpin:

He was the one in charge, and he hadn’t caught the problems as they happened. It was his fault.

I am not a veteran. I have not been in the military. But there are times when I have told my team “We are playing with live ammo.” It’s a figure of speech.

The authors use live ammo. And live ammo is used against them.

That clarifies things: every choice has a consequence. SOMEONE has to make a decision and keep things moving. That someone on a project is me: The Project Manager.

I’ve heard it said before, ‘The Project manager is the one who is ultimately responsible for the entire project.’ Me and my peers would hear that and roll our eyes to one another. If we are the ones ultimately responsible, why do we have so little influence on the work we are given?

Okay, I’ll play. Let me take the two toughest jobs of the last few years and re-examine them with this standard.

Project A was a job handed to me by the BEST office in the company. I had only been with this firm a few months and they told me this one was going to be a great experience for me. I’d see how it was supposed to be done. I also had a highly experienced local crew.

The first week was ok. Then customer came on hot, with requirements not identified in the contract.

Things degenerated into daily meetings between the customer and top brass from both offices.

It seemed that the other office missed a ton of stuff. The installers used their experience to find ways to get overtime instead of head off issues, and I was scrambling for ways to make it end.


But what if re-examined the project with Extreme Ownership?

I realized that I had let myself trust these other people, the designer and the installers. They presented themselves as the experts. I had not asked enough questions. If these guys were as hotshot as they claimed to be, it would not have been hard for them to review it with me.

If I gone over the design with them in greater detail, I likely would have caught the oversights sooner. We could have adjusted the plans. I didn’t follow my usual policy of asking ALL the questions beforehand regardless of how stupid I sounded.

I trusted when I had no proof. The rest of the project pushed me closer and closer to failure.

No wonder the customer didn’t trust me. I hadn’t trusted myself.

Project B was far more complicated. No one told me they had it figured out, but they did tell me that it had to be perfect. Night work, high ticket customer. Four rooms to be de-installed/installed every night and handed over in working condition to the customer to use when they arrived next morning.


Highest level of scrutiny in the company. All on no sleep. I planned this one out, and I was in on every moment of the project. We had three meetings a day. A crew meeting to kick off the work, a check-in at the end of every shift at 3 in the morning and a meeting at 9 AM with the customer to review status and punch list items.

This one had been designed better, but the customer was even more tightly wound.

I had grabbed onto it with both hands and all my toes. I EXTREMELY Owned this one.

Me and the lead tech are blood brothers now.

When I look clearly at what I did and didn’t do, without casting blame, I have a much better sense of closure. I know what should be done differently.

I’m a convert. Total ownership is the way to manage projects. Yes, there are things out of my control. But everything is under my influence. It helps to ask enough questions to identify those out-of-control-items. I can use the knowledge to mitigate risks.

There really is no downside to Extreme Ownership. Things would go better if everyone acted that way, but I’m the only one I can control.